I made the decision to co-sleep before I even had kids of my own. In fact, I was about nine years old when I decided that I would let my future kids sleep near or with me for as long as they needed.
My parents had recently divorced and my sister and I were splitting time between my dad’s house and my mom’s house. My sister was only four years old and the transition was tough on her, especially at night. She has always co-slept with my mom, but at my dad’s house, that wasn’t happening. I remember staying up late with her, soothing her—sometimes even climbing into her narrow twin bed and lying with her until she fell asleep.
I realized then and there that all kids need closeness, both day and at night, and there was no way I was going to deny that to my kids when I became a parent.
I was one principled, passionate little nine-year-old, and I stuck to my guns. When my first baby was born, I didn’t really even think about co-sleeping or not co-sleeping. Sharing a bed with my baby (we followed all bedsharing safety guidelines carefully) was the only way either us got any sleep. It was the only way I knew to make breastfeeding work.
Plus, he was a baby. Clearly, being close to his parents at night was something he needed and wanted. Why would I deny him that closeness?
Even as he got older, we continued to allow him to sleep in our bed. When I became pregnant with his little brother, we transitioned him to his own bed, right next to ours. This arrangement continued for many years.
It’s not that I do absolutely nothing to teach my kids to be independent sleepers. Both of my kids have always had their own bedrooms and beds, and we gently encourage them to experiment with sleeping in their own beds—sometimes camping out with them for a night or two.
But they both usually end up back in our room. And that’s okay. They tell us things like, “I just really want to be close to you at night. It feels better that way.” I’ve never really seen the logic in denying them that small comfort.
Both of my kids are independent in every other way. They don’t have separation issues and make friends easily. They are kind, well-behaved, and self-regulated. But they need their parents at night. Heck, I don’t like sleeping alone either. Why should they?
Sharing a bed or a bedroom with my kids doesn’t come without frustration sometimes. I don’t always enjoy sleeping next to a child who kicks me in the head. We have had many talks about proper bedroom etiquette. There are definitely good discussions to be had about respecting the personal space of others at night. I try to think of these things as learning experiences for my kids.
As for the “when do you have sex?” discussion, that’s an easy one. As long as you have more than one room in your house, you can slip out after your kids fall asleep and do the deed. Or you slip in a romp during naptime or when your kids are glued to their iPads. It’s not rocket science.
As for when the whole “co-sleep for as along as you want” thing ends, my prediction always was that once my kids hit the teens years, there was no way in hell they’d still want to sleep with us. I remember reading a quote many years ago by the anthropologist Dr. James J. McKenna about Japan, where the majority of kids co-sleep.
“Japanese parents (or grandparents) often sleep in proximity with their children until they are teenagers, referring to this arrangement as a river — the mother is one bank, the father another, and the child sleeping between them is the water,” writes McKenna.
It wasn’t just the lovely river metaphor that stuck with me, but that fact that McKenna hints that co-sleeping ends by the teen years. I kept that in the back of my mind, wondering if that’s when it would happen for us.
As the mom of a newly minted teen, I can say that yup, that’s when it happens.
For us, the transition happened with zero nudging from us. My son was ready and now he sleeps happily and soundly in his own room. But he knows he always has a spot in our room, should he need it.
Obviously, this arrangement doesn’t work for everyone. I totally get that many people really need their own space to sleep well. I don’t think it has to be all or nothing, either. So many parents let their big kids into their rooms when they’ve had a bad dream or aren’t feeling well.
I also think having your bigger kids or tweens sleep in your room full-time is a lot more common than people realize. It’s just that because it’s such a taboo subject, many people are closeted about it.
I’m here to tell you that there is nothing wrong with it. Kids turn out just fine in the end, and I think there is something special we teach them when they know that comfort from their parents doesn’t end when the lights go out. We teach them that their needs matter, and that their needs are heard.
And I swear, it doesn’t last forever. Just like every aspect of childhood, our kids change and grow at their own pace, especially if we give them what they need along the way.