The Family Bed

If you told me two years ago that I would be co-sleeping with my child, I would have told you you were crazy. After all, I am the Mom who brought in a professional sleep trainer when my daughter was 3 months old (and I was on the verge of jumping out a window) to help me figure out what to do to get my infant to sleep more than two hours at a time.  I was pretty much out of my mind and so sleep deprived that I thought I had developed a case of postpartum depression. Additionally, I was returning to full-time work in one month and couldn’t imagine how I would function with only a few  hours of sleep a night. 

A sleep trainer may sound extreme but a good friend of mine had used this trainer and said that she pretty much “fixed” her family life overnight. Well, maybe not overnight and maybe not fixed as she got divorced a few years later–but, I digress. The bottom line is I was desperate and there was no way I was going to be able to allow my child to cry it out (which seemed the only alternative) without someone talking me off a ledge 24 hours a day. So, I talked with my pediatrician and we agreed on a plan that made sense. I still felt guilty, but, also knew that 1) I could fire the trainer five minutes after she came into my house and 2) knew that my mental state was hurting enough that this was probably not only good for me but good for my child. A depressed sleep-deprived mother does not a good mother make.

I will admit that five minutes after the “trainer” entered our home, I wanted to tell her to get out — you know, like, in that scary Poltergeist voice. But, after listening to her “plan” and having her there to hold my hand, it actually didn’t seem so outrageous.  She suggested that my 3-month old didn’t need to be swaddled anymore. WHAT?! Not swaddle. Well, maybe this actually made sense since my daughter hated the swaddle and pretty much kicked out of it every night. I was also told that we had to get rid of her pacifier. That wasn’t really a problem since I was still trying to train my kid to keep it IN her mouth. She would always suck and then spit it out which was hilarious but didn’t do much for her self-soothing. Then the sleep trainer told us that our daughter would have to move out of the bassinet in our room and into her crib in her own room. This was where my head nearly popped off. OUT OF OUR ROOM? OUT OF THE BASSINET? ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE APARTMENT? (Mind you our apartment is only 900 square feet.) Just as I was about to kick the “trainer” out of the door, I thought again about how my daughter’s previously good sleeping habits had reverted to such minimal stretches that NO ONE, including her, was sleeping well. And, hey, what did I have to lose by trying it for one night? We were also lucky in that since we live in such small quarters and her room is a windowless 10X12 box which occurred to me may actually be MORE comforting to her — more womb-like — than sleeping in our big master bedroom.

Well, long story short, the sleep training was actually a great success. I didn’t actually follow everything the “trainer” recommended (like ignoring my daughter’s request for a feeding at 4:00am–um, hello?!) but I followed enough that I felt OK with it. Frankly, it was easy to be OK with it because my daughter responded beautifully. And, I think if she could have talked she would have said THANK YOU for getting me out of that suffocating swaddle and into a real bed with a real mattress and into this nice dark quiet room that takes me back to that incredibly cozy place I lived for 9 months.

I would say the rest is history but, as you know, history is always rewriting itself.

My daughter did remain incredibly happy in her crib for 3 1/2 years. She LOVED her crib. She took incredible naps, slept amazingly well at night (NEVER woke up unless she was sick) and it wasn’t until she was about a month shy of turning 4 that I decided to move her into her big girl bed. It may seem unlikely that someone who sleep trained her child at 3 months would keep her in her crib for so long but my feeling about these things is if it’s not broken, why fix it? And, it really wasn’t broken. 

What I didn’t anticipate was the pressure I would start to get about moving my child into a “big girl bed.” I ignored it for a long time but when my daughter started to approach four, I did start to cave, thinking that I wasn’t doing right by her–especially since she was on the verge (finally) of being potty trained.  The thing is, my daughter never ASKED for a big girl bed. She knew what one was — she saw big girl beds at friends’ houses — but didn’t really seem especially interested in moving to one. She was that way about potty training too – no interest. I believed it was important to work with her cues (within reason) and had heard disastrous stories about potty training that backfired because it was pushed too early. So, again, hard to believe that the Mom who sleep trained her kid at 3 months allowed her child to almost turn 4 without being potty trained! As luck would have it and my instincts told me (in between the fears) my daughter became fully ready and engaged in potty training about one month before her 4th birthday and she was trained in about one week — all on her own.  

Once the potty training was underway, the big girl bed became more of a topic of conversation. Well-meaning relatives were telling my daughter “next time you visit us, you’ll have to sleep in a big girl bed” and well-meaning friends told me that now that she was nearly potty trained that I would be setting her up for failure by keeping her in a crib.

So, online I went. After much searching — and against my better judgement I bought a brand new beautiful white toddler bed complete with girly bedding and decorative pillows (decorative pillows people – I mean, does a 4-year old need decorative pillows??!!). 

I remember the night we put it together. Except by “we” I really mean my husband. I remember the 4-year-old’s excitement. “Yay! Big girl bed!”  By this point, she seemed REALLY excited about the notion of having her own big girl bed. In addition, getting that big ‘ol crib out of her room gave her more room to actually play in her little space.

Well, wouldn’t you know…the idea of the big girl bed turned out to be MUCH more appealing than the actual big girl bed.  And, so, yadda yadda yadda — it’s been four months and my daughter has NOT slept in her bed all night.  Not ONE time.

At first I was sufficiently on edge about it. After years of putting my daughter to bed without issue and retreating to my sanctuary (otherwise known as the master bedroom)  to be lulled by her steady breathing on the baby monitor while I read my book; I was not prepared to have a visitor in my bedroom every five minutes!

Everyone said that was normal and that after a few days or a week she’d get used to it. She didn’t. And, I tried everything to make that room welcoming (did I already mention decorative pillows??). Tinkerbell pillowcase, fairies on the wall, nightlight…NOTHING was keeping her in that room.

So, I finally retreated to the good ‘ol internet in search of advice for getting your kid to stay in her big girl bed. The advice seemed pretty consistent. Every time your kids comes into your bedroom, you walk her back to her room without getting upset or giving in to any kind of conversation. I was pretty good at the first (after all–this was all new to her–it didn’t seem fair to get angry) but not so good at the latter. I was especially bad in the middle of the night so I had my husband take responsibility for taking her back to bed. From everything I read, it should take no more than TWO WEEKS to train your kid to stay in her bed but you HAVE to be consistent. You HAVE to walk her back to her bed EVERY TIME she comes into your room — no matter how many times it happens. You should remain calm and not engage in conversation. Consistency is key.

It was REALLY hard. Sometimes during those first few nights she would cry as my husband carried her back and we felt AWFUL. I recall my husband telling her over and over again that she was safe and that Mommy and Daddy were in our room if she needed us. But, it didn’t seem to sink in.

After about 10 days, we started to weaken. Most of all, we were just so DARN tired and were losing the energy to walk her back to bed throughout the night. I knew if we weakened that we would lose the battle but we just couldn’t keep it up. I asked a couple of friends for advice and a couple of them said they put gates up to keep their kids in their room and it was quite effective. I began to threaten that we’d put a gate up and while my 4-year-old wasn’t crazy about the idea, with no gate in sight, it seemed an empty threat and not effective. I finally borrowed an actual gate and showed her how it would fit in her door and she was none too pleased. I explained that if she could stay in her big girl bed, we wouldn’t have to use the gate. I even went so far as to buy her presents — a new pair of sassy pink sunglasses to be specific. I offered that all she had to do was stay in her bed for three nights in one week and she would get the sunglasses. She loves the sunglasses. But, she loves Mommy and Daddy’s bed more.

About this time, I began to get used to having my daughter in bed with us. I couldn’t bring myself to put the gate up, envisioning her waking up in the night and panicking that she was trapped in her room (even if we could hear her every move on the baby monitor) and imagining the therapy bills later.  It started to occur to me that maybe she was really scared in her room. Even if she had loved it for all those years, perhaps things were different now. How could I force her to stay somewhere she didn’t really want to be?

And, perhaps, even more than all of this, I began to get used to sleeping with her — to waking up next to her warm sleeping body throughout the night and listening to her rhythmic breathing. I never have to think of checking on her because she is right next to me. If she happens to sleep in uncharacteristically late, I don’t panic that maybe she stopped breathing because I can feel her breathing next to me. Our unexpected family bed has turned into an unsuspecting source of comfort.

Like I said, if you would have told me two years ago that I’d be co-sleeping with my 4-year-old, I wouldn’t have believed it. If you had told me I’d be co-sleeping and actually enjoying it, I’d have told you you were insane.

I’m finding motherhood is like this–an array of constantly shifting paradigms. I’m even beginning to accept it.

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2 Responses to “The Family Bed”

  1. Karen Pearce Says:

    If you had told me 3 years ago I’d be co-sleeping with my 3 year old boy and my nearly 8 month old daughter, I would have laughed. But here we are and I wouldn’t change it for the world 🙂

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