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Home » 4. The Growing Child, 5. The Adolescent, Professional Parenting with Judy Arnall

School-Age Children and the Family Bed

Submitted by on Monday, June 27 201117 Comments

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress, www.professionalparenting.ca

“But you don’t have to sleep alone!” Kyle protests to his mom when she suggests he sleeps in his own room. Family bedrooms are increasingly becoming common in Western societies, thanks to the Attachment Parenting movement that recognizes that babies and toddlers are not developmentally ready to sleep on their own for the first few years of life. However, Kyle is seven years old.  The prevalence of family bedrooms among families with school-age children has not been studied, let alone talked, but the trend is growing.

Many children, especially those that don’t have siblings to snuggle in with, continue to sleep in the same bedroom as their parents, well into the school-aged years. Many families do not admit that they sleep with their children. The fear of being investigated by child welfare authorities is the biggest barrier against discussing this practice. So the practice occurs quite often, but is not openly admitted. As a society, we accept family bedrooms for motels rooms, visiting at relatives, camping, and vacations but not for everyday use in a society that values independence at all cost. Still, parents persist. “We cosleep because it’s a cultural choice. My husband is Vietnamese and I am Canadian, and we have decided that it’s what works best for our family. Back in Vietnam my husband’s sisters still sleep with their mother, and my husbands’ brother and father also share a room. The younger ones are all in their 20s and it is not illegal or abnormal or culturally odd like it is here,” says Cheryl, mom of two children.

How does a family bedroom work? Two hundred years ago, before the invention of central heating, most of the family slept in the same room if not the same beds. Fast forward to the 21st century, where bedrooms now have the square footage size of the average 1950s house, the family bedroom can easily accommodate two king-size mattresses on the floor or several beds in the same room.

Not everyone agrees with the concept of a family sharing sleep in the same room. Barbara Evans, a parent educator from Beaumont, Texas USA, worries about the parent’s need for privacy and intimacy.  “My concerns are that, as parents, our job is to raise healthy, loving and lovable, independent children. Not to the exclusion of depriving them of nurturing and cuddling, but this may be the first place to start learning about boundaries and self-care.”

Why do families choose a family bedroom? No separation anxiety issues and no bedtime battles is the biggest reason. For an increasingly separated family where both parents might work out of home full-time and children are away at school, it is comforting and enjoyable to cuddle together at the end of a busy day. “The best thing about having the kids there with us is the emotional bond we have with them. We love the time upstairs to talk in bed, read, write, or just watch TV together. There’s no separation between us and we don’t send our kids away at night to be alone unless they want to,” says Ally, mom of three children. They have a big master bed for the parents and two mattresses on the floor on either side of the master bed for the children.

What age should family bedrooms stop? Children naturally develop the desire for more privacy at puberty and tend to want their own room and sleeping space by age 13.  This occurs naturally whether they sleep alone, or share a bedroom with siblings or with parents.

Most experts agree that the rules are simple. Generally, all members of the family must wear night clothes. Whoever doesn’t like the arrangement and says “no” should have their wishes honored whether they are the parent or the child. The parents might enjoy the closeness, but if their eight-year-old son wants his own room, that should be respected. And of course, couple sexual intimacy must take place in another room.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau once said, “The government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” And for many families, that rings truer than ever.

17 Comments »

  • Elissa Joy says:

    Great Article!! I can remember when my now 22 year old was a baby, and we decided to keep him in bed with us the outcry of so many saying.. What? babies need their own beds.. ( that concept was a bit of a mystery why babies needed their own beds..) Now that I have 4 kids.. 2 of them sleep in the same room with me, the 22 year old ( which objectors said would never be independent) has been living across the country 5000 miles away.. for 2 years. Hmm.. so much for the not being independent objection! and my 20 year old sure as heck does not want to share the same bedroom! Sure, they all grow up. There comes a time when they don’t want to be in the same room..when they are ready.

    Thanks for sharing on this topic! ( It is too bad many more parents don’t openly admit to sharing a bed.. though where I live it seems that parents often do!Ahh. the west coast!LOL).

  • Laura says:

    Thanks for the article! We bed-share with our 3-1/2 year old and don’t intent to stop unless she indicates a desire otherwise. She does have her own bed and her own room, but it feels more natural to have her in with us. When she is in her own bed, she usually wakes up after a few hours and asks to come in with us anyway. I see no urgency, and I feel that it continues to reinforce the attachment. I agree with Elissa Joy regarding others not admitting to bed-sharing. I’ve become a lot more open about it as my daughter has gotten older, and I see that other parents are relieved to admit to it, but only after they see that I’m open to it.

  • Claudia says:

    Nice article. Well, not only do we co-sleep our almost 5-year-old son, but -oh shock – I am still nursing him to sleep as well, and there is no end in site! Why is it OK to do this while camping in a tent, or renting a King-size bed in a hotel, but not at home every day? And outside the home, my son is very independent, and plays with other children without our direct supervision!

  • Kami says:

    What a wonderful article. My husband and I bed-share with our eight year old. It is amazing how peaceful the bedtime routine is at our house, and how smoothly all of us transition to sleep. When I hear other families discuss how difficult their nightime routine is I am so thankful for our decision to co-sleep/bed-share. It’s a piece of cake!

    Additionally, people comment on how our son is so “well grounded” and connected to us. While it’s true that the connection comes from many of our attachment parenting practices, I believe that allowing him to be close to us during his most vulnerable hours (i.e. feel protection during sleep) is one of the main reasons. He feels safe and guarded.

    In his 8+ years of life, he has never slept without at least one of us.

    Please continue to share these types of articles so that parents who have the instinct to bed-share or room-share but are afraid to, feel that it is “OK”. They will not be investigated by child welfare.

    The world will be a better place when everyone, including the children, is “rest assured”

  • Cheri says:

    Kudos for bringing this topic up. We chose bedsharing when our twins (now 9) were born because it made nighttime nursing easier; we continued bedsharing because everyone loves the closeness and connection it provides. When I was pregnant with our youngest (now 2), we added a twin bed next to our king so no one would have to be displaced by the new baby. I try to share our experiences with other parents who seem receptive whenever possible – so often I hear “If you let the baby into your bed he’ll never leave” and think, “so what?” Our twins have their own rooms now and sleep in their own beds most of the time, but still are welcome in our room. I miss that time together before we all fall asleep. My introverted son really opens up as he’s getting drowsy and I get to hear all the wonderful thoughts, ideas, and concerns going through his mind. I would have missed out on so much of that if I insisted on “independence” before he was ready. I can’t understand the concerns about adult intimacy and privacy; the window of time when my children’s needs are so intense is quite short. My husband and I had plenty of time alone before we had children and will have plenty of time alone in the future. This is a season of our lives and it will pass far too quickly even without pushing our children to grow up before they’re ready!

  • Vera says:

    Awesome choice of an article! My 7 y.o. daughter has slept w/us since day 1 and yes, the stigma goes along w/that. However, we see no need to force her to do something that either of us don’t see as a problem. There are nights when she wants to be on her own, and we respect that & abide by that, although she “ends” up in our bed anyway! We, too, choose not to share the family bedroom concept w/others because those who are curious in our lives, specifically, are the most judgemental, and quite frankly I owe no explanation to no one. However, for new parents who ask, I openly tell them our experience and my research on attachment parenting, and then it all seems to make sense for them also. Yay for family bedrooms!

  • Jillian says:

    My oldest (now 11) was my only bed companion for the first 5 years of her life. When my now husband & I moved in together she asked if she could have a “nest” next to our bed for the nights she wanted to come in. My husband was the first to say of course. We currently have 2 sleeping in our bed (ages 3 & 5months) and on occasion my big girl likes to sleep in bed with the whole fam :) we have a king sized bed on the floor with a twin next to it to extend the size of our bed, the 3 yr old is a bed hog lol we love having our babies close, middle of the night sleepy declarations of love from our toddler when the baby wakes him, waking up in the morning to see my big tough construction worker husband snuggled up with at least one of our boys, I can go on and on. We are so close, my children have special bonds not only with mom & dad but with their siblings too :)

  • MELANIE says:

    My almost 6 year old dosen’t want to sdleep without mommy yet… She ends up in our bed religiously every night.. Her almost 4 year old sister is more ready for independant sleep, yet she often follows her big sis’s lead…

    The EBF baby sleeps with me as that simplifies life…

    It is comforting to know other families bed share with school aged kids… Even though they probably won’t admit it publically… I keep it to myself or downplay it to others as there is a stigma attached to it…

    My husband isn’t as much of a fan but mainly because there is less space for him strech out… We want the older two to move to their own room more often… But arn’t forcing it yet…

  • J-Mom says:

    Love this article! Older son (age 12) slept with us until 5, younger son at 5-1/2 is still with us. We do have some issues, though. (1) My hubby wants the little one out. We don’t have any private space – our downstairs is all open and the guest room is full of junk! (2) Our older son likes company at bedtime. He had a full bed, and I would sit w/him sometimes at night, but we bought bunk beds, hoping the little one would move in w/him (which hasn’t happened) and I can’t sit w/him in the top bunk! (I do sit in a chair and read at times.) (3) The older one wants to lie w/us at times but my hubby freaks out about it. Partly because he (son) is a bed hog, and partly because he has a bedwetting problem, that developed after he moved out of our room, probably due to sleep/breathing issues. He uses a mat in his own bed. I think hubby is also just not comfortable with it for other reasons that he can’t articulate. Anyway, I feel cruel sometimes when my son tries to lie down w/us and we don’t let him, since the rest of us are there. Sorry for the long post. Just expressing all this has helped me think of some ways to improve the situation!!! Thanks for the great article.

  • A-mama says:

    Great article and insightful comments! Thanks so much!

    Our son is three and has his own room and twin bed. Some nights he goes to sleep in it and wanders into our room. Most nights he just goes to sleep with us. He is a bed hog, so I’ll often head to his bed if I need a break. As time has gone on, I’ve stopped listening to others’ comments and just settled into our little way of life. At three he is extremely independent, intelligent and charismatic. His teachers say his compassion is “remarkable.”

    On the nights when he is in his bed, I worry about him. After three years, I’m used to his breathing patterns, and constantly get up to check on him when he isn’t with us. My husband and I both work full-time, so the nighttime is the best time of day. We talk about the day, read books, make up stories and cuddle.

    I don’t feel the intimacy with my husband has suffered due to the family bed. If anything, it makes us more creative about sneaking away!

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  • makimac says:

    Thanks for this. I still bed share with my 6 yr old and am in no hurry to stop. our children are depedent on us for such a short time. I could not imagine not providing comfort for my child when needed

  • sandra says:

    Thank you for writing this article.
    My 9 yr old son still sleeps with us, he has no interest in having his own room, there is one waiting for him for whenever he is ready.
    I am wondering if anyone knows of the legality of co-sharing with an older child in Canada. I have resently been approached by another family member that they will call CAS on me if I don’t put him in his own room. How stressful. Any information on this would be welcomed.

    Thanks

  • Sandra,

    We encourage you to post this question on the API Forum, which is moderated by experienced API Leaders and read by other parents who may have faced similar situations. Here is the link: http://www.attachmentparenting.org/forums/home. You will need a login and password in order to post a question; please see the upper right corner of the Forum home page to register.

    You can also get in touch with Attachment Parenting Canada (http://www.attachmentparenting.ca/) for more information about legal research in Canada.

    We hope you find this information useful.

    -TheAttachedFamily.com

  • Shelly says:

    Our son is 5 and still sleeps with us. He has his own room but even if he starts there he always ends up with us by morning.I agree with the others who have posted. We have no arguments about bedtime and I love knowing he is safe next to us. As far as intimacy between my husband and I, I feel more connected to my him with the life we created between us. Our children are only with us for such a short amount of time and I don’t think you can be too close to them.

  • Lucy says:

    I am a divorced mom of two boys. I divorced their dad when they were two months and two years old. I breastfed and worked full time and had always coslept anyway so we continued. The boys have always had their own rooms and beds and have gone through phases of sleeping alone, or together, or most often with me in my king sized bed. They went through some traumatic and emotional stuff with my ex husband this past year and are now back in my bed every night. They are eight and eleven. I am totally okay with this idea of a family bed. We all pile into the big bed with our dogs and read and talk and fall peacefully asleep. I believe they need the comfort and closeness and feel safe this way. They always have the option of sleeping in their rooms. They just choose not to. Sometimes when I have been ill or want to stay up late I will ask them to sleep in their room but most nights we are all piled in and snuggled up in one bed. I don’t tell many people this because of all of the ridiculous negativity surrounding the family bed, especially with older kiddos. But my boys are happy and healthy and independent kids and we are close for lots of reasons but one is the great conversations we have at bedtime. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Thanks for the opportunity to share.

  • Jane Kent says:

    Your article was the first I came across when frantically searching on whether or not I am abnormal. As a divorced mom (and one of the reasons for my divorce) co-sleeping, then the family bed seems, only, well, natural!!

    My daughter moved on, to her own room quite naturally as she hit middle school. My 7-year old has gone through phases, but now isn’t even thinking of sleeping in his own room.

    One of the things mentioned in the article is child welfare. Does child welfare frown upon the families sleeping together?

    It is wonderful to hear others just as comfortable as I am.

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