Am I Damaging My Children By Sleeping With Them?

A mother's dilemma - whether to follow her own instincts, or the advice and disapproval of others.

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Q - I was chatting to another mum at school the other day and her comments have really bothered me. I mentioned that I sleep with my 5 year old daughter and my baby son, and that my partner sleeps in another bedroom – because my kid's well-being comes first.

She said that I was probably needy or overly protective and implied that I was harming my children by not allowing them to separate from me and grow up as individuals.

I’d hate to think that were true. I want what’s best for them and they both like to sleep with me. It makes bed time quicker and easier too. Both children wear a nappy at bedtime. Do you think that letting them sleep with me is harming them in some way?

A - Other people’s opinions are a reflection of their, and their family’s, preferences and way of doing things – and will not necessarily suit someone else.

It may be that this mum had read or heard something about co-sleeping and was passing this on to you – hopefully with good intentions.

It's worth asking yourself whether this sleeping arrangement has been set up to soothe your own fears or to avoid your own history repeating itself.

It might be helpful to answer these questions:-

  • Why do you choose to sleep with your children?
  • How does that benefit them and you?
  • What does your partner feel about this arrangement? Is there any resentment from him?
  • Has sleeping with your children affected your sex life and physically intimate time with your partner?
  • Is there anything you are avoiding by sleeping with your children?
  • Have you agreed with your partner a time-frame for this co-sleeping with your children? At what age or stage of development will you sleep separately from them?

Please consider any effects upon your relationship, and be clear with your partner about why you choose to co-sleep with the children and the when you see it ending (you may have already had this conversation), and what the situation will be if you have any more children in future.

Other cultures co-sleep with their children more than we tend to in Britain. Sometimes this is for practical reasons due to lack of space and heating.

Others realise that a small child acutely feels the anxiety of separation from the mother, and feels soothed by her presence, warmth, heartbeat and smell – and they want to help the child’s brain and heart to develop from the influence of this close and secure physical and emotional attachment.

It’s great to think that your children feel safe and secure with you close by. At some point in the future this will change as they want their own space and autonomy from you.

We are all different but what we do generally share is the desire to do what we think is best for our child and children.

My own experience – as single parent – was that is was easier for me to have my daughter sleep with me, and it helped me to get some sleep and to know she was safe close by. She had a baby bed within my bed for extra safety. I didn’t have the issue of a partner having to sleep elsewhere at that time though.

One day she asked to have her own bed – like her friends did – and so it was a natural step, and of her making, so there was no force or pressure to be apart from me too early.

It might be wise not to mention your co-sleeping preferences in future – unless you’re with like-minded parents, or you’re willing to have a debate about it.

There are plenty of articles about co-sleeping on the internet, and here’s a couple you might be interested in –

Another aspect of your question that stands out for me is the wearing of nappies by your five year old. She's old enough now to be encouraged to be dry at night and be aware of her physical need to urinate – and to get out of bed to go to the toilet.

I’d suggest that you avoid drinks, other than sips of water, from tea-time onwards. And that she goes to the toilet before bed; have a waterproof sheet under her, and be sure not to shame or punish her for any accidental bed-wetting.

Instead calmly say that accidents happen and she’ll soon be older and she won’t do this then (this way she knows she will be able to control it in time).

If she has nocturnal enuresis (bed wetting) that continues you’ll need extra help (there are some good online courses available), but do try to get her (and your son when he’s older) to be dry at night.

Happy, peaceful, loving and dry nights to you all!

Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy) MIND HEALER & MENTOR - where you will find (on the Free Resources page) a free e-book called Optimum Parenting (and a few e-mails afterwards) which give you helpful advice to be the best mum you can be.

There's also a short online course there too called 'How To Sort Out Your Children - without child therapy!' which you will probably find useful for you both as parents. You can find out more about that here - for Psychologies readers there's a £10 discount (so only £27 to pay) if you put the code TENOFF in the checkout. - helping women to understand and manage their emotions, boundaries and behaviours - to FEEL better, so they can BE, DO and HAVE better in their lives!

Maxine Harley