My Kids Won't Sleep Alone, And I Don't Fight It

by Rita Templeton
Rita Templeton

When my kids were very small, putting them in the same room wasn’t a huge deal. Our babies co-slept, so they were in our bed most of the time anyway, and as long as they had a place to play, they were happy. But as our family grew — and grew up — we figured it was more important for them to have their own domains. So when we looked for a new house, bigger was our first priority.

And when we moved, they went from cramped, shoebox-sized bedrooms to rooms that were almost double the size of their old ones. The house was large enough for our oldest and youngest to have rooms to themselves, and our middle two shared the biggest room — which seemed utterly cavernous in comparison to their old one. I stockpiled fun, kid-friendly decor for months, buying a picture here and a lamp there, and decorated their new bedrooms with bright colors and cute furniture. Now that they had plenty of space, I was determined that they’d have the best rooms ever. Rooms they’d never want to leave.

You know what they say about the best-laid plans…

We’ve lived in our house for a year now, and they do love their rooms — during the day. But at night, every night, we go through the same song and dance as they ask the inevitable question: “Mom, can I sleep with my brothers?”

I don’t understand it. The brand-new bed we bought our youngest remains in virtually perfect condition, since he has slept there on only a handful of occasions. Ditto for our oldest son’s bed, which looks kind of like a couch and gives his room a “studio apartment” feel. I thought he’d really like it, and he does, though not for sleeping. No, when it’s bedtime, they’d all rather crowd into the bunk beds in the shared room of their middle brothers. And I don’t mean some sleep on the top bunk and some sleep on the bottom — I mean they all sleep in the same bed, the bottom bunk, where they pile practically on top of each other. And at ages 11, 9, 7, and 4, they’re not small; my preschooler, in fact, is almost the same size as my second-grader. By the time you factor in the blankets and pillows required to cover them all, there’s hardly any room. There are elbows in ribs, feet in faces, knees in backs.

“You should go to your own beds,” I suggest almost every night. “You’ll rest so much better.” I worry about their quality of sleep — they can’t possibly be comfortable — and the domino effect not getting enough rest could have: lower performance at school, irritable moods, and all the (probably irrational) things it’s my motherly duty to fret about.

But I check on them before I go to bed, and there they are, snoozing away in a tangle of limbs. All four of them are entwined, like quadruplets in the womb; sometimes one’s head is resting on another’s shoulder or they’re holding hands. For whatever reason, this is their time to bond. They fight like cats and dogs during the day, and complain about getting on one another’s nerves, but when they sleep, cuddled up like a litter of puppies, they’re the picture of brotherly love. The sun sets, and they go inexplicably from pummeling to snuggling.

I may tell them halfheartedly to sleep on their own, but this is one battle I don’t truly fight. Yes, most of their beds are going unused. Yes, they look exquisitely uncomfortable all bunched together in a sweaty heap. But I know that these days are limited. They won’t do this forever. By sleeping together, they’re wordlessly reassuring each other that they’re not alone against whatever perceived scariness the night may hold, and that they can always count on someone to be there, within arm’s reach. And even though they probably don’t even realize it, that silent message of solidarity will transcend these early years and help create a lasting sense that they’ll always have each other’s backs.

At least I hope it will. I pray it will. Which is why I dig in my heels when it comes to every other part of our nightly routine — bedtime, teeth brushing, it’s all non-negotiable — except for this one thing.

Because right now, their closeness is just as important as their rest.