Friday, November 13, 2015

I Don't Let My Children Share My Bed

Let me begin by stating, quite clearly, that there are no absolutes in parenting. Any parent that tells you that they “never” or “always” is either a liar or a crazy person and, in either case, I advise you to stop listening and flee the scene immediately. That said, my wife and I never let our girls share a bed with us.

For the first couple of months of their lives, our daughters slept in a bassinet next to our bed. That decision had less to do with bonding with our beautiful baby girl and more to do with allowing my nursing wife to feed said bundle of joy four times a night with a simple roll-over and lift maneuver. But we also believed that we couldn’t spoil a baby at that age. In those early months, no bad habits were being learned, no difficult to break patterns were being set. (Other than maybe crying gets you stuff.) Once she became more aware of her surroundings, however, our cohabitation period ended and we moved her into a crib in her own room. From that point on, we taught our children that they would sleep in their beds and mommy and daddy would sleep in theirs.

My wife and I felt that establishing our bed as an adults-only zone was important for our and the children’s well being. Children take over every nook and cranny of your world, both physical and mental. Toys and clothes and unpleasant smells clog every hallway and room in your house. Thoughts of “why is she crying?” and “are we saving enough for college?” and “good god, where is that smell coming from?!” bounce around your mind day and night. And so, we felt it imperative to our welfare that we create a childfree space. A space to allow us to connect with each other, not as parents, but as people.

Maintaining a loving, respect-filled relationship is one of the most important, and often overlooked, aspects of being a good parent. And nurturing such a relationship takes time and energy, neither of which new parents have in abundance. A childfree bed allows for a few moments of conversation and connection at the beginning and ending of each day. It’s also a heck of a lot easier to get a good night’s sleep without a size 2 foot in your face.

Established, enforced rules about sleeping spaces also create more secure, happy children. As any parenting book will tell you (NOTE: you should also avoid fellow parents that begin sentences like this), kids need rules and limits. Predictable routines reduce anxiety and arguments. If children understand from an early age that they sleep in their own bed, the bedtime routine can be a fairly simple affair. In addition, at least based on my own observations, letting children share your bed creates problems when sharing a bed isn’t possible. If a parent goes out of town or the child visits friends or family without their parents, suddenly the child is asked to sleep without the familiar comfort of the family bed. Without that comfort, the child can become angry, sad, or scared.

All of this isn’t really to say my kids never share our bed. When they’re sick and they just want us to hold them, of course we let them squeeze in. When I go out of town, my wife frequently declares it a “Girls Night” and they’ll fall asleep together watching Frozen for the hundredth time. Those moments of rule breaking are essential for health and happiness, too. Like a birthday dinner of ice cream, it’s special precisely because it’s against the rules. Parenting isn’t about absolutes, but giving love and support the best you can. Which, in our house, means always sleeping in your own warm bed. Except for when it doesn’t.