I am not totally sure that we ever planned to have a family bed. It seems like it just evolved that way. When my oldest was born, I found it odd and somewhat cruel to set this little creature that had been part of me for nine months off to his own little bed by himself. I thought he needed the comfort and touch of his mother. It was, after all, someone he was accustomed to being with--to be with the scent, touch, and sounds that meant warmth and safety to him. I myself was having difficulty letting go of the closeness we shared, so I nestled him along side me, and we spent many months breathing deeply in rhythm with each other, nursing, and sleeping.
The western custom of placing newborns in their own bed, and even in their own room has always been strange to me, if not impractical. I myself grew up in a household that practiced the art of sleep-sharing. Growing up in a small border town where temperatures frequently hit above 100 F, there was little choice than to cram everyone in the only room with air conditioning. Even when the heat subsided and the air grew cool, we all slept together on my parent's queen size bed--my sister in between my parents, I at the foot of the bed next to my mother, and my brother, the oldest, alongside the bed on the floor. Yes it was a bit cozy, and sometimes even uncomfortable, and I'm sure my mother probably wanted nothing more than to sleep by herself, but nonetheless, we all slept soundly--nestled in the feathers of our mother hen, and the mutual security we felt being so close to each other. As we grew older, we moved, and the situation of our family changed, the way in which we co-slept evolved as well in much the same way as it has evolved for our new family.
When we started sleep-sharing, the Dada and I were well-aware of the dangers of sleeping with a newborn, and had read many articles on the subject, but we decided to play it by ear, and we discovered that this just worked best for us. It started with the oldest sleeping in our bed full-time, and eventually being weaned into his own bed at about age three. This really meant that he'd start by sleeping part of the night in his bed, and as the night wore on, he'd tip-toe/run into the middle of our bed and slip under our covers. It all depended on whether there were monsters chasing him or not. Once he was potty trained, this also meant that I had to help him fight the monsters in the bathroom, and occasionally deal with wet bedsheets.
As our family has grown and changed, so has our sleep-sharing. When the Bee was born, Big Brother would at first attempt to squeeze into the middle of the bed right next to our newborn babe which I figured was not the safest thing. It meant that we had to coach the older boy to sleep in the middle at the foot of our bed, when he did bounce into our room during the middle of the night. The Bee enjoyed many months nestled next to me nursing and sleeping much the same way the older boy did; his parents fully aware of his presence in their bed.
Almost three years later since our last was born, we have established a bedtime routine that puts limits on their sleep-sharing. On good weeks, the older boy doesn't even participate, but lately there has been a rash of monsters in his room. Most nights, the boys get bathed by their daddy, teeth brushed, a book or two read in the bed of the older boy, followed by a ten minute snuggle form the participating adult until the older boy falls asleep. Sometimes this also puts the Bee to sleep, but most of the time it doesn't.
The Bee is a stubborn little lad that does not want to sleep. He sometimes requires rocking, and when this doesn't work, I usually give up, place him in his bed, and lie on the floor for a while until he falls asleep. And if this till doesn't work, I give up, run off leaving him awake in his bed. Sometimes he falls asleep at this point, and other times we play the you-run-out-of-your-room-and-I-throw-you-back-in game for many rounds. If his will happens to be stronger than mine that night, I give in and we sit on the couch while I pray the t.v. lulls him to sleep. Eventually, it does--this being midnight, and our actual sleep routine having started at around 9 pm. We have accepted the fact that our kids are just on another sleep schedule, but the Bee's resistance to sleep really drives us crazy. He can rival any kid his age in a no-sleep contest, and maybe even some adults.
Needless to say, It has been almost six years since I last had a good nights sleep. The boys usually show up in our bed around 3am or so, giving their parents some private time. The older boy sleeps at the foot of our bed, while the Bee cozies up next to me taking over my pillow, getting close enough to yank my hair or jab me a few times in the face while trying. On good nights, he will bestow these gestures on the Dada instead of me, and the I just get a few toe-nailed kicks to my side, which I prefer to the hair pulling. So boys, if you ever read this, know that you blessed your parents with many sleep-deprived, tortuous nights that often lead to one of the adults attempting to sleep in our queen-sized bed to relocate to another bed--usually the Dada, because your Mama knows that the Bee would just hunt her down once more. It has lead to what we call musical beds.
This post is neither for or against sleep-sharing; each family needs to make a choice that works best for them. We are ready to go without it now, but apparently our kids are not.