Q. My husband has a 2-year-old daughter for whom he shares custody with his ex. I love his little girl, but she's ruining our sex life! She insists on sleeping with us because that's what she does at her mom's house, and my husband says it's cruel to kick her out of our bed since that's what she's used to. I say three's a crowd. Who's right?
A. Where your stepdaughter sleeps isn't a question of who's right or wrong, but an early test of how well you can make decisions together as parents, says therapist Robert Klopfer, director of Stepping Stones Counseling Center in Ridgewood, New Jersey.
Some couples happily encourage their young children to sleep with them because they believe it's key to making them feel secure, while others strive to teach children to sleep alone from infancy. The important thing is that parents agree on who's sleeping where.
Your situation is complicated because you're newly married and this isn't your child. It's natural that you see her behavior as an intrusion, says Klopfer, while your husband probably views co-sleeping as a way to comfort a child who misses her mother. Also, guilt over the divorce may make him more tentative about making decisions that could cause his daughter to be unhappy.
It will take patience and understanding to get your way without coming off as Cinderella's evil stepmother. Rather than issuing ultimatums, calmly discuss your views with your husband over a few months' time. You may even end up agreeing with him, in which case you can focus on being more creative to squeeze in lovemaking when your stepdaughter has overnights (try making a middle-of-the-night trip to the couch or moving your stepdaughter to her own bed after she's fallen asleep).
Alternatively, if your husband confesses that he'd like his daughter to sleep alone, but he's worried about her feeling fearful -- or he's cowed by her tears -- suggest a compromise, like installing an intercom. Work together to create strategies to ease your stepdaughter's transition to her own "big girl" bed, such as playing lullaby CDs or putting a string of blinking "fairy" lights around her window. Whatever the outcome, this is a chance for you and your husband to learn how to work as a parenting team.
Holly Robinson is a Boston-area writer who lives with her husband and their five kids.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, June 2004.
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.