The Family Bed
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.
Q Last night, when my husband and I finished making love, we noticed that our six-year-old son was asleep at the foot of our bed. He must have come in while we were making love and fallen asleep. We didn't hear a thing. Was he traumatized? Should we say anything to him? Guest Therapist Elanah Wernik, MSW, answers: A: Your son most probably saw you making love but he obviously felt comfortable enough to fall right back asleep. Most of us have had the experience of waking our children (who have fallen asleep in front of the TV or in our beds) and getting them back to their rooms, speaking with them, giving them a kiss goodnight-- and the next morning the kids don't remember a thing.
I love my children. I love to wrap my arms around them, hold them closely and kiss their soft faces as they sleep at night. But I know that as much as I love them and always want to hold them close, sometimes what a child needs most is his own space. It is for this reason that I feel strongly, as a parent and an early childhood educator that the place for children at night is in their own beds.
Twenty years later, I still have vivid memories of my first year as a parent, dreading bedtime. Our daughter would fall asleep with little trouble. That wasn't the problem, especially after my husband and I figured out that waiting for her to fall asleep when she was tired was easier than trying to "put" her to sleep when we were tired. But would she stay asleep for a few hours, or would she awaken to nurse after 45 minutes? We approached every night with apprehension.
Q What are the benefits of letting your child sleep in your bed? A The article on Co-Sleeping in the WholeFamily site mentions a few of the beneficial effects for children who sleep with the parents -- children have a more rested mother, it's good for family bonding, and there seems to be a lower risk of SIDS. The following resources contain information about many studies on the subject. You might be especially interested in the research now in progress by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber and author Maria Goodavage who are surveying mothers, fathers, and children who have "graduated" from the family bed.
Editor's note: On September 29, 1999, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a warning against parents and children sleeping in the same bed. The Commission based its recommendation on research published in the journal Pediatrics showing increased incidence of SIDS, suffocation and strangulation when babies sleep with their parents. The recommendation created a furor. Newspapers, magazines and web sites were filled with the voices of parents and experts who were up in arms.
In recent years, there has been a good deal of discussion in support of the family bed. Proponents argue that babies, in particular anxiety-prone infants, both need and deserve parental indulgence, even at night. Moreover, many champions of co-sleeping assert that parental failure to respond to these children will eventually result in needy, anxious, depressed or distant adults.
You will see the family bed referred to as "night time nurturing," or "family co-sleeping." Hey come on - let's call it what it is: The lazy parent's bed. And I don't use the word lazy pejoratively. (Everybody else does but they're wrong.) With my first baby, I was vigilant. I wouldn't let him sleep in the bed. I'd nurse him and my husband would whisk him away like an efficient nanny. "He has to be able to comfort himself," I told my husband.
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