Pretty much everyone has an opinion on the subject of co-sleeping. Some people are vehemently opposed to the idea, while for others co-sleeping is an integral part of parenting. I used to count myself somewhere right in the middle (and frankly probably still am). But after practicing co-sleeping with both of my boys, I have a bit of a different perspective than I used to.
You see, what I envisioned co-sleeping to be is not at all what I’ve experienced. My mental images of a sweet cuddly baby snuggled up in my arms or next to my side have been replaced by the disruptive reality of being pushed out of my own bed and my hair being pulled by tightly clenched little fists. The gentle idea of listening to the quiet breathing of my little ones has been overwritten by the loud cries in my ear from an uncomfortable toddler.
And it’s really my own fault.
My children are one and a half and nearly three. They are both still sleeping in our bed. Because I was tightly clinging to an idea and a practice that I was convinced was best. Now every night while my children sleep in my bed, I struggle to get adequate rest. While their little bodies take up 3/4 of the space, my husband and I have limbs hanging off the edges. As they snuggle as close as they can to be near to us, I am driven further away from my husband and am forced, at times, to go most of the night without the touch of my beloved.
It has come to a head in the last week when I’ve decided that this can’t continue. When I accepted the reality that my children will not be harmed for life because they’re sleeping in their own beds. And when I realized that it wouldn’t change unless I did some intensive child-training. Thus began one of the hardest tasks I’ve had before me in my mothering journey.
For all of his life Samuel has fallen asleep in our arms and, at his first cry in the night, has made his welcome in our bed. Once I made the decision to start on this sleep-training task, I have been laying him in his crib to fall asleep (after we’ve completed the rest of our bedtime routine). He cries a bit, but has been doing surprisingly well. It’s those times in the middle of the night when our bed is no longer open for his squirmy self that makes him think that his world is crumbling down around him.
Last night was particularly bad.
Samuel woke up around 1:45am. I stumbled sleepily into his bedroom and comforted him gently with loving words and laid him back down. Groggily I sang a chorus before turning his lullabies on and leaving the room. Just as I laid down in bed his crying started again. I repeated the process, this time with a firm reprimand and reminder to go to sleep. Again, I left his room. This time he cried out just as I dozed back to sleep. The cycle repeated itself over and over again.
But the time finally came when I was sure I had won. He seemed to be totally asleep, his little body relaxed and his breathing steady. I tiptoe out and toward my bedroom. As I snuggle into the warmth of my husbands body, I pray that Samuel would stay sleeping. I tense at every sound. A piece of wood burning in our stove settles and pops loudly. The dogs toenails click on the floor as he rearranges himself in front of the fire. Wind rustles the loose housewrap outside the bedroom window. And Samuel’s crying starts again.
His pitiful crying tears at my heart and the lack of sleep weighs on my eyelids. But I’m determined to win. I fancy that my will is stronger than my 1 year old’s. But this time I let him cry. Time crawls by until my older child climbs into my bed and states the obvious: “my brother is crying”. Now there were two awake children who wanted to be in my bed.
And one very tired mama who also wanted to be in my bed.
At some point my husband takes over. I toss and turn, unable to sleep and wondering if we’re doing this right. Will it work? Will we win? After 3+ hours, Samuel is exhausted enough to finally fall asleep. Christopher’s singing helped. I marvel at this man who can get up in the middle of the night and coax a child to sleep while patiently singing hymn after hymn.
When he joins me again we whisper encouragement to each other, wrap our arms around each other and fall into desperately needed sleep. We’ll probably do it all over again tomorrow night. And maybe the night after that.
I used to console myself with the thought that my children won’t be in my bed anymore when they’re older and that I’ll likely miss it. That teenagers won’t be making themselves at home in my bed. And it helped me get through the long nights when the boys were tiny infants who barely slept more than 2 hours at a time. But at some point I needed to realize that the way they won’t be in my bed every night is if I train them not to be.
If I could do just one thing over from when each of the boys were much younger, it would be to do the training sooner. Yes, co-sleeping makes nighttime feedings easier. I’ll likely keep my next newborn in my bed (if God graciously grants us more children). But next time I’m not going to be so unwilling to change something that isn’t working.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on co-sleeping! Leave me a comment and let me know what’s worked for you!