When Your Child Sleeps in Your Bed

Savoring the Nighttime Cuddles

The thing is, it takes a lot of energy to deal with sleep problems. And when you're exhausted from dealing with them, it's hard to muster the energy to be steadfast. All you want is sleep. Nothing feels as important as shutting your eyes -- not some lesson in independence, not the chance to talk with your mate, not even sex.

Still, my husband, Eric, and I were a whole lot firmer with our first two. As new parents eager to do the right thing, we wasted no time getting Eli, who's now 12, into his own bed. The books said babies need to learn to fall asleep on their own. So we steeled ourselves against our son's plaintive cries and, as advised, went back into his room only to offer quick pats on the back. We hung equally tough with Isaac, now 10.

Some might say we've caved in to the numeric disadvantage that occurs when you have a third child. I think my husband and I are simply at a different point in our lives than we were with our sons. We were six years into raising kids by the time Moriah came along. We had our experience to call on, that accrual of decisions that gradually teaches us what works and, more important, what kind of parenting feels right.

My Iowa friend suggests that I may be holding my daughter back by giving in to her every night. Some experts, she warns, would say I'm delaying Moriah's independence to satisfy my own desire to savor every last sweet drop of her childhood. But I watch my daughter for signs of insecurity or evidence that she is overly attached. I see her proudly swing across the monkey bars at school and fearlessly race ahead of me on her scooter on our walks. I notice her readily making conversation with visiting grown-ups and easily reach out to make new friends. She's doing just fine, I decide. I'm not holding her back; I'm helping her move forward. That reassuring togetherness at night is exactly the fuel she needs to strike out confidently on her own by day. This is just that rare moment in our lives when my daughter's needs and my own coincide.

As much as I've complained about Moriah's nightly forays, I know why I'm unable to get her out of my bed: I don't really want to. She is, after all, my last child, still my baby. When my eldest, Eli, was her age, I couldn't imagine a life beyond the nursery-school gates. Now Eli is on the cusp of adolescence, and I know how blindingly fast the years pass. I understand now, in a way that I didn't with my sons, how brief this time of delicious late-night snuggles really is.

So I've stopped fighting it when the door bursts open at night and she scoots in next to me. She wraps her arms around my arm, presses close as if trying to get back under my skin. She gives me a quick kiss. "Hi, sweetie," I say, kissing her back on her moist forehead. Then I roll over and go back to sleep.

Infant Bed-Sharing Alert

Preschoolers aren't the only kids snoozing next to a grown-up at night -- many babies are too. In fact, the percentage of infants sleeping in their parents' bed more than doubled between 1993 and 2000 -- from 5.5 percent to 12.8 percent -- according to a new study. However, bed sharing puts infants at risk of accidental suffocation, and the American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to be aware of this hazard. Babies should sleep on their back with no soft bedding around or on top of them, and they should never be put to sleep on a sofa, a water bed, or any other soft surface.

Copyright© 2004. Reprinted with permission from the April 2003 issue of Parents magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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