Co- sleeping by definition is when babies or young children sleep close to their parents, usually in the same room. Bed sharing is when an infant shares a sleeping space with their parent, usually a bed.
In my house, we were at another level. I don’t even believe there’s a proper term for it. I could almost lovingly call it, sleep imprisonment. My children would not sleep without me. None of the three. Nope. They wouldn’t do it. Johnny used to put my hair around his fingers so I couldn’t escape. Tristan puts his arms through my shirt so I’d have to legitimately do a gymnastics floor routine to get out of the bed.
Now, most people will read this and say, “Well, what do you expect? You wouldn’t sleep train. You wouldn’t let your baby cry. You rocked them to sleep. You held them too much!” And yes, I did all of these things. I know I have no right to complain that my children would prefer sleeping with me. I know I tell my friends how jealous I am when their babies sleep in their cribs all night uninterrupted. I don’t need to be told how this situation was created. Believe me, I know. Let me go back a little bit…I’m about to give myself some credit, no not about the sleeping nonsense.
I’m a rule follower. I read all the pregnancy and parenting books. I bought all the must have gear. I ate all the right foods. I told myself I was going to do this parenting thing right. My babies would be eating home made baby food made in their Baby Bullet baby food maker (spoiler- that didn’t happen!). My babies wouldn’t watch tv (introducing Baby Einstein on repeat!) My babies would transition to a crib after three months (we all know how that turned out!). But I will say one thing, I held my ground and powered through…with certain things. I told myself for Reagan and Johnny, that by their first birthdays, they’d transition to a cup and no more bottles. And after those cute birthday photos with their first piece of birthday cake ever, the ones with frosting on their noses, the babas went missing and a cup was put in its place. “Ooooh, look! A big kid cup!” as I’d mimic chugging water and rubbing my tummy. I told myself that this is a hard transition and I should be proud of myself for doing it and not looking back. The kids also took the changes like champs. It was the same for the pacifier. I took it away when I felt it was the best time and never went back. Even that first night when Reagan sweetly asked for her “nuk”, I lied and said we didn’t have any. I stuck to what I said. Again, I was really proud of myself. The same went for potty training. When we fully committed, the kids and I were a team and we got it done! “Bye bye, poopie!” as we happily flushed the potty. The day Tristan turned one, I wore three sports bras and when he wanted to nurse, I handed him a cup. No. Going. Back. There weren’t even tears. Well, there were on my end because I was full of milk and went cold turkey on breastfeeding. I do not recommend this! Ouch.
But when it came to sleeping, all the rules went out the window. My friends all gave me the same suggestions. Swaddle the baby. Use a white noise machine. Put your baby down, “drowsy but awake”. And by the way, that doesn’t work! It’s some voodoo nonsense I swear. I remember when I had Reagan, I had her napping in the “napper” which was the top part of the pack and play. She slept so well in there, but the problem was she wasn’t “supposed” to sleep there at night. This was according to all the “experts” of course. So I would panic. According to all the baby sleep trainers, she was supposed to sleep on her back, on a flat surface and not with me? This seemed odd to me that I couldn’t sleep with my baby? And legitimately every friend would tell me the same. No co- sleeping, no bed sharing! It’s dangerous! And yes for some people it could be if you aren’t smart about it. But she would only sleep three hours at a time at night and I couldn’t crack the code! What was I supposed to do? So she slept in her little napper nest until she outgrew it. And then we tried the crib. The crib worked best for my kids for naps, but not bed time, never bed time. Sigh. I used to fear the evenings, not knowing what they would bring. Would I only sleep a half hour tonight? And with Reagan it was worse. I had to be up at five in the morning to get to my teaching job in the city. I usually did this with a couple hours of sleep at best. With each child I had, the sleeping situation got worse. Johnny would go down in his crib at night only after rocking, and try rocking an oversized toddler to bed. My right arm still hasn’t recovered. He would wake up every night at 3 am, and into my bed he’d go. Tristan would have the same routine, but I was lucky if I got an hour before he was up. I even got him the Snoo sleeper which legitimately rocks your baby to sleep. They look like they’re in a fancy baby jail and the crib spins and vibrates. The thing is awesome and it was the only time he slept 5 hour stretches so young, but according to the advertisement he was supposed to sleep 8 hours in this thing like all the other babies. Yeah, right! I remember my dad coming over and yelling, “Why the hell is your baby in a damn straight jacket? Take him out of there!” He’s going to be three in January and the boy has me so wrapped around his finger that now when it’s time for bed, he says, “Okay, mommy, let’s go cuddle!” And he takes my hand and brings me to MY bed and jumps in. And we go to sleep together. It’s absolutely ridiculous. I’ll be the first to admit it. However, I will say that he sleeps 12 hours uninterrupted so at least I’m not a walking zombie. But why couldn’t I get it right? Why was I able to take away the bottle at the appropriate time, but not stick to a bedtime routine? My friend said something to me the other day and it was like a lightbulb went off. She said, “Nicole, you physically can’t hear your kids cry.” And I thought about it. When I took away the bottles, the pacifiers, even the almighty boob!, no one cried. It was amazing. I remember being in shock all those times. I couldn’t believe it went so well. So I persevered. I secretly tooted my own horn for being such a strong mama. But when it came to sleeping, the separation anxiety was real. My kids can’t be away from me. Reagan is ten and still needs to be close to me. She asks me every night if I can sleep in her bed knowing that I can’t. Once they felt their anxiety creep up, they would cry. And I can’t. I can’t hear my kids cry. I never could. And believe me, I know not all sleep training requires crying. I don’t judge anyone who chooses this or let’s their kids cry. I’m not that mom and I never will be. But for me, I would feel physically panicked and nauseous when my kids cried. I tried sleep training with each child once. Just once. And the hysteria was just not worth it to me. I couldn’t bear it. So, into my beds they went. And I didn’t have my husband home to help me with bedtime. He was always working. So my little chickadees would get their way and get to sleep with mommy.
I always wonder if I did the right thing. There is so many conflicting opinions. Your kids will be more confident if they feel secure! No wait, your kids will be too dependent on you and never learn how to self soothe! No wait, sorry, you’re teaching them that they can cry and demand what they want! Oh no, I mean, you are responding to their needs. Kudos! And don’t forget, put them on their backs to sleep! Get a sleep sack! Don’t hold them to sleep or they could fall out of your arms. No, go ahead hold that baby and get some rest! All of the conflicting information was secretly killing me. Three kids and I was still trying to figure out the rules. When I finally decided that I was going to do what was best for me and the kids, I started to calm down. Okay, so my kids still want to sleep with me at nighttime. So, they’d climb back into the womb if they could. So what? They’ll go to college without me, right? It’s not always ideal sharing my bed, but it’s not going to be like this forever…so the experts tell me. I’ll report back in 18 years!