Posted: Sep 04, 2013 8:30 AM
 
If you want to base your kids' sleeping arrangements on what the books say, you'll find arguments both ways — that family beds are comforting and harmless or that Mom and Dad need to set boundaries for their bed. When it comes to these things, I tend to follow my instincts and do what feels right for our family. Our family bed days are finally coming to a close but looking back, I wouldn't change one thing about our decision.

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.

When your spouse is suddenly interested in having sex, would having to move the deed to a different place stop him from following through?

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.

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.

Sweet dreams.

More from Kelle Hampton

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Simple ways to turn ordinary moments into extraordinary ones for your kids
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Liz B September 06, 2013
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When your spouse is suddenly interested in having sex, would having to move the deed to a different place stop him from following through?

Or her?
Ami Burns September 04, 2013
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I really like this article. My kids did a "combo platter" of co sleeping sometimes/all the time depending on factors you mention. I can tell you my high schooler and I have the best talks when he flops down in bed (which is nearly every night) not to sleep but to chat.
Jelly Belly September 04, 2013
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I cannot believe allparenting chose to highlight this quote: 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 know this is a parenting site, not a place to come for sex advice, but there are so many things in that sentence that are disturbing. It presents sex as something only initiated by the husband, and as something the wife just has to follow along with. Creepy.
Courtny Osborn September 04, 2013
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Every Friday night is designated to sleeping in Mommy's bed with my girls (and Daddy's bed too). I think I look forward to it waaaay more than they do!
Christina Haller September 04, 2013
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There is something creepy and unsettling about the term society has coined for co-sleeping... "the family bed." I just don't like it. That being said, my eight-month old will not sleep anywhere else at night except our bed. It was a habit started because I nursed her in the "sideline" position and sometimes I'd fall asleep too and wouldn't put her back into her crib, so she'd end up sleeping with us. And now, that's where she wants to be. I don't know if its the closeness to Mom and Dad or that our bed is warmer and cozier to her firm crib with no covers (you know, because that's what they tell you to do these days). We've tried breaking her of the habit to be in bed with us, because we don't want her there when she's 8 years old, but for now it's the only way we can get any sleep because she'll cry if we take her out. It is reassuring to know that not only are other families doing this, but are proud of it too!