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Keep the Children Out of Your Bed.
Barrington H. Brennen, December 20, 2001

 

It is common in our country for parents to have their little children or one of the children sleep in the bedroom with them and sometimes in the same bed. Is this good for growing children and for the marriage relationship of the parents?

In many societies of the globe, the family bed (children sleeping with parents) or co-sleeping, is very common. In her book, "Our Babies, Ourselves," pediatric anthropologist Meredith Small tells us that the United States is unique in the way that it treats its children during sleep. Only in industrialized Western countries, such as the United States, Canada and some European countries, has sleep become a private affair. Small cites one study of 186 non-industrial societies; in none of these cultures do babies sleep in a separate place before they are at least one year old. In another study of 172 societies, all infants do some co-sleeping at night.  In the Bahamian and Caribbean societies, co-sleeping seem to be more popular than solitary sleeping (infant sleeping alone).

However, having worked with thousands of couples over the years, Iíve discovered that co-sleeping may have advantages but also it can have serious disadvantages and present numerous problems for the child as well as the parents.

ADVANTAGES OF CO-SLEEPING
Here are a few advantages of the family bed. 1. Dr. James J. McKenna, professor of anthropology, Notre Dame University, states that "co-sleeping affects infant physiology and patterns of arousal, raising questions about currently accepted norms for "healthy" infant sleep." He also states that "judging from the infantís biology and evolutionary history, proximity to parental sounds, smells, gases, heat, and movement during the night is precisely what the human infantís developing system "expects," since these stimuli were reliably present throughout the evolution of the infantís sleep physiology." 2. Some experts say that the "family bed" is very good for the breast-feeding infant and mother. It allows both to have more rest. 3. Psychologist, Dr. Katherine Dettwyler, also supports the "family bed" with this statement: "Human children are designed to be sleeping with their parents. The sense of touch is the most important sense to infants, along with sight. Young primates are carried on their mother's body and sleep with her for years after birth, often until well after weaning. The expected pattern is for mother and child to sleep together, and for children to be able to nurse whenever they want during the night." 4. Co-sleeping also reduces the risk of crib death. When co-sleeping, the mother is monitoring the baby's sleep and breathing patterns, even though she herself is asleep. When the baby has an episode of apnea, she rouses the baby by her movements and touch. 5. Other experts say that co-sleeping is good for working mothers who do nighttime nursing. It allows her time to rest, although she is breast feeding.

 

DISADVANTAGE OF CO-SLEEPING
I have concerns about the family bed, or what others call co-sleeping. While the above statements have merit, there are also rewards to be gained with solitary sleeping for parent and child. To illustrate my concerns and what I believe can be the disadvantages of co-sleeping, here are a few points to consider:

1. The family bed or co-sleeping tends to interfere with private time and intimate life of parents. Psychologist Dr. Jodi Mindell, pediatric clinical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Allegheny University of the Health Sciences states that "Adult or private conversation is difficult if not impossible with a child sleeping in the same bed. And co-sleeping can prove deadly to your sex life. Parents worry enough that their lovemaking will wake a child in the next room. When your baby is in the same room or in the same bed, the possibility of spontaneous lovemaking goes out the window"

2. Many parents use the family bed to avoid serious problems in their marital relationship. As long as the child sleeps between them it tends to mask the serious pit falls, thus both partners may have a false sense of security in their marriage.

3. When infants spend too long a time in the family bedroom, husbands and wives have as much difficulty adjusting to the "couple bed" as the infant has to "solidarity sleeping."

4. Many parents make a false assumption that children do not hear their sounds of love making during the nights and feel that "the children are too young to understand whatís going on." This is a myth. Children tend to interpret the sounds of lovemaking as fighting and inflicting pain. A little boy asked his mother "why was daddy hurting you last night"

5. Many children who sleep with parents are introduced prematurely to lifeís issues and concerns, thus, depriving them of growing in a healthy, less stressful environment. Dr. Mindell states "that many babies who share a room with their parents need Mom or Dad present to fall asleep. Although this might be easy when your child is a newborn, as she gets older you'll have a harder time being there at bedtime."

6. Many single parents use their little children as emotional crutches by having them sleep in the bed with them. Some single mothers are literally afraid to sleep alone at nights. So they would have their even pre-teenagers sleep with them. This can be very unhealthy for the child and the parent.

7. Iíve had to help many parents who found themselves exhausted after a "nightís rest" because their rest was interrupted by the constant moving or noise of the baby.

YOU CANíT KEEP A SECRET FROM A CHILD
Too many parents make the mistake by thinking that their children are always asleep when they are making love or having a quiet disagreement. This is far from the truth. Little children are very sensitive about their environment. They usually hear and see everything thatís going on but are unable to express what they are seeing or hearing.

Sometimes parent are unaware that their little ones know all about their clandestine activities. Hence, they expose their little ones to questionable activities forgetting that the childrenís minds are like spongesĖabsorbing all what they see and hear. Here is an interesting story that illustrates the point. It may cause you to laugh and cry.

Little Johnny sees his Daddy's car passing the playground and going into the woods. Curious, he follows the car and sees Daddy and Aunt Jane kissing. Johnny finds this so exciting and can barely contain himself as he runs home and starts to tell his mother excitedly. "Mommy, mommy, I was at the playground and daddy and . . . " Mommy tells him to slow down, and that she wants to hear the story.

So Johnny tells her. "I was at the playground and I saw Daddy's car go into the woods with Aunt Jane. I went to look and Daddy was giving Aunt Jane a big kiss, then he helped her take off her shirt, then Aunt Jane helped Daddy take his pants off, then Aunt Jane laid down on the seat, then Daddy . . . " At this point, Mommy cut him off and said, "Johnny, this is such an interesting story, suppose you save the rest of it for supper time. I want to see the look on Daddy's face when you tell it tonight."

At the dinner table, Mommy asks Johnny to tell his story. He describes the car into the woods, the undressing, laying down on the seat, and, "then Daddy and Aunt Jane did that same thing Mommy and Uncle Jeff used to do when Daddy was in the Army."

POINTS TO CONSIDER
We must have a balanced approach concerning this matter, and every family has its own characteristics to consider. It is my opinions that it is better to keep the infant out of the bedroom from birth during night-time sleep. However, this can only be most effective when there is lots of cuddling, affection, and time spent with the child during waking and day hours. Infants enjoy the tender touch of their mothers. The close body contact during breast feeding is healthy. Therefore, let them enjoy as much as they can. Even napping together during the day is very healthy. However, when it is time for night-time sleep, close down shop and go to bed. If you feel you must have your child with you, here are a few points to consider:

a. Let the child sleep in a bassinet near the bed and not in your bed. Never allow the child to sleep at nights in your bed with you. You can begin to teach privacy and respect by doing so. However, day napping together is wonderful. Both of my children slept alone in their own bed from birth. However, we spent hours during the day, and up until bed time, holding and cuddling them. My dear wife breast-fed them numerous times during the day, providing lots of intimate parent-child involvement.

b. Do not make love at anytime with the child in the bedroom. Put the child out of the room at the time.

c. Plan to have the child sleep in his or her own bed by the time he/she ceases breast feeding (age 6 to 12 months). It is interesting to note that some anthropologists believe that the "human children are also designed to have breast milk be a part of their diet for a minimum of 2.5 years, with many indicators pointing to 6-7 years as the true physiological duration of breast-feeding -- regardless of what your cultural beliefs may be." This poses a problem is the parent continues to have children over a period of ten to fifteen years, at which time the "couple bed" (parents sleeping alone) would have faded away. This is not healthy for the marriage relationship. Thus, when the children are really old enough to leave the room, mom and dad are emotionally lost in it. For this reason alone couples may consider solitary sleeping over co-sleeping.

d. Remember, the longer you take to place the child in her/his own room, the more difficult it will be for the child to solitary sleeping and the parents to couple sleeping.

e. If you insist in having your child in the bed or bedroom with you, plan scheduled times (once or twice a week) for couple privacy, when the baby is alone in another room for a short few hours. It is imperative the couples maintain a focus on their relationship without distraction and interference, even from a young infant.

Parents, please evaluate the reason your child is sleeping with you. If he or she is more than three two old, you might creating a dangerous habit that you might regret later on in life. Please do not use the children to cover-up the real issues in your personal life and marriage. Spends lots of cuddling, hugging, and touching time with your little children. You cannot hold them to much. However, it is my opinion that you should keep them out of your bed when itís time for night-time sleeping. Learn how to become more intimate in the "couple bed."

 

 

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Permission is granted place links to these articles on social media like Google+, FaceBook, etc..    Permission is also granted to print these pages and to make the necessary copies for your  personal use, friends,  seminar, or meeting handout.  You must not sell for personal gain, only to cover the cost to make copies if necessary.    Written permission (email) is needed to publish or reprint articles and materials in any other form.   Articles written by Barrington H. Brennen, Counseling Psychologist, Marriage & Family Therapist.  P.O. Box CB-13019,  Nassau, The Bahamas.   
 
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