When Your Child Sleeps in Your Bed

Tempted to give in to nighttime visits from your little one? Here's why one mom finally gave in to the family bed.
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It's 1 a.m. Suddenly, the bedroom door bangs open and the small, sturdy figure of my 5-year-old daughter stands framed in the doorway. She hesitates a moment, as if not quite sure where her sleepy feet have led her. Then, like a heat-seeking missile homing in on its target, she launches herself across the room and burrows into our bed. Again. Moriah has been making her way to our room every night for more than a year now. The youngest of my three children, she used to be our model sleeper. Then one night, something scary jarred her awake. I foolishly brought her into bed with us to console her, and that was our undoing.

For the next several months, she told us she couldn't stay in her room because "the neighbor's dogs outside might come through my wall." Then she was worried about monsters. Now she cuts to the chase: "I don't want to be alone."

When I was growing up, my mother and father had no problem making their bed off-limits to us kids. Today, most parents I know can't keep their kids out. Some simply endure the kicks and elbow jabs. Some play nightly musical beds. One couple I know gave up and moved all of the family's mattresses onto the floor of their room.

Maybe this is just a reflection of the permissive parenting in San Francisco, where I live—at least that's what a friend in Iowa tells me. In her circle, moms and dads tuck their kids in, kiss them good-night, and everyone stays put until morning.

It's not as if either my husband or I ever intended to have a family bed. We scoffed at the notion that a family bed was "natural"; poverty, not preference, is what squeezes families together at night in many less-developed parts of the world, we decided. Much as I like cuddling with my kids, I also like my space. Indeed, some nights, our queen-size mattress barely feels big enough for two.

Over and over during the past year, we've hatched schemes to eject Moriah. We tried having her share a room downstairs with one of her older brothers. Still, she woke in the wee hours and padded back to us. Next plan: taking turns in her room in a sleeping bag on the floor. Sore shoulders and backs brought an end to that idea. Then we made a cozy nest of pads and pillows on the floor of our room, so Moriah could be near us, though not actually in our bed. But once I lay down, she flung herself across my legs and began wailing, "I want to be with Mommy!" The only way I could get her to settle down was by holding tightly onto her sweaty little hand. By morning, I couldn't bend my elbow.

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. 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.

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.

Parents Magazine

1 Comment

  1. How do I say this? To be blunt, you are way off. This article sounds a whole lot more like an attempt to defend your own selfish desires to have your kids sleep with you in your bed than an actual reasonable analysis of why it may be healthy (it’s not) for your kids to share a bed with you at night. You are definitely NOT empowering your children to become self-sufficient adults by coddling them through their preteen years in a family bed. It’s laziness on your part and if you’d have read any child development literature at all, you would plainly see that the vast majority of the experts in this field oppose sleeping in the same bed with your child(ren), from birth. An occasional exception aside (when they’re sick, etc.), there is no good reason for a family bed. What you see in your children swinging confidently across the monkey bars is certainly not proof that you having allowed your kids to share a bed with you is beneficial. Sorry to say, but that is a self-serving way of thinking. Read this article for starters:


    Research has shown the long term negative impacts of co-sleeping with your children. It stunts their development and it does the opposite of what you claim you are seeing in your child on the monkey bars—it causes anxiety and leads to children becoming adults that have anxiety disorders and a general lack of self-confidence.

    Unfortunately, you are still too new to parenting to really know how your children will turn out as adults. No one knows it all, but as someone who has 4 children (3 adult children and 1 still at home), not to mention having worked in early childhood learning and child development for more than a few years, I can honestly say that you need to ditch that family bed practice of yours right away. You are not doing your children any good by continuing such a practice, nor are you helping them develop into what you are likely hoping will be confident (non-anxious), self-sufficient adults.

    Stop with the coddling, people. It’s just not healthy.

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