Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Coming Clean About Co-Sleeping

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 websiteRecent 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 Philippines 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. 

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.
 











32 comments:

  1. You know what - I had never thought about families in the Phillipines etc. who grow up sharing rooms and beds and turn out AOK. Really good point to make.

    I personally believe that it comes down to everyones own personal situation, beliefs, lifestyle, upbringing, etc. I haven't had my own kids yet, but cannot say for sure what I would do until the time comes.

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  2. I truely think whatever works well for your family is the right way. Happy child = happy night's sleep!

    Plus, I share my bed with my boyfriend and our cats....it stops the cats from scratching at our door and crying all night. Keeps everyone happy!

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  3. I'm reading this in bed - with my two children tucked beside me. I guess you know what my answer is :-)

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  4. You are right it's a modern/western way of sleeping. I also think about native americans when the cosleeping comes up - they certainly didn't have bedrooms... For us we do not cosleep unless it's 4:30 and KLV walks into the room (or we are traveling). She sleeps like a tornado and it's hard to sleep with her. Quality of sleep is more important to me than having her sleep with us. It's all a personal preference though

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  5. There is a lot of valuable and important information here. Thanks for this perspective.

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  6. I have also been criticized for doing this but it is working for me and I don't see anything wrong with it. Although my hubby completely disagrees with me, I just tell him that I'm not ready to let go.I also want to enjoy being with our daughter for as long as I could. She will sleep in her own room when both of us are ready...

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  7. Hey Joy,

    I come from Asia too..India specifically and yes, it is quite common for babies to co-sleep till a comparatively longer age duration. I had a separate bedroom by the age of 5, sharing it with my elder sister and till now, I prefer having a room all to myself.

    I think it all depends on what the parents and the child are comfortable with...nothing else matters.

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  8. OK. I'll be the bad guy. It may be good for your child. But, it is HORRENDOUS for your marriage! It is an excuse (either overt or covert) to avoid intimacy with your partner. One does not even have to employ the American excuse (not tonight, honey, I have a headache).
    I know- I've been there. So have many of my friends (of both genders). And, it is recognized as such...

    ReplyDelete
  9. Joy, co-sleeping is cultural, but there are many Western families who do it too for the convenience. The main thing is that you are well informed and that it works for you. It's hard being a mother. People will criticize you no matter what you do.

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  10. Joy, I just gave up listening to so-called experts long ago and I have decided to bring up my children as I think is best.
    I sometimes sleep with my 6-yo as she has nightmares and needs to be reassured. It makes her fell better (and makes me very tired). You need to do what works for your family, and take care of you -you need sleep!

    Our older daughter was scared in her bedroom and used to come to us. I couldn't sleep so initially I put a small bed next to ours. It worked. Eventually she slept in her bedroom. It will work out...

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  11. I don't think you should have to justify what works for your family to anyone. Cultural differences can be huge but what right has anyone to fault another culture without understanding it.

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  12. I don't have any child-perspective or experience to draw on, but you have clearly thought this through, it works for you, so I think you should do what is right for you. BTW, love the name of your blog!
    Josie x

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  13. My Maia used to room-share with us, and now she sleeps in our bed. She just loves it and so do we.

    The h___ with what everyone else thinks! As long as my Maia is happy, healthy and obviously secure, I don't care about anyything else.

    Go! Go! Go Joy! :)

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  14. From the day we started telling people we were pregnant onward, we have been "given" advice on what to do and what not to do. At the end of the day, there are demonstrable health risks for some things (you mentioned SIDS, for instance, although I think your child is beyond that stage). For everything else, I would argue that no one has the right to tell you what you should or should not do. Advice is fine when requested, but only you and your husband can decide whether your parenting choices are the right ones. Statistically, people who allow their children to sleep in their beds may be more likely to have intimacy problems. But that also means that statistically many people will not. Only you know which you are likely to be.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  15. Hello Joy -

    I don't believe it is any person's place to judge or comment about the personal sleeping arrangements you have within your family. It's not my place to judge or evaluate you on that one. I think what ever method a parent(s) decide as far as sleeping arrangements, if the motives are true and sincere, then it is all good. It sounds like you have that so that's a good thing. Thank you. :)

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  16. I agree with whatever works best for you and your family. Your son sounds like a healthy, normal, happy little boy and that's all that matters. You're a small, intimate family and kids need to feel family warmth.

    However, there is a moment when, as with birds, they have to be forced out of the nest. You'll have to decide and it may be hard for him to understand.

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  17. Thanks for bringing up this discussion, Joy! It's an important one and I love how you laid out both sides of the picture.

    We didn't co-sleep in my family, but we sure did have a lot of traditions that weren't "normal" in the Western setting. Growing up in a Filipino-Chinese background automatically made me different, but it never put me at a disadvantage. I'm all for following what you think is best. In fact, I find that children who grow up experiencing many different cultures are better adjusted because they understand firsthand how people can be different! =)

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  18. Thanks for the support and the comments everyone! Truly, it's up to each of us and whatever works!

    Roy: You're not being the bad guy. Everyone's free to write their opinions here :-))...And like I said, this works for our family, even for our marriage. I think as long as spouses know that they're not just making excuses and continue to find time for their intimacies, then all is well. I don't think 'intimacy' should only happen at night or just in the bedroom. Sometimes you have to find ways. If it's important and you know it's important, then there are always ways.

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  19. I agree with whatever works best for you and your family. Your son sounds like a healthy, normal, happy little boy and that's all that matters. You're a small, intimate family and kids need to feel family warmth.

    However, there is a moment when, as with birds, they have to be forced out of the nest. You'll have to decide and it may be hard for him to understand.

    ReplyDelete
  20. From the day we started telling people we were pregnant onward, we have been "given" advice on what to do and what not to do. At the end of the day, there are demonstrable health risks for some things (you mentioned SIDS, for instance, although I think your child is beyond that stage). For everything else, I would argue that no one has the right to tell you what you should or should not do. Advice is fine when requested, but only you and your husband can decide whether your parenting choices are the right ones. Statistically, people who allow their children to sleep in their beds may be more likely to have intimacy problems. But that also means that statistically many people will not. Only you know which you are likely to be.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    ReplyDelete
  21. My Maia used to room-share with us, and now she sleeps in our bed. She just loves it and so do we.

    The h___ with what everyone else thinks! As long as my Maia is happy, healthy and obviously secure, I don't care about anyything else.

    Go! Go! Go Joy! :)

    ReplyDelete
  22. OK. I'll be the bad guy. It may be good for your child. But, it is HORRENDOUS for your marriage! It is an excuse (either overt or covert) to avoid intimacy with your partner. One does not even have to employ the American excuse (not tonight, honey, I have a headache).
    I know- I've been there. So have many of my friends (of both genders). And, it is recognized as such...

    ReplyDelete
  23. I have also been criticized for doing this but it is working for me and I don't see anything wrong with it. Although my hubby completely disagrees with me, I just tell him that I'm not ready to let go.I also want to enjoy being with our daughter for as long as I could. She will sleep in her own room when both of us are ready...

    ReplyDelete
  24. There is a lot of valuable and important information here. Thanks for this perspective.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I agree with whatever works best for you and your family. Your son sounds like a healthy, normal, happy little boy and that's all that matters. You're a small, intimate family and kids need to feel family warmth.

    However, there is a moment when, as with birds, they have to be forced out of the nest. You'll have to decide and it may be hard for him to understand.

    ReplyDelete
  26. OK. I'll be the bad guy. It may be good for your child. But, it is HORRENDOUS for your marriage! It is an excuse (either overt or covert) to avoid intimacy with your partner. One does not even have to employ the American excuse (not tonight, honey, I have a headache).
    I know- I've been there. So have many of my friends (of both genders). And, it is recognized as such...

    ReplyDelete
  27. OK. I'll be the bad guy. It may be good for your child. But, it is HORRENDOUS for your marriage! It is an excuse (either overt or covert) to avoid intimacy with your partner. One does not even have to employ the American excuse (not tonight, honey, I have a headache).
    I know- I've been there. So have many of my friends (of both genders). And, it is recognized as such...

    ReplyDelete
  28. Well, I know I like to joke about the "horrors" of the family bed, but in truth I don't see anything wrong with it for reasons I won't elaborate on here, but basically I am an attachment parenting advocate. I completely relate to you not wanting to discuss the "family bed" with others who are actually ignorant of the practice and often hold the misconception that co-sleeping causes "psychological damage” to children. I contend quite the opposite – that co-sleeping promotes a secure attachment, which ultimately encourages independence and a healthy sense of self (there is a reason to this but this post is too long to go into it) and that leaving babies and toddlers to cry themselves to sleep all alone, and sometimes it goes on for hours, is actually potentially more damaging to their emerging personalities than sleeping with them.

    There is a fascinating longitudinal study commissioned and presented by the BBC called “Child of Our Time” that follows 25 babies born in the year 2000 and will do so until their 20th birthdays. They are specifically looking at how environmental and biological (the whole nature versus nurture debate) factors interact to create a child’s emerging personality and are even being able to predict future behavioral traits based on “experiments” done in infancy and early childhood.

    Geesh, I said I wouldn’t elaborate and here I am doing exactly that. I'll try to cut this short - the reason I brought up Child of Our Time is that there was one segment that showed a toddler of maybe 16 months old whose mother suffered with depression. The mother spent a lot of time in bed and would leave the toddler to cry himself to sleep. This would go on for hours and was actually quite difficult to watch (for me), with the baby standing up in his crib in the darkened room screaming and crying out for “mommy” and banging his head, until finally he would basically just give up and dejectedly slump down into his crib.

    In this particular segment the child had been left in his crib for a total of 10 hours. The only lesson that child was learning was that life was futile and he might as well give up. And this sense of dejection or despondence seems to have followed him along, but I haven’t seen anything new in a while, but now I’m interested to google and see what is going on with these babies today. They should be 11 years old by now – wow.

    Another wonderful and insightful post!

    ReplyDelete
  29. Rachel, I LOVED that you gave a detailed comment. Please don't ever apologize. I am not so interested as well in that longitudinal study and will surely search for it now. I hope something turns up if I Google "Child of our Time". THANKS SO MUCH again and happy that you enjoyed it!

    ReplyDelete
  30. Rachel, I LOVED that you gave a detailed comment. Please don't ever apologize. I am not so interested as well in that longitudinal study and will surely search for it now. I hope something turns up if I Google "Child of our Time". THANKS SO MUCH again and happy that you enjoyed it!

    ReplyDelete
  31. Well, I know I like to joke about the "horrors" of the family bed, but in truth I don't see anything wrong with it for reasons I won't elaborate on here, but basically I am an attachment parenting advocate. I completely relate to you not wanting to discuss the "family bed" with others who are actually ignorant of the practice and often hold the misconception that co-sleeping causes "psychological damage” to children. I contend quite the opposite – that co-sleeping promotes a secure attachment, which ultimately encourages independence and a healthy sense of self (there is a reason to this but this post is too long to go into it) and that leaving babies and toddlers to cry themselves to sleep all alone, and sometimes it goes on for hours, is actually potentially more damaging to their emerging personalities than sleeping with them.

    There is a fascinating longitudinal study commissioned and presented by the BBC called “Child of Our Time” that follows 25 babies born in the year 2000 and will do so until their 20th birthdays. They are specifically looking at how environmental and biological (the whole nature versus nurture debate) factors interact to create a child’s emerging personality and are even being able to predict future behavioral traits based on “experiments” done in infancy and early childhood.

    Geesh, I said I wouldn’t elaborate and here I am doing exactly that. I'll try to cut this short - the reason I brought up Child of Our Time is that there was one segment that showed a toddler of maybe 16 months old whose mother suffered with depression. The mother spent a lot of time in bed and would leave the toddler to cry himself to sleep. This would go on for hours and was actually quite difficult to watch (for me), with the baby standing up in his crib in the darkened room screaming and crying out for “mommy” and banging his head, until finally he would basically just give up and dejectedly slump down into his crib.

    In this particular segment the child had been left in his crib for a total of 10 hours. The only lesson that child was learning was that life was futile and he might as well give up. And this sense of dejection or despondence seems to have followed him along, but I haven’t seen anything new in a while, but now I’m interested to google and see what is going on with these babies today. They should be 11 years old by now – wow.

    Another wonderful and insightful post!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Well, I know I like to joke about the "horrors" of the family bed, but in truth I don't see anything wrong with it for reasons I won't elaborate on here, but basically I am an attachment parenting advocate. I completely relate to you not wanting to discuss the "family bed" with others who are actually ignorant of the practice and often hold the misconception that co-sleeping causes "psychological damage” to children. I contend quite the opposite – that co-sleeping promotes a secure attachment, which ultimately encourages independence and a healthy sense of self (there is a reason to this but this post is too long to go into it) and that leaving babies and toddlers to cry themselves to sleep all alone, and sometimes it goes on for hours, is actually potentially more damaging to their emerging personalities than sleeping with them.

    There is a fascinating longitudinal study commissioned and presented by the BBC called “Child of Our Time” that follows 25 babies born in the year 2000 and will do so until their 20th birthdays. They are specifically looking at how environmental and biological (the whole nature versus nurture debate) factors interact to create a child’s emerging personality and are even being able to predict future behavioral traits based on “experiments” done in infancy and early childhood.

    Geesh, I said I wouldn’t elaborate and here I am doing exactly that. I'll try to cut this short - the reason I brought up Child of Our Time is that there was one segment that showed a toddler of maybe 16 months old whose mother suffered with depression. The mother spent a lot of time in bed and would leave the toddler to cry himself to sleep. This would go on for hours and was actually quite difficult to watch (for me), with the baby standing up in his crib in the darkened room screaming and crying out for “mommy” and banging his head, until finally he would basically just give up and dejectedly slump down into his crib.

    In this particular segment the child had been left in his crib for a total of 10 hours. The only lesson that child was learning was that life was futile and he might as well give up. And this sense of dejection or despondence seems to have followed him along, but I haven’t seen anything new in a while, but now I’m interested to google and see what is going on with these babies today. They should be 11 years old by now – wow.

    Another wonderful and insightful post!

    ReplyDelete

Let me know your thoughts!