To Bed or Not to Bed, That is the Parenting Question


Actor, memoirist and frequent Salon contributor Peter Birkenhead recently reported on his experience as a soldier embedded in LA’s notorious gang wars.  His essay, Cribs vs. Beds: Parenthood’s all-out war, chronicles the many bullets he and his wife have dodged from attachment parents, lactivists and the cry-it-out crew (who are also well known breakdancers and taggers).

Birkenhead starts by critiquing the polarized attitudes of parents that are staunchly for or against co-sleeping.  He says, “Family Bed parents feel that co-sleeping will engender a sense for the child, later in life, that she can face anything, as long as a much older man with gray back hair and bad breath holds her tight while she does.”  Makes me wonder if my ex’s much younger new girlfriend slept with Mom and Dad as a tot.

Birkenhead and his wife, Jenny, take a more relaxed approach to sleeping (Imagine?  Being relaxed at bedtime?  Who knew that was an option?!), and have gotten flack from friends as a result.  Birkenhead says a family friend asked if their 8-month-old daughter was yet sleeping through the night, insinuating that if she wasn’t, not only was it their fault, but that she’d wind up in juvie as a troubled teen.  If that’s the case, my daughter will probably face a life sentence, because she didn’t sleep through an entire night til 6 months ago.  She’s 4 1/2.

Birkenhead’s objective is not to further drive a wedge between parents who have opposing views when it comes to child-rearing, but to acknowledge the absurdity inherent in pretending to know what’s best in a situation that is full of uncertainty, i.e. parenthood.  He lists a couple of funny examples, including the great peanut debate, breastfeeding (which we’ve talked about a lot around here lately), and circumcision, admitting that he’s not sure whether it’s best to snip the tip in the name of G-d, or, um, spare the rod and spoil the child.  Towards the end of the piece, Birkenhead teases that “the home-birthing wars could flare up again any minute now,” and based on the new finding that babies born at home have a greater risk of dying than babies born in the hospital, he might just have his finger on the pulse, as it were.

The real poignancy of his piece is delivered, (naturally, without an epidural) in the last paragraph, when he says, “Not many of us live in the same house with our uncles or grandmothers anymore.  These days our friends are our families.  So maybe what the home birthers and crib lovers are defending isn’t merely about practices but about love and companionship.  Maybe people are just trying to find their footing on ever-shifting sands.”

There are those optimists out there that would have us believe “Life’s a beach!”  And then there are those of us who think it’s more like a female dog.  Parenthood, like life, probably falls somewhere in the middle.  It’s filled with ups-and-downs, yes.  But maybe not as many rights-and-wrongs as we’d like to think.

Photo: Melissa Ann Barrett via Flickr