The Family Bed: Is it Right for your Family?

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An interview with Elizabeth Pantley

In addition to breastfeeding and vaccines, the family bed seems to be one of the top most controversial topics in parenting.  Is bed sharing a way to soothe and bond as a family?  Or is it a tough nights sleep at best and marriage killer at worst?  With more than 13 percent of American families sharing a bed, we decided to explore the topic a little with Elizabeth Pantley, author of the “No-Cry” book series. — Abbie Schiller, CEO and Founder, TMC

When deciding whether or not to do a family bed, what questions should the parents ask themselves?

Here are some questions that parents can consider that will help you make the decision about whether to have a family bed:

  • Are you, your partner and your child all getting a good night’s sleep?
  • Is the sleeping situation safe for your child?
  • If no one else in the world knew or cared about what you’re doing, would you have a family bed? What is the right decision for your family, without worry about what someone else thinks?
  • If your child sleeps in your bed, is it interfering with the level of intimacy between you and your partner, or are you still finding plenty of times and places to meet each other’s needs for cuddling and sex?
  • Did you used to enjoy having your child in your bed, but find yourself liking it less over time, but keep this arrangement only because you’re unsure of how to make a change?
  • If – tonight – your child suddenly grabbed his pillow and took off down the hall and began to sleep all night, every night in his own bed, how would you feel: Happy? A bit sad but content? Unhappy and wishing you could keep the family bed? Your answer to this can release your inner feelings.

If a family chooses to do the family bed, what are your top five tips to make it a successful experience?

  • Make sure everyone in the family is sleeping well.
  • Make sure the sleeping conditions are safe for your child.
  • Be flexible. Every parent has different nighttime needs, and every child within the family is unique. There is no single best arrangement that works best. Even for a particular child, there may be several good options, and they may change from time to time. The key is to find the solution that feels right to everyone in your family, and make adjustments as needed.
  • When changes need to be made do it thoughtfully. Make a plan. Be patient with your child and with yourself.
  • It’s very important to eliminate your need or desire to satisfy anyone else’s perception of what you should be doing. In other words, no matter what your in-laws, your neighbors, your pediatrician, or your favorite author says about sleeping arrangements, the only “right” answer is the one that works for the people living in your home.

When and how do you transfer the child out of the family bed?

Some families are willing to let their children sleep in the family bed until they’re ready to move on, no matter if the child is two years old or six (and that’s perfectly fine!). Other families want their children to sleep in their own beds now (and that’s perfectly fine, too!). Often parents are conflicted about the decision, so here are some questions to consider that will help make this decision:

  • Are you, your partner and your child all getting a good night’s sleep?
  • Is the sleeping arrangement safe for your child?
  • Are both parents happy with the current sleeping arrangement?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to all three then the family can continue on as they are. However, if any of the answers are ‘no’, then it’s time to make a change.

When it’s time to make a change, a gradual process is easiest on a child. While the exact description of gradual is different for each child, the transition should take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. (If you waver in your decision and proceed without a plan it can take longer.)

There are many different approaches to moving a child from the family bed to independent sleep. Parents should use a process that works for them and their child.

If a child has spent most of his night sleep in the family bed, then he won’t view his room as a place to spend the night. It may help to redecorate and create an inviting sleep place. If children are old enough, get them involved in the process. Let them choose new bedding, new curtains, wall decorations, or a new nightlight. A fun addition to the new room is to string up blue or green Christmas lights, or place glow-in-the-dark stars and planets on the ceiling.

If a child still takes a daily nap, you can start by having him nap in his own bed. Once he’s used to that it will be easier to make a nighttime change.

Children are creatures of habit. If you go through your normal bedtime routine, but then expect the finale to occur in a different spot, it won’t feel right to your child. Everything will be moving along normally, and he’ll be getting in the sleepy mood, and then suddenly you want him to sleep in a new place! To avoid this, revamp your nightly sequence of events so that they are slightly different than usual. End with quiet storytime or songs in his room so that the routine is a pleasant one.

Elizabeth Pantley  is a mother of four, author of the “No Cry” child-rearing series of books, including the international best-seller The No-Cry Sleep Solution, and a child sleep expert.

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for young kids. Check out episodes of our “Ruby’s Studio” children’s video series, along with our beautiful children’s books, apps, music and more.

Posted in: Expert Advice, Family, Health & Wellness