I am looking forward to some sleepovers with my 4 1/2-year-old and 6-year-old this weekend. Sometimes their rooms seem so far away and I miss them at night. We make a point to arrange periodic sleepovers in our bed for some nighttime cuddles and reconnection.
Though I never considered us a “co-sleeping” family, our kids have been in and out of our bed since birth. Co-sleeping full time never worked for us, as I never got great sleep. Co-sleeping enthusiasts are probably surprised to hear this; the reason many people co-sleep is because they are able to get more sleep that way, rather than getting out of bed multiple times a night to nurse. Not to mention the bonding benefits for babies and parents. I just never slept deeply enough to feel well-rested, so it worked better to have a part-time co-sleeping arrangement.
For the newborn stage, both of our babies spent most of each night in our bed. Sometimes I’d set them in the bassinet next to the bed, but I found that, even though I didn’t sleep soundly, I wanted them right next to me all night. The bassinet was too far away.
When they got to about 3-4 months old, we started getting into a bit of a routine, both day time and night. This meant that nap times became more regular and a bedtime emerged. I started putting my babies down for their first block of nighttime sleep in the bassinet/ crib for as long as they were going to sleep. This could have been anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours. But after the first time they woke, I took them into bed with me for the rest of the night.
As the months progressed, it was later and later in the night when they came into our bed; not because they were sleeping for longer stretches, but simply because I’d put them back down in their own sleep space for a second (and, eventually, a third, fourth, etc.) time. This process was so gradual I can’t even remember the length of time it spanned. It was some time between one and two years…closer to one for my daughter, closer to two for my son. This time seems so long ago!
By a long, gentle transition, they were each in their own rooms full-time by the time they were toddlers. Despite their being in another room, I made sure I was responsive, as nighttime needs matter just as much as daytime. I got up when they cried out. I nursed them when they needed it. I soothed them to sleep in their own beds when it worked and took them into our bed when it didn’t. This wasn’t always easy; some nights during various developmental stages it was hard to get up often, but it was harder for me to have them in my bed, where no one was getting good sleep and I never felt rested. I always gave my kids what they needed at night, yet still found a way to meet my own needs of at least one segment of deep sleep.
As toddlers in their toddler beds, my husband and I took turns putting them to bed at night. We each had a different routine for tucking the kids in. Beyond the basic steps of going potty, brushing teeth, and putting on PJs, John had his special time with the kids and I had mine. We each had our preferences for laying with the kids and either talking, tickling, reading stories, or singing. Sometimes we’d stay with them until they were asleep, and sometimes we said goodnight while they were still awake. We still have our own tucking-in routines, though they’ve changed a bit since the kids were toddlers. Now they’re shorter and involve playing games (John) or reading and talking (me & Elia) or reading and cuddles (me & JJ).
Over the years our kids have developed healthy sleep habits as well as flexibility in their nighttime routines. They are not dependent on one person, one object, or a very specific routine to get to sleep. Now, at ages 4 1/2 and 6 they sleep through the night. If for some reason they do wake up, they know how to get what they need (water, potty, comfort for a bad dream) and go back to sleep.
Our kids are welcome in our bed anytime. Now that they’re older and waking up less often or not-at-all, I am able to sleep much better when we’re all together. We have a kid in our bed several nights a month. Sometimes they come in a few nights in a row for extra comfort, sometimes not. If the impromptu mid-night visits get too few and far between, we plan sleepovers where one child will get tucked into our bed so the three of us can enjoy falling asleep together and waking up together. There’s just nothing like cuddling all night with our kids, and I’m sure they’d say the same thing about us (at least for now)!
So this weekend, John will be out of town, there will be a huge empty space in our bed, and my kids and I will spend our nights snuggling together. I’m looking forward to having their little bodies right next to me!