I woke up at six o’clock this morning, and my husband was not in my bed. I checked the bathroom, and he was not there. I glanced into the living room – not there either. He wasn’t rummaging through the kitchen for an early morning snack. His running shoes were in our front hallway, so he had not gone out for an early morning run without disturbing me. Where was he???
Passing by my children’s bedroom, I glanced in and saw him curled up in my four year old son’s bed, sound asleep.
So why is it that my husband would choose to sleep in a glorified twin bed with an Ikea mattress as opposed to staying in the luxurious warmth of our marital bed – Tempur-Pedic mattress and all? That’s because on any given night (though generally speaking about twice a week) our gloriously comfortable marital bed might look something like this:
It started out innocently enough. I was a breastfeeding mother, tired, frazzled – exhausted – and when my newborn would cry in the middle of the night, every now and again I would pull him into my bed and he would fall asleep while nursing. I relished the extra couple of hours of sleep I managed to get as a result of his cuddling. But after that newborn stage passed and we implemented some sleep training, my oldest son became an excellent crib sleeper, and he was sleeping through the night early and often. Of course, we did co-sleep on the occasional overnights in a hotel or visiting family, once during a power outage that resulted in a house so cold we huddled together for warmth in one bed, but as a general rule my son spent the entire night in his crib sleeping blissfully. This rule lasted a good year or so. And then I had a second baby, and sleep was not so easy with the second child.
When my older son moved into his big boy bed and could move about freely, and his little brother was sleeping in a bassinet in our room, he started to think he was missing out on some family party going on in our room every night. So while he would begin the night in his own bed, some time in the middle of the night he would crawl up into our bed – sometimes so stealthily that we would not even realize until the next morning. And it escalated from there.
Fast forward two years, and now with two much larger children who occupy much more space, about twice every week there are four of us in our bed (and sometimes a cat), trying to get a good night sleep.
I think this is how a lot of parents end up in this predicament. In the holy name of sleep, we assume it is easier to let the little rascals into our beds rather than fight them back into their own beds at three in the morning. So how does a parent who has inadvertently created a family bed reclaim the marital bed? Since I am clearly the WORST person to give advice on this issue, I have turned to the trusty internet to solve this problem for you in a few “easy” steps.
First things first: Make sure it’s a good time to sleep train. If the family is in the midst of some big changes (i.e. starting school, new baby on the way, potty-training), it’s probably best to wait for a time where you’ll meet less resistance.
Pre-Bedtime: Lay the groundwork during the day, and talk frequently about the new expectations. Explain how big girls and boys go to sleep in their own beds and wake up in the morning in their own beds. Continue to follow a bedtime routine to make sure the getting them into bed part is still running smoothly. And mentally prepare yourself for the fact that you might not be getting much sleep during the night…
During the Night: The key here is consistency and resolution. You must resolve that bed-sharing is over and consistently apply that rule. That may mean walking your child back to his bed every hour on the hour throughout the night.
If your child starts out the night in your bed, you have your work cut out for you. You will need to first establish a bedtime routine that puts your child in his own bed. Experts recommend that you start off having “slumber parties” in your child’s room the first few nights – but never sharing their bed. It may not sound like your idea of a party to sleep on your child’s floor at night, but when your child wakes up in the middle of the night if you’re still there, you will save yourself a lot of trouble. You can then move yourself further and further away from your child’s bed, until you finally make it back into your own room. The most important thing is that your child get accustomed to learning that she must stay in her room all night to sleep.
The Morning After: Praise, praise, praise. If it was a difficult night, praise the bright spots. If it was a great night, heap on the praise and maybe even some rewards. The under-5 set thrive on pleasing their parents, but they generally respond very well to incentives. You may want to check out The Sleep Fairy, which combines a great story with some tantalizing rewards.
So what will I do? Am I a co-sleeper now? I don’t consider myself one. There is no official philosophy at work in this house. Scratch that, there is totally a philosophy, and it’s called “Momma Needs Her Sleep”. Which sort of stinks because as a result of letting my kids into my bed in the name of sleep, I am now suffering a distinct lack of sleep as they get bigger and squirmier and take up more room in my bed. But I also happen to belong to the “Momma Loves Those Cuddles” school of parenting, and I realize that time is moving pretty fast. When my kids are moving out in what I can only presume will feel like the blink of an eye, I am sure I will look back longingly on these days where there were feet sticking into my ribs at night. So for now, I won’t kick them out of my bed. But I am sure their dad would like his spot back…