Wednesday, March 20, 2013

On the Joys (?) of Co-Sleeping

"Mama," Ainsley whispers as she burrows in between Dave and me in the wee hours this morning.

"Mama," she says just a touch more insistently.

"Yes, Ainsley," I manage to answer.

"I don't actually want another princess doll," she tells me. "I have enough already."

She rolls over and nods off.

And so ended my attempt to employ shameless bribery positive reinforcement to get a decent night's sleep.

"If you stay in your bed for seven nights," I had told her recently, "I'll buy you a new princess doll."

Snow White? Jasmine? Oh, she was itching to add to her collection. Cinderella and Belle needed company. At least that's how it all seemed by the light of day. By 3:48 a.m., she clearly was having second thoughts.

Nearly every evening I spend time reading and praying and chatting with John and Ainsley. We start in my room, and then we move into their room. I spend a few minutes snuggling with Ainsley in the bottom bunk and talking to John in the bunk overhead.

It's a sweet time, a quiet time, the welcome lull that follows what Stormie O'Martian calls 'the arsenic hours," that hellish  hectic block of time wedged between soccer practice and dinner, between homework and Scouts.

The rush is over.

We slow down.

John reads his Bob Books. We enjoy Frog and Toad. Ainsley holds my face in her soft hands and whispers You're the best Mama in the whole world. I rub her blonde head. You're a gift from God, I tell her, the answer to many, many prayers. John peers over the top bunk to say I love you, Mama.  I squeeze his hand. I love you more, I tell him. I love you one hundred, he invariably replies. I don't know what I love you one hundred means exactly, but I know that's as high as my five-year-old boy can count, so it must be the best.

John has had a difficult time falling asleep since the time change. (Thank you very much, Ben Franklin!). But Ainsley drifts off to sleep in no time flat. Trouble is, Ainsley associates sleep with me being right next to her. When she wakes up, she comes looking for company. On the rare occasions she makes it though the night without finding more snugly accommodations, Ainsley wakes up clearly put out.

"No one sleeps in my bed with me," she pouts.

She tries to brainstorm solutions.

"Mama, I'm going to build another bed and put it in my room, and you can sleep there."

When I gently point out that Mama and Dad prefer to sleep, um, together, she has a solution for that as well.

"We'll build a bed for Daddy, too," she tells me in great seriousness. She's a problem solver, my girl.

People write all sorts of stuff about The Family Bed. You love, or you hate it. It's a natural way to share sleep, a practice that's gone on since the dawn of time, or it's a dangerous practice embraced by selfish, lazy parents who might as well be putting an infant to bed with a sharpened ax  If you want to inflame The Mommy Wars, focus on a handful of hot button topics: breast feeding in public, attachment parenting, spanking, and, above all, co-sleeping.

Years ago Danielle Bean wrote a piece on co-sleeping and highlighted the Bean family motto: Do What Works for You. I couldn't agree more.

We had a child  who wouldn't sleep a wink unless he was snuggled up with Mom and Dad. Another child was, like, Put me in the crib already and let me be. We had one who, for a short season, would appear at my bedside around 3:00 a.m.. I would open my eyes, somehow sensing that I was being watched. Sure enough, two green eyes would be peering straight into mine. Go potty and climb in bed, I'd tell him. I warned Dave that that would be the line I'd subconsciously feed any armed intruder who made it into our bedroom. Kolbe was wholly uninterested in taking up residence with us until three weeks before John was born. Suddenly he became a nightly visitor. Another someone would quietly come in our room, find a place at the foot of the bed, and never disturb anyone until he woke up saying, "Mama, I wet the bed."

And then there's Ainsley. She reminds me of this image that's been darting around the Internet:

She's a kicker. Oh, she's  kicker. The heel on the forehead? Been there, felt that. There's no relegating Ainsey to the foot of the bed, and no way to keep her from kicking.

Hence the bribe.

On the issue of co-sleeping, I'm far more a pragmatist than a purist. Here's the bottom line for me: Everyone does better with sleep. Sleep and protein -- I'm big on both of these and really, truly see a link between marginal behavior and a lack of either of these two essential ingredients. And I'm not just talking about the kids. I went through an extended bout of insomnia a year or two ago, and let me tell you, this was stressful. Nothing like waking up at 2:00 in the morning and knowing that a) you'll never get back to sleep and b) the demands of the day will remain unchanged despite your catatonic state.

Tough, really tough.

So I'm all about everyone getting rest. And that's hard to do when you get thumped sixteen times an hour. And I'm not above dangling Jasmine or Sleeping Beauty in front of my daughter's eyes to do it. And maybe that's the ticket -- I should hop over to the big box and actually buy a princess or two.



Natasha said...

I agree wholeheartedly! Friends of ours (and quite possibly my biggest parenting role models) had seven children who all slept in their room. Eventually they just put a single mattress right on the floor next to their bed and told whoever happened to wander into their room (often more than one child) that they were welcome to stay in the room, but that the big bed was for Mom and Dad. Over the years the kids could come and go as they pleased, but the priority was given to the parents. I tucked that advice away in my head, in case I ever find myself in a similar situation down the road (with six little ones, I'm sure it's bound to happen at some point!) In the end of course, you are right - people need to do what works best for their family.

Natasha said...
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Natasha said...
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christinelaennec said...

Oh those photos made me laugh! Our daughter didn't sleep through the night until she was 4 and a half. Many times the solution was to have her come into the bed with us where she was at least relatively still. I developed the ability to converse with her while I was sleeping - seriously!

Whatever works.

Nowadays she sleeps all night in her own bed and very occasionally will creep into our bed on a weekend morning for a snuggle. I just love those times SO so much.

Kris said...

Mine all visited us for stretches of time as well. It wasn't until they got to be about 6 or 7 that I could just let them snuggle for a few minutes and send them back upstairs. Thankfully, our youngest was NOT a kicker or wiggler, since he's the one that really loved to be in our bed in the night. He's 8 now and very rarely comes down in the night when he has a bad dream or doesn't feel well. I do have to admit that I miss it sometimes!

Julie said...

Laughed 'til I cried! I have a 3 year old son who is going through the same thing. And at 50 years old (me) it is getting harder to get a good nights sleep anyway! Oh how I miss those nights of 7 or 8 hours of rest! My little guy will sometimes sleep under our bed(!)or crouch next to the bed and then pop up and say "wake up!". :P