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CO-SLEEPING NECESSARY FOR SOME

Q: My grandson is 2 1/2 and has never slept in his own bed. My daughter-in-law wants him to sleep with her. I know I should stay out of it, but I think this habit is wrong. I have on occasion mentioned this. She tries sometimes to put him in his bed, but he comes and gets in their bed. My son doesn't like the arrangement, but he doesn't want to make waves.
-- A grandmother in Roanoke, Va.
A: Stay out of it.

"Whether the boy sleeps with your daughter-in-law and son is none of your business," says a mother in Buffalo, who got unsolicited advice from her ex-husband's girlfriend. "I'm also the mother of a former bed hopper. I obsessed about that and toilet training until a friend assured me, 'Your boys won't graduate wearing diapers, and they won't still be trying to get in your bed.' "

It's up to the parents to decide whether their child's sleeping habits need to change. Pediatricians disagree on the topic. Some couples don't think three's a crowd; others feel co-sleeping disrupts their intimacy. Whether it's right or wrong for the family isn't the point, one reader says: "The grandmother simply doesn't get a vote."

No matter how well-intentioned her comments are, Grandma's separate talks with her son and daughter-in-law could create a hurtful relationship triangle, several readers say. Worst-case scenario: She oversteps her boundaries and loses out on time with her grandson.

"For the grandmother to get involved could cause resentment between her and her daughter-in-law," says a mother of three. She adds: If the son tells his mother he dislikes the sleeping arrangements, she should encourage him to talk to his wife but should not interfere further.

A stepmother in Tappahannock, Va., encouraged her husband to stop letting his 4-year-old son sleep in their bed. The boy was allowed to fall asleep in the living room, stay there, and would wake and come to sleep next to his father. The book "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" (Ballantine, 1999) by sleep researcher Marc Weissbluth, helped the stepmother convince her husband that it would be better for all involved if his son slept in his own bed.

There are many nighttime parenting styles, says pediatrician William Sears, and parents need to be sensible and use whatever arrangement that gets all family members the best night's sleep. His fussy fourth child helped turn him and his wife into co-sleeping experts, a philosophy he explains at www.askdrsears.com.

Other parents say they too fell into the family-bed pattern to avoid sleep deprivation.

A father of two in Atlanta says his two children started sleeping through the night at six weeks of age. "But after their mother left home, my 21-month-old daughter began waking up and calling for me. For a week I stayed up nights rocking and cooing, trying to get her back to sleep in her own room," he recalls. "Sleep deprivation quickly affected my health and work. One weary night, I finally just put her in my own bed. We were both back asleep in seconds."

Within six months, the girl was sleeping on her own again. "The important thing to me during that time was to encourage independence and give reassurance during the day, and to sleep at night," he says.

A mother from Granger, Ind., says her first child never slept in her parents' bed "because we went with the child-care books at the time. She had colic, so we didn't get much sleep. Our second child was in bed with us as a baby, so I could get my sleep."

Changing the co-sleeping habit, says a mother from Miami, Fla., takes lots of patience and a consistent bedtime routine. After she and her husband separated when their son was a 1-year-old, mother and child moved in with her parents and shared a bed. But after a few months, she decided she didn't want her son to become accustomed to sleeping with her. After a month of vehement, nightly protests, and Mom returning him to bed each night without a discussion, the boy learned to sleep by himself.

Can you help?

"Do parents realize that food allergies, mineral deficiencies and digestive problems can be the culprits in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, fatigue and erratic behavior in their children? For me, calcium and magnesium deficiencies and an inability to absorb food properly after taking antibiotics made my muscle weakness and depression worse. Can you provide more information on this so parents know to ask their doctors about it?"

- A reader in Dallas
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