Trend or bad habit? Reassuring presence or problems on the horizon? In the United States, the trend has been named the “family bed”, a sort of continuation of co-sleeping where children sleep in their parents’ bed - which becomes the bed of the whole family - until they decide themselves to go back to their own bed. Only one bed? For everyone? Every night? Really?
Many maintain this habit because it makes bedtime a lot easier and because they believe that they’re reassuring their children. But what if it was the opposite? Indeed, sleeping with your children may have adverse effects on their development and your couple’s health.
Does one or many of your children come in your bed almost every night? Ask yourself if you fold because you don’t know how to break the habit or because you believe you’re meeting a need? In the middle of the night or at bedtime, we are often too tired to fight and impose our limits. The result? You let them climb in so that you can all go back to sleep without a fight. But when morning comes, ask yourself again: why do you let your children sleep with you?
When I meet parents in my office, most of them tell me that they let their children sleep with them to reassure them. However, "this way of doing meets the parents’ needs more than the children’s, says Louise Mauriello. According to the specialist, this practice exacerbates children’s anxiety. It is reassuring for the parent, not the child."
So you may believe that you’re reassuring your child, but you’re not, in fact, allowing them to sleep in your bed stresses children out more. It makes them believe that you don't think they can sleep alone. Yet many parents truly feel that they’re reassuring their children by allowing them to sleep with them. "The child wants their parents to reassure them, and feel that they’re there for them. But this does not mean letting them climb in bed with us. Our role as parents is to help them become more independent, bring them towards the outside world and others, not towards us," she adds.
Difficult sex life
« It’s not a good idea! », says psychologist Louise Mauriello from the Clinique de psychologie in Blainville. First, the couple’s intimacy is violated. Where else can parents have an intimate space, if not in their own bedroom? Sure, they can make love in other places, which can, in fact, be very good to break the routine, but if it’s repeatedly, it can be detrimental to their intimacy. By sleeping with their children, some women might fill a need for closeness they no longer have with their partner or fill a void if they are alone. Many couples break up due to the loss of intimacy. "Often, one of the two, and it’s usually the father, is more frustrated than the other to have the children in the marital bed. And indeed, mothers should ask themselves if their role as a mother replaces their relationship with their spouse. If so, there is a problem, " says the psychologist.
Moreover, the children’s psychological and sexual development could be tainted. By giving them access to the adults’ bed, we’re giving them access to an intimacy that doesn’t belong to them. It’s a place of privileged relations, rich in symbolism, and the child will feel it, explains Louise Mauriello. Children must also learn to abandon their first love - the parent of the opposite sex - and end the rivalry with the same sex parent. If they continue to sleep in the same bed, it creates confusion. "Ultimately, the boy must come to want to be like daddy to find a woman like mommy", says the psychologist.
How to break the habit?
It's possible to drastically cut the habit by telling your child that it’s over! But it will not be easy! Nothing is! By doing this, you'll avoid problems later. And what’s a few weeks when you think about it? "Work progressively to instill the idea to your child that your bed is a private space," says Louise Mauriello.
Here are a few simple steps to break the routine without causing too much drama. Advice: work with your spouse as a team. You’ll be able to support each other because let’s be honest: bedtime will be hard for a while and the temptation to give in will be intense!
1. Sleeping with the child in their own bedroom.
« It’s already much healthier to sleep in the child’s bed», notes Louise Mauriello. If your little one has trouble going to bed alone, keep them company in their bed at bedtime, and if they come to your room in the middle of the night, take them back to theirs and stay there with them. You probably won’t be too comfortable, but it’s the best way to make the transition. This way, your couple’s intimacy is respected and you’re helping your child become more independent at the same time, adds the psychologist.
2. Progressively reduce the time you stay by their side
At the beginning, you’ll probably stay until your child falls asleep. You’ll even wait until their in a deep sleep before going back to your room. As time goes by, you can progressively reduce the time you stay by their side. Try to create a soothing routine to prepare your little one for your departure: « One last lullaby and then mommy’s going to her room. I won’t be far if you need me. »
3. Use a transitional object
To reassure your child, give them something that will make the transition a little easier: a blanket, teddy bear, etc. It’s even better if the chosen object has a little bit of your smell on it. It will help your child gain their independence, while still feeling close to you if needed.
4. Common sense
Of course, there are exceptions. "If you go out on a visit, you may have to sleep in the same bed as your children, but if they don’t usually have access to your bed, they’ll understand very clearly that it is an exception. And won’t even ask to do it again! , says Louise Mauriello. Also, it’s not necessary to always prohibit the parents’ bed. The important thing is to clearly establish that night is the time of day when children are not allowed to go in that space." But nothing prevents you from watching a movie all snuggled up together in bed or allowing your children to join you in the morning. It's just important to set some limits!