Ah yes....I'm talking about sleep. That thing that everyone needs and yet everyone has a hard time dealing with it in one way or another. So more specifically, I want to talk about the controversial topic of co-sleeping. Do we see it as good bonding time or setting your child up to develop bad sleeping habits? Of course, I'm not talking about the occasional nap on the couch. I am definitely not talking about taking care of a sick baby in the middle of the night either, because those are different situations. I am talking about the deliberate choice to have a 'communal' bed consisting of sleep, every night, with parents and children. Is this good for the parents? Is it good for the children? How long does this last?
When people, especially new parents, talk about co-sleeping, I think back to the trials and tribulations that we had with our daughter who is now 8 years old. We were young parents who learned the hard way that what is easy now will be harder later. We would always lounge on the couch or lay in bed and let her fall asleep with us every night as an infant. We loved having that closeness with her and some of our fondest memories are of her sleeping on us as we laid on the couch. But then we crossed that line....that small line between parenting to sleep and giving into the ease of not transferring her to her own bed. For years, I would allow her to sleep in my bed with me and then put her into her own after my husband came home from work around 3 am. Then after she was a year old and able to talk, we had a more difficult time putting her to bed in her own bed. As she aged she would plead to lay in bed with us. So, out of our own tiredness, we would give in. This went on until she was 7 years old! I realized that it was my own laziness that brought us to that point. Those insecurities about being alone in her bed were very difficult to overcome. To this day, she will still ask me for a 'girls night'...and once in a while it is a fun treat, but she doesn't fall asleep with me anymore. We will have a late night watching movies in my bed, but she will go to hers to fall asleep.
With my son, we have decided to take the more responsible route. We rock him to sleep every night, but put him in his own bed just before or shortly after he falls asleep. Once in a while he wakes up and needs reassurance that we are still around, so I go and put my hand on his chest while putting his pacifier in his mouth as he falls back asleep. I also have to rock him one more time when he's having a hard time with pain from teething. But he is safe and secure in his bed and we can tell that he is a happier child knowing that this is true. I like to believe that we are instilling healthy sleeping habits that will follow him into adulthood. I am also comforted knowing that he doesn't have the insecurities about sleeping that his sister has.
As for the effect on myself and my husband, well, it is a tremendous difference. We would get so much anxiety when it came to bedtime with our daughter...is she sleeping well? will she wake if I move? can I finally put her in her own bed? why can't I say no?! With our son, there is no anxiety with bedtime routine. He has his routine and sleeps through the night. Once in a while he will wake in the night and most of the time puts himself back to sleep. He naps well through the day and I believe that it is because he gets a good nights sleep. Our marriage is stronger. We need to have that time together at night to discuss house needs, to talk about work, to connect as a couple and to be intimate too. We also need that time to be individuals as well. We take off our Mommy and Daddy hats for the night to be ourselves and have that release from the day so we can be ready for the next one.
There are so many more things that I could talk about on this subject, but I mainly wanted to tell our sides of the story. I am not a doctor, psychiatrist, or expert on sleep. This is a decision that has to be made by a couple. I just hope that when the time comes to make this decision that you look ahead at the repercussions. How long will you allow this to go on? How does it affect your and your child's emotional health? How is the quality of sleep for all involved? These are all things that only you can decide. I would love to answer questions about our experience and I hope that it helps you on your sleep journey.