When our children were young, the family bed conundrum was a big issue for my friends and me. But like all new parents, when my oldest was an infant, I filled my shelves with books on “Parenting by Experts”. The leg up I had on the other moms in the neighborhood was that while many of my friends were getting married and having babies in their early twenties, I was 27 when Sara was born.
Getting married at 27 doesn't mean you'll be a better parent, but it does mean that you've had more years to deal with colleagues with idiosyncrasies, annoying neighbors, electric, phone and gas companies and the local municipality that is trying to cut down that old maple tree on your lawn. You've voted more and have stood at the polls wondering, "Why am I casting a ballot for someone with less state or national sense than my students/the receptionist in my office/our local paper boy?" This endows a feeling of empowerment, the knowledge that it is your right to decide, an awareness that authors on shelves are not looking over your shoulder and that, even if your mother- or sister-in-law does, shoulders are for shrugging.
So, frankly, I didn't give a damn what anyone thought about whether or not our little ones crept into our beds (two large ones, shoved together, with lots of space) in the middle of the night. I also didn't care if anyone thought I held my babies too much when they cried, snuggled with them too long before they went to sleep or let them run around naked in the house (not yet toilet-trained, in the summer, when the carpets were rolled up) because they needed some "airing out."
My most trusted expert was my intuition. I believe that – pathologies aside -- a mom and dad know what is good for their kid.
Every parent has her own style. A structure freak would fail if he tried to force himself into a free-flowing parenting style, and vice versa. Parenting books teach skills, but skills are meant to enhance your child-raising style, not abort it.
Back to the Family Bed.
It began when I realized that both Sara and I liked curling up in each other's arms after she breast-fed. This was not an ideological statement. Life is finite, I thought. Why not enjoy moments of rapture?
Before Sara's second birthday, along came Pearl, who slept like a log and who joined me in bed only when she got hungry, around 4 AM. Sara started the night in her youth bed, but before dawn her sleepy radar would lead her to Pearl and me.
It wasn't just mother-daughter bonding; it became a family affair. My (very patient) husband, Jacob, and I were bookends by daybreak.
At some point Sara crawled in with us less often, around the same time that Anne joined the clan, 28 months after Pearl.
Some days we were accommodating three musketeers and Jacob and I began to feel a little crowded by around 5 a.m. So we gently suggested to Sara and Pearl that they spend more time in their own room. They were okay with it. I padded their scenes with lots of dolls and stuffed animals, to battle the loneliness.
One day a friend gave me a book called The Family Bed. Validated at last. That night I announced to my three happy campers, "You can start the evening in our beds!" The experiment lasted one night. There were too many arms and legs. And I realized that this method might raise happy kids but it would also throw a wrench into a happy marriage.
So as the sun rose, I announced, "That was fun, but we're not going to do this any more. Well," seeing the disappointed faces, "maybe only once in a while." Life was good. Rachel was born when Anne was 16 months old. By now I realized that the family bed was not a reliable method of birth control.
Rachel slept in her crib for seven-hour stretches at night. David was born two years later, and crawled in a few times a week. Mitch came along, who breast-fed till the age of four. He was the most dedicated proponent of the family bed. It was with Mitch that we had to start remembering to lock our door when we REALLY wanted privacy; he didn’t share the natural antennae of his siblings.
The unexpected perk of our casual attitude to the family bed was that my kids also bonded with each other.
I’ve updated this article since I first wrote it. Back then, Mitch was sharing a bed with his soccer ball, David with his CD player and the girls with their books. Today four of my six children are sharing beds with their spouses (and, sometimes, my grandchildren).
Our kids are sensitive to others' feelings, affectionate, flexible and know how to relax and have fun. We'll never know if the family bed helped them to become that way. But it seems it didn't hurt.
I don't think I've been a perfect mother. But I don't regret a single second spent cuddled up under the covers with my kids. And neither, I think, should you.