Which Side of the Co-Sleeping Bed Do You Wake Up On?
It's not just toddlers crawling under the covers with Mom and Dad. Plenty of older kids (Angelina and Brad's included!) are spending nights there too. Is this okay for them? What about their parents?
The day she showed up at work with a black eye, Anna Mena, a department-store manager in New York City, could tell that her coworkers were alarmed. Finally, a close friend approached: Was everything fine at home? Mena admitted the truth: Her 5-year-old, who shared a bed with her and her husband most nights, had given her a swift kick in the face mid-slumber while flinging himself into a new position. She'd fled to the bathroom, crying tears of pain; her son slept right through it.
"Wow," said her colleague, once convinced that Mena, 42, wasn't a battered wife. "I guess it's time to get that kid out of your bed." Mena could not have agreed more.
Two years later, the thrasher still flails his way through his sleep cycles next to his parents, despite their best efforts to get him to sleep on his own. His parents have been bruised. They have been thwarted. Now, says his mother, they are mostly resigned.
Mena never thought she would be the kind of mom who puts up with a second-grader in her bed, though she is comforted by one thing: "Every single one of my friends has a child who ends up visiting them at night."
Embrace the Chaos: The family bed is fleeting
Cosleeping with babies is one of those hot-button issues that elicits sermonizing from otherwise reasonable parents on both sides of the debate. And no wonder, with the stakes so high: Bed-sharing puts babies at higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome (the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics). Still, some attachment-parenting gurus insist it can be done safely, and that it's the only arrangement a loving parent could choose.
Then there is the other family bed phenomenon -- the more covert one, in which older children of 5 or 10 come, pitter-patter, into their parents' rooms in the middle of the night or start out sleeping there, kids who prefer Mom and Dad's bed to their own. Whether or not they deliberately make this sleep choice, parents often keep it a secret, concerned they'll be judged as overindulgent or codependent at best -- or creepy and perverse at worst. Never mind what it suggests about their sex life.
Angelina Jolie, already something of a maternal iconoclast, has none of that shame: She recently told Vanity Fair that she and Brad Pitt regularly let their six kids, ages 15 months to 8 years, pile into their bed. When you've got that many, apparently, even a custom-made 9-foot bed won't shield you from the kids' nocturnal rustlings. "Mommy and Daddy are very tired the next morning," she said.
Yeah, tell us about it. A growing number of parents are squeezing their children into their standard kings and queens. Experts estimate that about 15 percent of families have children ages 5 and up with whom they share a bed for part or all of the night, several times a week. "Cosleeping with grade-school children and beyond is much more common than anyone would imagine," notes James McKenna, Ph.D., a professor of anthropology who runs the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN. "I've spoken to college kids who curl up at night with Mom and Dad. The older the child, the quieter parents get about it."
Some experts link the trend to rising rates of breast-feeding, as more moms start bed-sharing at birth -- despite safety warnings -- and never stop. Other parents just find it hard to part with their kids at bedtime. Raised on a culture of therapy, memoir, and Oprah, moms and dads today are exquisitely sensitive to the trials of childhood, which apparently includes the separations that occur on a nightly basis -- or would, if everyone stayed in their own beds.
Sleeping Together: What's Okay, What's Not
Some parents will tell you that cosleeping can be a cozy, manageable comfort for a family. Such is the idyllic scenario Sherry Perdue, 46, and her husband, who run their own business in Blacksburg, VA, describe. Their 5- and 7-year-olds fall asleep around 7:30 p.m. in their parents' bed, and the couple joins them later. "Their bunk bed is for play more than sleep," says Perdue. She feels closer to her children and cherishes morning together time. "That's when my son feels comfortable bringing up anything, like a fight he had with his brother," she says. "I'm not sure he'd come to me during the day the way he does when he's quietly reflecting at that time."
Many experts out there see nothing wrong with sharing a bed, as long as couples carve out intimate time for themselves. "If both parents agree on the arrangement and everyone gets enough sleep, cosleeping is absolutely fine," says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., a psychologist and vice chair of the board of directors for the National Sleep Foundation. "It's a choice that families make."
For certain parents, it's the only workable solution. Juliana Olivarez, 39, a kindergarten teacher and a single mother of two in Tucson, AZ, coslept with her son from birth to 13. "Otherwise, we'd never have gotten any sleep," she says. "He had night terrors when he slept alone."
She tried the techniques doctors recommended: offering positive rewards, sitting by his bed in a folding chair and inching farther away each night. Nothing helped. Friends gave her grief, but she had little patience for it: "These people don't have night after night of no sleep."
Her son, now an independent, well-adjusted teen, still crawls into her bed on occasion. "I know, kids need boundaries," she says. "I'll have boundaries when he moves out."
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