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Parental Advisory: Over(Co)Slept

I need advice. I am a full-time working mom of an eight-month-old daughter and a three-year, nine-month-old toddler son. My son has never been a good sleeper. He’s always woken up at least one or more times at night to pee, drink water, or scream (night terrors). I believe I contributed somewhat to his bad sleeping habits. He started co-sleeping with us at birth, and I catered to every little whimper. I wanted to fix the problem, and after years of repeated night waking, I talked to doctors and friends and was convinced that once we ended his co-sleeping with us, it would solve his problem.

After some struggle, we finally purchased a bed, got him a dinosaur bedding set with a matching pillow (which my son loved), and eventually moved him out of our room into his own room. To everyone’s surprise, my son didn’t give any resistance about sleeping on his own. He was very excited to be a big boy and sleep in his dinosaur bed by himself. He still woke up at night to go pee, or to drink water, or cry, but once he was out of our room, I was able to get a little bit better sleep at night.

It’s been couple of months since my son has been sleeping on his own. However, a couple of times, my husband has decided he wanted to co-sleep with our son and tried to get him back into our room for the night. I gave my husband the ultimatum that he needs to choose who he wants to co-sleep with: me or our son.

After years of suffering through endless nights of waking up frequently, I am sick of co-sleeping. During the past three years, my husband never got up to take my son to the bathroom or to grab water, or to calm him down during his night terrors; it was always me. I’m afraid that if we let our son know that he can push his way into our bed again, he won’t go back to his room.

My husband thinks just one time will be okay and it doesn’t matter. For me, especially since I also have an eight-month-old baby girl in our room, I don’t want our toddler son to come back to our room. Between two of them, I will never get enough sleep.

Thankfully my daughter is much better sleeper and only wakes up once a night, but when my son used to sleep with us, his crying would be so loud it would wake up the baby. Do you think co-sleeping once in a while won’t matter and it won’t be habit forming, or do you think this will doom me to sleepless nights again? – No-Co-Sleeper


Dear No-Co,

We want to congratulate you on what sounds like a great transition! As your friends warned, moving from the family bed to a big kid bed can be very hard. But your son was clearly ready and able. And you handled the move with sensitivity and respect. Good work. But it sounds like there is someone else in your house whose not quite ready to separate.

Your husband misses his little boy: after all, for him, co-sleeping didn’t involve endless wakings and feedings. He got to lie back and enjoy the rustle of tiny footsied feet nestling under the covers. We can see why he loved it so much. But there’s more to this than just your husband’s needs. Your son has shown he’s happy sleeping on his own. You want and need to get more sleep. Your husband needs to see the big picture and start to think about ways to feel connected and bonded to his son during waking hours.

It’s not that we have no sympathy for your husband. Weaning from an intense connection with your young child can be torture. Raising children is all about moments of attachment and separation. There’s a constant re-adjusting of connectedness and independence. This happens with feeding, with sleeping, at the playground, when school starts. We all tend to focus so much on the child’s developmental needs, it can be easy to forget that there is another person involved in the attachment equation: the parent. Plenty of child-rearing choices are made in the service of parental wants and needs. But in this case, it’s clear that your husband’s needs don’t jibe with yours, and they don’t seem particularly aligned with where your son is developmentally, either.

Yes, it’s sad to move on and lose the cozy parts of co-sleeping. But it wasn’t working for you, and you’re the one who was doing all the work. Which to us means you’re the one who gets to call the shots.

Your husband might be right that a few isolated nights with you won’t unravel into full time co-sleeping again. Non-co-sleepers often manage to break the rules on vacations or when the child is sick without long-term repercussions.

But he might be wrong. And that’s a risk we don’t think that you – mother of infant and needer of sleep – need to take. Insomnia is one (very common) byproduct of the frequent waking you’ve been enduring. Resentment is another, and you’ve already got quite a handsome load of that weighing you down. Not to mention another baby who will be reaching a stage of separation anxiety herself soon enough. Our advice is to hold your ground, and maybe hold your husband a little more to help him deal with his own separation anxiety.

Have a question? Email beingpregnant@babble.com

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