It's been four nights now that our bed has been childless — no little bodies wedged between me and my husband, no puppy blanket entangling my legs, no kid toothpaste breath in my face. Up until now, we've had a family bed for six years — maybe not every night, but for the most part. I think family bed is about as beautiful a phrase as je t'aime (whispered in a French accent, of course), but unfortunately if you Google family bed, you'll quickly find two words — debate and controversy. There are, of course, the valid safety issues — and I get those. You have to know your baby, know your sleeping habits and provide the safest environment for your newborn. But beyond that point, I'm not sure I buy the other arguments enough to generalize the debate with a "Family Bed is Bad" stamp. Because every child is different, every family is different, and that allows for a whole lot of acceptable forms of loving parenting styles.
Let's start with the "family bed disrupts a couple's sex life" argument. Let me ask you something. When your spouse is suddenly interested in having sex, would having to move the deed to a different place stop him from following through? I'm pretty sure in the history of turned-on spouses, "Oh shucks, there's a kid in our bed" never stopped anyone before.
The thing about the other arguments — the whole bit about a child's independence, healthy sleeping habits and boundaries for a parent's space? I think those are personal preference issues and affected by far more than the choice to sleep solo or in a family huddle.
I've never really been an "only by the book" girl when it comes to parenting — not that I haven't turned to helpful advice when I needed it. It's just that most of these controversial issues have equal backing for each side, so unless you're cool with flipping a quarter, you might as well find a more reliable standard for choosing something as important as where your babies dream at night. I find that standard in my instincts and knowing each of my children's unique needs, and in understanding that a decision made with love and thoughtfulness will never lead to "screwing up your kid" like some people would like you to think. Sometimes you just have to do what feels good for your family, and assess how it's working along the way.
After six years, here's what my assessment for the family bed looks like:
There is a little sigh my kids utter when they land in our cloud of a bed, its comforts familiar and calming. My middle child can't climb up on her own yet, so she'll sidle up against the edge of our bed, reach her hands in the air and ask, "Down? Down?" — her up vs. down understanding not quite ironed out yet. Once lifted and placed in the heap of covers, she smiles — always the same smile — and sighs relief, the same kind of sigh that follows the first sip of hot chocolate after coming in from the cold or finally putting your feet up after a long, tiring day. Our bed is home for our family, our designated safe spot. We have a king-size bed, a massive thing framed with detailed wood, and I've often complained about it being too big, wanting to downsize to something simpler and less bulky. But there's something about its largeness that's served a purpose in these six years of having a family bed. We've fit five of us in there before — not comfortably, of course — but there have been mornings where we all ended up there, my husband's and my bodies acting as bookends to three little ones in between. There's always a moment when you can sense the kids get it — that they're tickled with the fact we're all in there together.
I've endured nights of restless sleep in this bed, cooling fevers and calming cries from bad dreams. Hundreds of stories have been read from the same propped-up pillows and wake-up nudges given for special first days. We've contemplated a few times whether our family bed was working for all of us, and each time we've together concluded that we wouldn't have it any other way.
While the invitation remains open to the sacred space of our bed for each of our kids, we've followed the lead of our children, each who's made their own bed their nighttime preference eventually, some with a little extra help from Mom and Dad. And now, for the first time after several switches in child company over the years, our bed belongs to just my husband and me again. It is nice for a change, and I'm finding myself slowly sprawling out and enjoying the extra space. Our family bed will most likely resurrect again — for Christmas Eve and sick night rituals and, I hope, even mornings when the kids are someday home from college. I imagine them sipping coffee at the end of our bed while we smile and listen to them talk about boyfriends and the adventures of 20-something kids.
We are all doing our best to raise confident, independent children who both inhale and exhale love. We find different ways in doing that. For many, this means kids who sleep in comfy twin beds in colorful rooms designed just for them. But for us, it's meant at least for a little while, that we enjoyed a family bed. And I wouldn't change a thing about that.