Last weekend, while I had some adult time with my sisters-in-law, the topic of conversation briefly turned to co-sleeping, specifically our having a ‘family bed’ at our house. I have almost always succeeded at avoiding this topic knowing full well how touchy and personal it is, but it was my fault. I think I brought it up and now don’t even really remember how. I am never comfortable discussing this with others and frankly would rather suffer through a really bad migraine than be grilled on this topic. As I had expected, I was advised to stop the practice especially since Noah will be in kindergarten next year and might be teased by other kids. They warned me that this might even cause my son to be bullied. Hearing that made me even more uncomfortable, not because I became afraid, but because it just did not make any sense to me. In any case, it was not a discussion I wanted to prolong because I felt I needed more time to think things through. Things were left hanging and lingering in my head, hence this blog post.
So to contextualize the ‘issue’ at hand, let me try to tell you how it’s like at our house. Here are the facts. My son is 4 years old. He has his own bed and bedroom. He is an only child and will most likely remain so. Since the time he learned to walk and climb out of his crib, he has never really slept in his room by himself. My husband and I know the merits of having our bed and our room to ourselves but our son always ends up in our room, between the two of us, when he walks over in the middle of the night, mostly between 2:30 and 3 a.m. Recently, we haven't even been insisting on Noah to start off in his room. I just spare everyone the stress and allow the 3 of us to sleep together in our king-sized bed. My husband has a job and has to get up early each day. I am not employed outside the home but have a hard time sleeping, remaining asleep and am just all around sleep-deprived.
Now let’s go back to the concept of co-sleeping and further clarify the term. Co-sleeping has many kinds and it’s important to differentiate. There is bed-sharing, room-sharing (where the child’s bed or crib is in the parents’ bedroom) and some articles I’ve read also include other sleeping arrangements that are clearly not safe for babies such as sleeping on the couch or sofa. When Noah was an infant and even as an older baby, I never felt comfortable having him sleep with us for fear that we may either roll over him and / or suffocate him with our pillows. I was clear about that risk so I never did that. However, as a slightly older toddler and now 4 years old, I believe the risk is so much less and I’m more comfortable doing it.
Aside from the risk of SIDS or the child getting suffocated, advocates of solitary sleeping for children argue that co-sleeping causes an unhealthy sense of dependence, behavioral problems and sleep disorders in children. They also say that it is not healthy for marriages as it interferes with adult bonding time and therefore creates marital problems. The SIDS argument, I can respect, and there have indeed been studies conducted supporting such argument. The rest?..not so much. Literature go both ways with some studies showing the reverse effect even, saying that co-sleeping children are better adjusted and have a stronger sense of security. Even Dr. Phil (McGraw) stated this on his website: “Recent studies show that children who bed-share are not more likely to have emotional problems than children who don't, and that bed sharing before 6 years of age appears to have no major impact on a child's development or behavior”, (though he is not an advocate of co-sleeping).
The practice of having babies or children sleep by themselves in a separate room is a modern and Western idea. In the old times, when houses were so much smaller, the families larger and there were not a lot of rooms in the house, family members naturally had to share beds and bedrooms (if there was even a designated bedroom to begin with). Researches also show that the practice of co-sleeping, even in modern times, is very cultural. It continues to be quite popular in Asian countries such as
Japan, Korea and the where I am from. This is most likely why I never understood and still don’t understand why people make such a fuss over the fact that some parents allow their own children to sleep with them. Growing up in the Philippines , this was never an issue for us. It was done in my family and almost every single family I knew. And it was not always ‘space’ that was the issue, necessitating co-sleeping. It was just the ‘natural’ thing to do and guess what? I grew up normal, with no behavioral or psychological problems whatsoever, and so did everyone in my family and circle of friends and acquaintances who co-slept at some point during their childhood. My parents and the parents of everyone I knew stayed together and for those who did not, I can promise you that co-sleeping was not at all the root cause of the failed marriage/s. Philippines
So again, let me further put things in perspective. Our son has hit every single milestone required by doctors and experts on child development and is an all around ‘normal’ child. He was never too attached to the bottle and did not give me a hard time weaning him off of it. Save for the few hours he made me deaf when I tried taking away his binky after he turned 2, my son never really gave me a hard time, not even with potty training. Now that he’s 4, he’s getting more involved in activities that push his limits and is obviously trying to establish greater independence. He insists on dressing himself up, brushing his teeth by himself and just the other day, was so proud that he was able to button his jeans on his own. He likes helping out in the kitchen and even dusts table tops and sweeps the floor. He puts away his toys, cleans up after playing even when I don’t remind him at times and this I think is pretty impressive. So you see, in the grand scheme of things, not only do I think my child is developmentally normal, he is also by no means on the precipice of turning into a needy, incapable and disabled creature. And my marriage?...Well, my husband and I are on the same page with regard to this topic and without saying too much, I will just tell you that we still find ways to nurture intimacy.
The point is that this is working for US. I don’t see the urgency in forcing something that neither my son, nor my self, is ready for. He is my only child and I want to enjoy being with him and cuddling him for as long as I could. He only gets to be a baby, a child, once and I want to savor every minute of it before he gets old enough to refuse my hugs and kisses. There is also no clear evidence suggesting that I’m ruining my son’s future by allowing this behavior to persist and I will certainly not allow the thought of bullies actually ‘bully’ me into enforcing solitary sleeping for Noah. It is not reason enough for me and I am intelligent enough to know that any decision driven mainly by fear never really works.
What about you? I’d like to know how it’s like in your own family or what you grew up with. Please know that I am not imposing my beliefs, nor am I asking you to change my mind. I already know what works for us. Now I want to know what works or has worked for you.