Sleep: Can't Live Without It... But Sometimes You Have To
Oh, sleep. The always sought after prize of adulthood. Somewhere along the line we stop trying to avoid sleep and realize it's pretty much the best thing ever. For parents, there just never seems to be enough. Sleep is almost even optional... not in the sense that we get to choose whether we sleep, nope. Our kids choose and we just have to deal. Parents, especially moms, have literally evolved to function with sleep deprivation, even waking at the slightest peep from our little one regardless of how exhausted we are. In the midst if it all it seems like we'll never survive the baby years.
There are a few things that make life with babies easier and a million times simpler though. Babies need very basic things: food, sleep, and physical closeness. So if you want to really simplify baby care, all you need is a baby carrier, your boobs, and your bed!
When considering co-sleeping though, many parents worry that kids will never learn to sleep in their own beds. The premise is the same as many other natural parenting practices; children will naturally meet milestones when they are emotionally ready. In many families, children and babies really do wake less when sleeping with their parents and if they do wake it's easier to help them. This can mean lots more precious sleep for Mom and Dad.
When I chose to write about co-sleeping and transitioning kids to their own beds, my kids were in an "independent phase". The two year old was in my bed, but for the most part the others were sleeping in their own rooms (very close to mine). Now as I think about how to assure new co-sleepers that their kids won't be sleeping in their beds at age 16, my kids are less than perfect examples of transitioning from co-sleeping to sleeping on their own. There's been countless nights lately where all four of them have crowded into my bed, along with the dog and cat! This doesn't change my mind about co-sleeping though.
My kids might not be shining examples of sleep independence but they are great examples of real life with kids. As with everything, there will always be waxing and waning. No one practice will make everything perfect no matter what anyone says. Nothing will prevent bumps and backpedaling once in a while. Some kids might be ok with co-sleeping until a certain age and then move to their own beds no problem as soon as parents ask. I've never met this hypothetical kid but anything is possible ;) I think that for most, it is a gradual process that takes some time. Even my eleven year old who has been in his own bed for three years still comes in once in a while after having a bad dream or a hard time falling asleep.
Right now, with a lot of changes in their lives, my eight year olds are sleeping with me a lot. I'm glad that they know they can come sleep with me to feel extra safe and loved. And while some nights I want to kick everyone out, I don't, because I'm confident it's just a phase. I know they won't always want to sleep with me, so I might as well make it easier for everyone and enjoy it now.
When my eldest was a baby, I thought it was the right thing to do to help him learn to sleep in his own bed. We tried and got frustrated, read books, tried other things. We finally even decided to try to let him cry for a while because well-meaning people kept saying it was the *only* way he'd learn. I couldn't follow through with it though, and after a few minutes he was crying hysterically and it broke my heart. Even though that didn't work, I still thought he needed to sleep in his bed. My instincts were obviously telling me something but I couldn't fully listen. Sometimes I would bring him into my bed but mostly his dad or I would get up a few times in the night to go to him and then one if us always ended up sleeping there. Looking back, we were kind of co-sleeping anyway! Why did we make it so hard?!
We went on like that until our twins were born. My son was three then and still woke up and asked for someone almost every night. It's so funny looking back because he seemed so old then, as my first child. Now my youngest is that age and she seems like such a baby. I would never dream of trying to make her sleep alone!
By the time I had my twins, I knew about attachment parenting and I knew I would never get any sleep with twins if I didn't co-sleep. It seemed unfair to bring the girls into our bed and not my son, so he came too and that was the end of that. He slept great and transitioned mostly full time into his own bed around age 8.
There are nights when I find myself annoyed with kids in my bed, there's times when I wake up tired from being kicked or woken to nurse in the night, but I know it won't be forever. I remind myself that my twins will make the same awesome progress that my son did when they are ready. And I know, in a very long time, many nights away, my youngest will sleep in her own bed too. Although laying off the midnight "mom snacks" a bit would be nice for now also.
Happy sleep parents, especially mamas. Take whatever you can get, but remember it's not forever.
More info on co-sleeping:
Dr. Sears tips to sleep with your baby safely
Why human babies should not sleep alone
How to explain co-sleeping to family and friends
Check out our Co-sleeping Board on Pinterest