Yet another way parents wreck their children?
March 22, 2010 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Follow me inside for a bunch of questions about co-sleeping with an older child.

My husband and I co-sleep with our 7-year-old son, and I'd like to hear from others who do or have done similarly. Here's the backstory:

When my son was a newborn, we did co-sleeping for a few weeks, both in the bed with us and using a co-sleeper attached to the side of the bed. And then, because I wasn't sleeping well, at about two months I put him in his crib. He loved his crib and slept fine there, so we went with that. (I would have gone back to co-sleeping had the crib been a problem for him.)

At some point we transitioned my son to his "big bed" with no problems. But then when he was about four years old, my husband started working a project that kept him away from home Mon-Fri from 5am - 10pm, for seven months. This was a difficult time for my son, who became anxious and sad at basically never seeing his dad from Sunday night till Saturday morning. So we got into a routine where my son would go to sleep in his own bed, and then when my husband and I were ready to go to sleep, we would carry him into our bed. This actually did calm my son, even though he wasn't having real "quality time" with my husband -- the physical closeness seemed to satisfy him. Over time, this gradually changed to where we are now: my 7-year-old falls asleep in my bed, and then eventually my husband and I get in and go to sleep, too.

Why it works: We get "close" time together. My son is a heavy sleeper, so my husband and I can talk, read, have the lights on, etc. after he falls asleep. My son sleeps calmly, so though the bed is crowded he isn't kicking, tossing and turning, etc. And it leads to the most outrageously sweet morning cuddles.

Why it doesn't work: Issues of marital intimacy (my husband and I basically have no alone time in our bed, but we can work around that). It's crowded (there are two cats, also, and no room for a larger bed). I tend to sleep less-well than everyone else.

My questions:
-- Did you/are you co-sleeping with an older child?
-- If you co-slept with an older child, how did it end? Was the end child-driven or parent-driven? In what manner did you transition your child to their own bed?
-- This is a more abstract question, but I've been thinking a lot about how physically close are we "supposed" to be with our older children. We sleep like a pile of puppies, bodies quite entwined. That's starting to feel a bit weirder to me now that he's getting so big.
-- Can you point me to any references, books, websites, etc. with info for co-sleeping with an older child. My googling is only getting me to the regular co-sleeping info with infants and small children.

I am not looking for criticism of co-sleeping in general. I am looking for advice from people who have actually been there/done that.
posted by BlahLaLa to Human Relations (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have no experience with co-sleeping, but I'll point out one quick thing about physical intimacy:

This problem is more often experienced in a dad/daughter duo, but it is common for a parent to start to feel awkward and uncomfortable with physical intimacy as his or her child starts to head towards puberty and beyond. Try, as hard as you can, to understand that the fear instilled in parents about "bad touch" is, for the most part, not something they themselves have to deal with. If your son gets uncomfortable, he'll tell you--you can help by making it clear to him that whenever he wants to leave this co-sleeping arrangement, he is welcome to, and can have the big bed in his room all to himself again. I know many people who would have much rather their parents continued to be awkward and affectionate than awkward and distant. From your child's viewpoint, you will never not be awkward regardless.
posted by opossumnus at 10:23 AM on March 22, 2010

Best answer: Our son who just turned six today still sleeps with us, though he is starting to spend some nights in his bed in his room. We have had your same challenges, where we find ourselves wistfully holding hands over the body of our sleeping son, even as we thought the trade-offs were worth it. We also have a dog, a cat or two, and room-size limitations on the possibility of getting a bigger bed.

He chose to start sleeping in his bunk bed. One thing we've done with him and his older brother is start offering both as an option: "Do you want to sleep in your bunk bed, or in our bed?" Even if he was choosing our bed every night, I felt like making the offer kept the possibility of sleeping in his own bed in his mind. If he chooses to sleep in his bunk bed, his dad will lie down with him until he's asleep, and he can come to our bed later if he wants. I think this is the beginning of the transition to his own bed, but I'm not sure how long the transition will last!

As far as physical closeness with your kid, if the weird feeling is "I think I'm supposed to feel weird about this," I wouldn't worry about it. If the weird feeling is, "I'm not comfortable with this," then that's something to pay attention to--your own comfort matters.

Our "rule" has basically been, "Kids can sleep in our bed if they want to." Our daughter, who is 2.5, has always wanted to sleep alone. Our older son, almost 9, has gone back and forth but has been in his own bed for a couple of years.
posted by not that girl at 10:39 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

My wife is Japanese, and I lived in Japan for ten years... Co-sleeping is pretty normal in Japan.

Right now, we all sleep in one big bed (we pushed a queen-size bed together with a double bed). There are four of us - me, 7-year-old boy, mom, 1-year-old boy.

We've always slept together, because it makes nighttime feedings with new-born easier. While I would like our 7-year-old to sleep on his own - he kicks at night, and then I get quite irate, which is bad - he has only just started to use his own bed in his own room to take naps and read books.

I suspect that over the next year or two (!) he will transition to his own bed. I've noticed that with my sister-in-law's family in Japan, the eldest son started sleeping on his own at around the age of nine, whereas the two daughters (8 and 10) still sleep in the master bedroom.

The youngest daughter sleeps in bed with her parents, while the 10-year-old sleeps in a separate bed. My brother-in-law works during the week at a satellite office about 3 hours away by express train, so he's only with the family on Friday and Saturday night. The parents are two of the most emotionally healthy people I know, and their kids have turned out great.

I personally think co-sleeping can produce happier and more relaxed kids. This attachment parenting should produce lifelong positive results.

At the end of the day, though, child-driven (just like attachment parenting). I'm trying to socialize our 7-year-old to his bed by reading him stories there before bed, but he still prefers to stay with us. Obviously, kicking him out is not an option.

As for physical intimacy, there's nothing wrong sleeping intertwined like a pile of puppies up until a certain age. One thing I noticed in Japan was how comfortable people are touching each other (only certain people in certain contexts of course). In junior high school, boys would hug each other, sit on each other's laps, grab my ass (drunk coworkers as well), all sorts of stuff that I thought was really weird and squishy until I realized people are very comfortable touching people (of the same sex) they know.

The one funny story have about co-sleeping is that my parents made friends with a Japanese family, whose son came to study abroad in Canada for junior high school.

The mother came with her son, who was 14 at the time, to help him get settled in, and they stayed with my parents for a few nights. My mom prepared two guests rooms for them, one upstairs for the mom, and one downstairs for the son.

My mom's sensibilities were offended when she caught the 14-year-old sneaking upstairs to sleep with his mom.

I'm not sure exactly how emotionally healthy that sort of thing is, but that's their business, I suppose. And he was going to live on his own for 3 years.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:59 AM on March 22, 2010

My son is three and a half, and I co-sleep with him pretty routinely. What makes us unusual is that I sleep in his bed much, much more often than he sleeps in mine. (My husband uses a a CPAP machine which bugs my son to no end -- due to the blowing air -- so very often its me and E in E's bed and my husband in "our" bed.) As with your family, I don't see my son as much as I would like (I work two jobs), and I also feel very strongly that this co-sleeping is calming and reinforcing to my son about my always being there for him. I will lie in bed with him until he falls asleep, and then either go to sleep myself, or get up and do stuff, then go back to his bed. If my sleeping is suffering, I will sometimes put E in bed with his father, and sleep alone in E's bed, which is also weird but seems to work.

In terms of "marital intimacy" - well, we've just learned to work around it. Also, my son spends one weekend overnight per month with his grandmother, by design, so my husband and I can have some grownup time.

I have a good friend who is the mother of five children, now ages 15 - 3 (boy - girl - girl- girl - boy). She's a dedicated attachment parent, and they have a "family bedroom" set up which is basically three king mattresses on a custom built raised platform. The whole family can sleep together, although the two oldest kids will, more often than not, decide to sleep in their own rooms. She says that she's happy to continue to co-sleep with everyone until they decide its not right for them any longer. She once said to me: imagine you were camping. How old would your child need to be before you thought it was ok for him to sleep in his own tent? That's how long you should co-sleep. I think this is a great rule of thumb.

I co-slept with my mother until I was 6 or 7, and it ended because I wanted to sleep in my own bed. (Actually, because I wanted to have sleepovers, and couldn't do it while sharing a room with my mom.) I fully expect my son to boot me out one day, and I'm ok with that. But I intend to continue to sleep in his bed as long as he's comfortable with it.
posted by anastasiav at 12:02 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

A leading researcher of co-sleeping is Dr. James McKenna, his site might lead you to some helpful resources. This page presents some of the findings on long-term effects of co-sleeping (such as higher self esteem), from research that involves older children.
posted by illenion at 12:45 PM on March 22, 2010

We co-slept with our daughter from the time she was born (over loud protests from a number of people who should have minded their own business); when she was 3, before her little brother arrived, we set up her own room and tried to get her to sleep in there. We wouldn't kick her out of our bed when she'd come in, though. Once the baby arrived, we did divide and conquer for a while, with my husband sleeping in the guest room with our daughter. When the baby was bigger, most nights we'd all end up in our king-size bed.

Now our daughter is 6 and our son is 3. Both of them have their own rooms, but I'd say 99.9% of the time, our son ends up in our bed, and our daughter comes in probably four nights out of seven.

Our thinking is that we'll give them each their own space and help them be comfortable there. But they're welcome in our room most any time. Eventually, I'm sure they'll be completely happy sleeping in their own beds - I've never known anyone who needed their mom or dad to go off to college with them because they couldn't sleep alone. In the meanwhile, I'm going to enjoy the cuddles and the feeling of togetherness. My son still says "cuddle me, Mama!" at bedtime - how could I resist that?

Really, I'm more eager for the dog to figure out that he doesn't have to sleep on my knees every night!
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 1:12 PM on March 22, 2010

My son slept with me often, esp. after his dad left. As he got older and more rambunctious in his sleep, I put my foam camping pad under my bed, and transitioned him to the option of coming in to my room to sleep if wanted, but using the foam pad and a quilt.

If you're really not getting good sleep because of bed crowding, then it's okay to begin reclaiming your bed. My son, now 22, feels free to come to my room and give me a snuggle in the morning, when he's home.
posted by theora55 at 4:04 PM on March 22, 2010

Your husband leaves to be at work at 5 am, right? So he doesn't see his Dad in the morning anyway?

Have you ever thought of asking your son if he would be okay with your putting him back in his own bed once he falls asleep? All of you snuggling together until he is sound asleep, then he spends the rest of the night in his own room?

That way, he will fall asleep earlier than you or your husband, and so you two can have some couple time while your son is sound asleep. And you won't feel so uncomfortable.
posted by misha at 4:32 PM on March 22, 2010

We have good friends with a son who always co-slept with them (or more often, with mom; dad often moved out to the couch b/c it got too crowded for him) and we thought it was, at the least, something we'd never do; at the most, kind of weird, especially as he got older (non-parents that we were at the time). He's now 11 or 12 and mostly sleeps in his own room, though he does occasionally crawl into bed with his mom. I'm pretty sure they didn't really push that on him, they just let him kind of outgrow it. Of course, now they have a 1 year old so he is in bed with mom now. And now that we have kids, we totally get it.
Our daughter co-slept with us as an infant, which was great for nursing. When she night-weaned we put her in her crib and she slept like a champ, no problems. I was happy to get her out of our bed because it was like sleeping with a wild animal- she flailed, she kicked, she slept sideways between us- it was crazy. Now, at age 4.5, she has slept in our bed off and on since we transitioned her out of her crib. Somehow we slacked on her iron-clad bedtime routine and she would end up falling asleep in our bed with daddy, b/c I'm a night owl, and then when I came to bed I'd carry her to her bed, but most of the time she'd wake later in the night and come back into our bed. But she is still a pretty active sleeper and despite our king-size bed, my husband (and me, to a lesser extent- I often didn't even wake up when she got into bed with us) often got disturbed by her flailing enough that he slept poorly and sometimes moved to the couch.
Lately we have persuaded her to sleep in her own bed by promising her a weekly trip to "the candy store" if she sleeps in her bed all night, all week long. Bribery? Perhaps. But, damn, we love having that king-size bed all to ourselves again. We do her bedtime routine and usually stay with her while she falls asleep. Magically, all her fears about monsters in her closet and ghosts in her room that she would bring up when we would suggest she sleep in her room disappeared. Sometimes she wakes and comes into our room but one of us will usually accompany her back to her bed and stay with her until she falls asleep. She's fine with that. She usually crawls into bed with me in the morning, after her dad has gone to work, and that's fine, I love morning cuddles!
I'm not sure how long the candy store thing will work with her. I hope she gets used to sleeping in her bed without having to take her to the damn candy store every week until she's in high school. Though it just might be worth it to have that bed to ourselves.
posted by phogirl at 9:56 PM on March 22, 2010

Just get another bed for his room and use that when he's asleep. Co-sleeping with our 2 yo (just got his own bed at 3) meant we had sex in every room of the house except our bedroom.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:19 AM on March 23, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the great advice. I really appreciate knowing that others have gone down this path. I could have marked them all best answers.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:20 AM on March 23, 2010

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