When my first son was born 11 years ago, I never expected to be an “extended co-sleeper.” I knew when he was a baby that bed-sharing was the right choice for us. It made breastfeeding so much easier and I just couldn’t imagine having him anywhere else. Plus, he was a frequent night-waker, and dragging my exhausted self out of bed to soothe him sounded completely awful.
By the time his little brother was born, I had transitioned my big boy to a toddler bed—in my room. My little guy slept in bed with us just as I’d done with his brother. But his older brother still wanted to sleep in our room, so we kind of just went with it. It seemed like he needed that extra security, especially as our whole family dynamic was turned upside down with the arrival of a new baby.
Still, there was no way I could've anticipated that, years later, I’d still have a kid or two in my bed or in my room pretty much every night.
Yes, my kids have their own room, with their own beds. And they are fully capable of sleeping there. But then there is illness or nightmares or just the desire for an extra cuddle, and they end up right back with us. It happens most nights, actually. Our youngest pretty much always falls asleep in our bed and stays there all night. Hey, he’s my baby—he gets special treatment!
Clearly, this open-door policy is not for everyone. But we’ve learned to just roll with it, and make accommodations to make it more comfortable. We’ve got a queen-sized mattress with a twin on each side so that our kids can sleep with us, or near us, and we still have plenty of space for ourselves.
And we're not alone.
Believe me, as soon as one of my kids says “no more” to sleeping in my room or my bed, I will be more than happy for it to end.
In an article for The Natural Child Project, anthropologist James McKeena explains that co-sleeping is practiced all over the world, and in many cultures it can last years, into late childhood and even the teenage years. Of course, this has a lot to do with families having much less space than most of us do in America. But it’s also a culturally accepted practice.
And no, it doesn't create clingy, spoiled children.
Robert and Sarah LeVine, authors of "Do Parents Matter? Why Japanese Babies Sleep Soundly, Mexican Siblings Don't Fight, and American Families Should Just Relax," share with the Los Angeles Times that although Japanese children tend to share a room with their parents for many years, they don't become over-dependent on their parents. It’s the opposite, actually: Japanese children are among the most independent, responsible and hardworking kids in the world, traditionally contributing to household and community chores at very young ages.
If you needed further proof that co-sleeping for extended periods isn't harmful for kids, a 2011 study followed an ethnically diverse group of low-income kids who had co-slept at ages 1, 2 and 3. The results found that at five years, these kids had no ill effect from co-sleeping, behaviorally or cognitively.
But most of us co-sleeping parents don’t need concrete evidence like this to know that allowing our kids into our beds—even at ages deemed “too old” for most—is absolutely fine and valid. Most of us just feel that kids are only kids for so long, and that their need for security and closeness only lasts for so long, and they outgrow this need in good time. We are definitely not smothering them.
Believe me, as soon as one of my kids says “no more” to sleeping in my room or my bed, I will be more than happy for it to end. But I will allow them that extra buffer for as long as they need it. The world can be a scary place sometimes, so why not give them that extra comfort if I can?
Sometimes people ask my husband and me how we manage to have sex with a setup like this. And to them I say, “As long as you have more than one room in your house, you're good to go.” Like everyone else, we wait until our kids are good and asleep until we do the deed—we just don’t do it in our bedroom. This tiny detail hasn’t changed the frequency or quality of the sex. Honestly, it’s fun to have our sexy time in a variety of different locations. It keeps things interesting.
Again, sharing a bed or a room with your kids for as long as we have isn't everyone’s cup of tea. I totally get that, and would never push it on anyone else. But if you feel an inclination to do it, but feel pressured not to, you can push all that bullshit aside and know that there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. It doesn’t do your kids any harm, and can be a special way to bond and offer comfort to your kids when they need it most.