Our family bed has grown alongside our children and our views on sleep. We began tentatively with just a king sized mattress, unsure of cosleeping but feeling in our gut we wanted to do it.
By the time our second child came along we had read Three in a Bed and quelled the myths of bed sharing danger and moved onto two doubles – we were in a campervan and me and the newborn took the upstairs and husband and Ramona took the bottom.
These days, with a three year old and a five year old and knowing we are partaking in a healthy, ancient sleep tradition, we all bunk together in a loft, with a super king and a single pushed together to make one enormous sleeping platform.
I’ve written much on our family bed – from the benefits of cosleeping to the practicalities of cosleeping but am only just now really coming round to the idea that cosleeping began as a Thing We Did, a thing I thought would last for a period, whereas the Family Bed is more of a concept that cosleeping has lead to. Are you with me?
Here are a few benefits of embracing the Family Bed as part of your parenting philosophy…
The Family Bed promotes sleep
Juno was poorly last night and woke a lot. At one point I came to and she was walking two fingers across the bridge of my nose and I heard her murmuring “Mummy wolf walks over the mountain… Baby wolf walks over the mountain…” Cuteness. But my point is that I was actually sleeping while she got comfort from my presence! Since sleep sharing I have had this idea that I’m getting more sleep than others, that if I were to be getting up and down all night going to a cot, I would be far more exhausted than I currently am. And turns out, it’s not just a feeling. When cosleeping, although mother and baby wake more, they wake together, in rhythm, so that it ends up that the pair of them get more sleep. (Read more on this at Dr Momma.)
The Family Bed is a continuation of connection-focused daytime parenting
My primary aim as a mother is connection. I feel that if my children can trust me, communicate with me, feel secure in our relationship, then I know they can get through anything. They will have a resilience for life. This parenting philosophy carries on after sundown. They will feel my breathing as they stir from a bad dream, they will hear my validation as they murmur their upsets, all until they are ready not to. When I went back to work cosleeping was a way I could reconnect with toddler Ramona, even when I was away for long hours during the day. At that time I wrote:
“Ramona sleeps in the middle of the two of us, so if she wakes one of us can cuddle her back into dreamland. This time she woke up instantly, and gleefully, and she shouted “LEEEG! Where ARE YOUUUU? There you are! Other leg?! Where aaare youuuu?? FOUND you!”
Yes, YES, my friends. She was playing hide and seek with her limbs.
After stifling my giggles I stroked her head and she snuggled back down into a deep sleep.”
Such a minor thing, a 30 second interaction, but it was part of a bigger feeling. Despite being away all day I was still getting to know my toddler and all her beautiful. hilarious parts of her personality.
The Family Bed fosters a more trusting, less controlling attitude towards sleep
Until Ramona was a few months old, despite cosleeping, I still had a lot of anxiety about sleep. I had seen charts that said she ought to sleep from 7pm to 7am and had been told she shouldn’t nurse to sleep or stir in the night. Then I spent some time reading and reflecting and came to feel that I am not the boss of her sleep! I can create the conditions for sleep, but it is up to her if she wants to and for how long. In short, I came to trust her and it was the key to feeling about a billion time happier with bedtime and nighttime. (Read more on these approaches that led to happier sleep here.)
We get so hung up on “independent sleeping” that we coerce and manipulate and bribe and even threaten. We forget to say “We trust you to know when you are ready.”
For me the Family Bed seems to stand for that trust. It says “When you are ready for independence you’ll get your own bed- until then there is a space on this mattress with your name on it!”
The Family Bed is intentional, safe cosleeping
The Family Bed is a solid, practical thing. You have deliberately organised enough room for all of you to sleep safely together. There is no slumping on the sofa with your newborn because there isn’t enough room for you in her crib. There is no danger of suffocation or squashing, SIDS and the Family Bed are completely unrelated. (Please read my research packed post here about the safety of cosleeping and SIDS.)
If we can normalise the image of all the family hunkering down together it is far less likely that people will cobble together something unsafe, or collapse in exhaustion.
Read more from an “accidental attachment parenting” family – including a Dr daddy who came to believe in cosleeping as best. *not just for hippies*
Sometimes the girls find each other’s warmth in the middle of the night…
The Family Bed reasserts sleep as a collective activity
Our kids shouldn’t have to face their nightmares alone. In most of history they haven’t had to do that, yet modernity seems to think it is a good idea! It has been normal for the longest time to sleep together in one room, not just families, but sometimes whole communities (don’t worry husband, I’m not suggesting that…)
Historically, nighttime has been a vulnerable situation for humans, so doing it together meant more protection. This emotional/ DNA memory is still within us on some level, making us feel stressed or fearful in the dark or scared of shadows. It’s totally natural. It’s understandable that kids feel terror at night, and entirely sensible that being together makes for a far less stressful night. (And, y’know, science etc – Babies that cosleep produce less cortisol – the stress hormone- than their isolated buddies.)
Last week I heard about the term the Japanese use for cosleeping, where the Family Bed is the norm until kids are quite old; it is “Kawa”. Kawa is the same character used for a river cascading between between two banks; they see parents as the strong, supportive edges, the life-giving river child flowing through them.
So, the truth it, hand on heart, I didn’t think that half a decade into parenting I’d be crashed out in bed with my husband, two tiny bodies between us. But here we are, and I’d have it no other way.
PS Little video on cosleeping – including EXCLUSIVE footage of our own massive, messy Family Bed… (Yeah, I am TOTALLY wishing I had made it properly right now. But. Y’know. Just keeping it real.)