Monday, January 17, 2011

To Share a Family Bed or Not…That is the Question

Co-sleeping ranks high on my list of things I vowed I wouldn’t do. I never judged those who share a family bed; I just never imagined it working for my family. I always worried about my child getting crushed and about losing valuable intimate time with my husband. Then I gave birth to a child who’s never slept very well. Early into parenthood my husband and I would have done just about anything to get some rest. That included placing her in bed between us.

If she’d snoozed restfully with us we probably wouldn’t have the same dilemma two years later. I’d have eaten my words, and we’d all be blissfully well rested from the same bed today. But that didn’t happen. When she sleeps, she tosses and turns, kicks and mumbles. I’m not complaining, but she’s never mimicked the peacefully sleeping babies in the movies. Ever. I’ll admit when co-sleeping works it’s fantastic. When she can be quiet and still we’re all cozy, and her Bert’s Bees-shampooed hair scents the air. She’s so content and loveable it’s overwhelming. Unfortunately those times are rare.

Her pediatrician isn’t concerned about her lack of sleep. She’s very healthy, above average in height and weight for her age. I vividly remember standing in the brightly colored, alphabet-themed examining room when he patted my shoulder, smiled and explained, “Some children just don’t need much sleep.” It’s ironic. Her father and I really used to love sleeping in, at least what we remember of it.

She currently starts off in her bed after our routine of bedtime stories and songs, but most nights by about 3:00 to 4:00 a.m. she’s over it and ready to snuggle or play. We’ve never fully let her cry it out at night, so maybe that’s our biggest problem. We’ve made unsuccessful attempts with the Ferber Method; wanting her to know we’re always there for her (even at 3:00 a.m.) conflicts with teaching her how to soothe herself. To be fair she does sleep through the night between three to four nights a week, just not enough to get into a real rhythm. And there are no specific differences in her food, activity level/overstimulation, etc. for when she sleeps and when she doesn't. It's a mystery.

If we go with the family bed our queen just isn’t big enough. We’ve recently investigated buying a king-sized bed, but that seems ridiculous. Should we really spend the money to appease our toddler, hoping a king would provide enough room to avoid the late night karate kicks and early morning arm flings?

She’s also smarter than we are. When we’ve tried the Super Nanny/returning her to her bed, she knows exactly what to say to trigger our second-guessing. “I miss you,” or “in there,” (pointing to our room) or my all-time favorite, “I just wanna be with you.” The girl has skills. We either abandon our mission allowing her to join us or one of us begins the entire, exhausting nighttime process again.

My sister suggested a sleeping bag in our room for when she got lonely. She could come into our room to be near us, but we’d still have our space in our bed. The night we tried it out she wanted her daddy to lie down with her, and then she waited him out. As soon as he fell asleep I sensed her eyes on me. (That’s a crazy, almost eerie feeling, isn’t it?) She said, “Up there,” and climbed in.

Our sleeping (or lack there of) situation is a challenge. We aren’t weak and spineless like this in other areas. We stick with our parenting plan regardless of tears or tantrums, but we’re softies at night. We realize we’re not doing any of us any favors, and something has to give. We have to make a decision and stay the course: either buy a king and really give the family bed a whirl or suck it up and insist she sleep in her room since her toddler bed isn’t just in there to look pretty.

Is a magical solution out there?


  1. My sister gave me "The Sleep Lady" book and it actually makes a lot of sense. Kind of a nicer version of the Ferber method that still allows you to comfort your child and then wean them off the comfort. I haven't done it 100% though--I'm too tired to stick with it consistently! The part about putting them down worked well though--Ender goes down like a champ!

  2. Very cool, Ashley! I will have to check it out. I'm really open to trying anything, and the thought of Ellie going to bed "like a champ" sounds fantastic to me! Thanks for the suggestion!