Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Other things: Co-sleeping and togetherness

I also write lots of non-Penn State material and am starting to share it here along with my PSU thoughts.

(This essay originally appeared on NPR's This I Believe via WPSU FM.)

It's a hot night and my six-year-old’s room doesn't have a fan. Since my husband has a cold and is in the guestroom, Ryan is bunking with me. Truth be told, Ryan ends up in our bed for at least a few hours most nights.

Sometimes he starts in his own room and crosses into ours after a bathroom visit. Sometimes he finds an excuse to start out with us. Scary shadows, upset tummy, a vague pain in his leg that's only cured by snuggling. Or, when he really wants to pull on our heartstrings, it's because he loves us and wants to be close. He knows all the tricks and so do we.

The funny thing is, almost all of our friends admit they also let their children into their bed on a regular basis. But this is always confessed in hushed tones with a certain amount of embarrassment. The parenting magazines and even our own pediatricians tell us not to do it. We're bombarded by experts advising us to let our children cry themselves to sleep if needed. They'll be better off in the long run.

But making children sleep alone is a uniquely Western experience. In many countries, parents invite their children to share the bed until they’re comfortable enough to sleep on their own. Those countries, and those children, turn out just fine. A British child-rearing expert recommends parents and children sleep together until the child is at least five. Her recommendation is backed by a study that shows an increase in stress hormones found in children sleep alone.

But regardless of the research or current trends, it really all comes down to what's right for our family. I could put Ryan back in his bed when he wakes up, but it would be a struggle that could last for hours and no one will get any sleep. Am I giving in? Sure, but there will come a time in the next few years when his bedroom door stays shut, probably with a sign that reads private or no parents allowed. Right now he still sees us as his heroes, as the ones who can solve most of his problems with a hug and a good book.

So I don't mind when he squeezes his 44-inch frame into our small bed and sleeps sideways, his head on my back and his legs on his dad. No one gets a perfect night's sleep, but it doesn't matter. What does matter is that he feels safe and loved.

I believe that you can't show a child too much love and that you need to do it while they let you.


  1. So glad I don't have to make that decision yet! I can see both sides. If it's any consolation, parenting expert Bryan Caplain says there is almost nothing you can do, short of criminally negligent behavior, that will screw up your kid for life. Kids are who they are. So, take comfort in that.

  2. We were co-sleepers with our kids (now teenagers!) and loved it. I think you're right - it just boils down to whatever works for your family.