Trust Yourself, Trust Your Child, When It Comes to Cosleeping

by Rita Brhel on April 5, 2010

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I remember thinking the same thing many of you are thinking, “When will this baby (or child) sleep through the night? Am I doing something wrong by cosleeping?” Just like you, I was criticized by anyone who knew I coslept – family, friends, doctors. I even had one doctor tell me that every child he knows who bedshared grew up to become a psychopath. And he was serious.

As I wrap up on the spring issue of The Attached Family magazine (available later this spring to subscribers), a thought has popped into my head that I wanted to share with everyone and it goes along with the age-old saying, “This too shall pass”: Learning to sleep, to your child, is much like learning to eat solids or learning to use the potty. It’s a process. It’s something that is under none of your control. It’s something that has to happen when your child is ready.

And when it does happen, which it will, you’ll wonder why you spent so much time worrying about sleep when your child was younger. And for many of you, you’ll grieve for the time you spent cosleeping, because it is so wonderful to have that closeness at night and to stretch the time you have with your child around the clock, instead of trying to fit it in during just the daytime hours when we have other tasks or perhaps work outside the home.

You’ll look back, perhaps much the same as I’m doing now, and wish a little that you had just tried to enjoy the time with your baby, rather than worrying about trying to get as much sleep as you could, that perhaps being a little (or a lot) tired during the day wasn’t really that bad because it was only for a relatively short time. Because, you did have a baby and a baby really, truly does change everything – and it should! We shouldn’t be allowed to have the life we had before children, because that life didn’t involve little ones and likely revolved around only our own wants and needs. Raising children has the capacity of radically changing a person’s perspective on life and other people, of truly teaching us what love and commitment is, that a relationship is not just about our comfort level but about giving of ourselves and enjoying the connection that creates.

I struggled with Attachment Parenting the first year of my oldest daughter’s life. I coslept with her until about nine months and then caved in to peer pressure to try cry-it-out. It was the worse decision I ever made; it haunts me to this day. And it backfired badly: My lovely baby had extreme separation anxiety at night – screaming and clawing at the door frame if I even wanted to leave to go to the bathroom. She finally transitioned to her own bed in a room right next to mine at three and a half years old. And you know what? I miss her. I respect her decision, but I do miss the time we spent cosleeping. I try to bring it back – inviting her back into my bed – but it’s not the same. She’s past that stage, and even in bed with me, she prefers not to cuddle but to sleep slightly separated.

Her sister and I have bedshared since birth – even in the hospital, I ignored the nurse’s warnings and brought her into bed with me. My youngest is now two years old, and we have creative sleeping arrangements to allow for my work-from-home hours. My youngest falls asleep on my lap while I’m laying on the sofa watching the nightly news, and then I extract myself and go to work for a couple hours on the computer just a few feet away. Later, I pick her up and take her to bed with me. If she wakes up before I’m done working, I finish what I’m doing at the time and go to bed then.

No, this isn’t the traditional bedtime where the child just goes to sleep. But I don’t care, and neither should you: What you do at home, how you’re taking care of sleep issues, is what works for you and it really doesn’t matter if anyone else approves it because they’re not you, their children aren’t your children, and their home and lifestyle aren’t yours. What may work in another home may not work in yours, because just as every child is different, so is every family. I used to care about what everyone else thought – I used to spend an hour or more every night trying to get my child to go to sleep and stay asleep on her own until I was ready to come to bed myself, or to adjust my work schedule to allow this to happen. But, ultimately, the arrangement we have now is what works for us – at this time.

See, the thing is, parenting situations are always changing because our children are always changing – they’re growing and developing, and their needs change over time. So, you may think you finally have a sleep arrangement that works and then a few weeks or maybe a couple of months later, you’ll find that it’s not working anymore. This is normal. And the best, least-stressful approach any parent can take is to accept this and expect it and work with it when it happens.

Just understanding that what your child is doing – wanting to cosleep, waking up at night, etc. – is normal is half the battle; the other half is trusting that by practicing Attachment Parenting, everything will turn out well, that you won’t hurt your child in any way by cosleeping or night nursing, and that in time, your child will learn to fall and stay asleep on his own. Just be sure to enjoy that nighttime closeness while you can, because while it seems now that time is just crawling by, you’ll be surprised by how quickly your baby grows up and out of your bed – and you’re lying in bed missing that little body snuggled against your own.

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Rita Brhel (131 Posts)

Rita Brhel, CLC, API Leader, is the Publications Coordinator for Attachment Parenting International. She also works as a WIC Breastfeeding Counselor at Hastings, Nebraska, USA, and is a freelance agricultural journalist. She lives with her husband and 3 children on a sustainable family farm. She enjoys crocheting, listening to music, photography, reading biographies, being with nature, volunteering with 4-H, and singing at church.

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