I was in my PJs catching up on TV and my dude was snoring oh so serenely in my ear last night when I came to a sudden and embarrassingly cheesy realization: I don’t ever want to not sleep like this. Our kids can never crawl between us in bed.
It sounds harsh. I know. But, there are plenty of parents who don’t let their kids sleep in bed with them at all. I can’t imagine turning away a frightened toddler. But, I think some boundaries are important. Here’s where I’m at:
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Most experts will tell you that your kids need to be number two on the priority list. It’s vital that your spouse/co-parent should come first. Why? Because most people will tell you that marriage bonds are tested the most after kids. It works simply enough. You found “your person.” You fell in love. You decided you had enough love to invite another smaller person into your lives. Those tiny creatures run your life. They dictate your every move. If your SO stops at the store on the way home, he’s not thinking of scooping up some hydrangeas for his Pretty-Pretty. You’ve spent the day with miles between you, maybe center consoles in the car and tables at dinner. If you got any time on the couch at all, there was probably a tiny butt between you. Bedtime is often the only time couples (especially couples with children) have alone, the only time for extended touch — sexy or not. By letting a little monster crawl between you in bed, they are literally wedging themselves between you.
Of course, I want my kids to feel like they can climb into bed with us and feel safe. But I think that it’s equally important that they recognize that nothing pulls Mom and Dad apart. Think about the games kids innocently play. Mom said no? Ask Dad. Our children quickly learn the concept of divide and conquer. The more you can show them they can’t divide you, the better. It’s important both for stability and disciplinary reasons that your kids know you and your co-parent are in it together. Curled up in bed, with a snoring face in your ear or a firm grip on a hand, sends a strong, silent message that kids need: “There are two of us. You have both of us.” Psychologically, it also seems significant that should our relationships fail, our children have no memory of coming between us and no way to equate their presence with the disintegration of the partnership.
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There’s also the issue of intimacy. This is your bed. Where, most likely, you created that wandering, wide-eyed, babbling and precious creature standing in your doorway. Sure, sometimes babies come about after super-sexy nights in hotel rooms or scandalous romps on the beach. But in the real world, I’d wager that most tiny humans arrive nine months after something similar to a cold morning of pawing at each other in an effort to avoid getting out from under the blankets. It was sleepy and sloppy and freaking perfect. If there’s a kid on the other side of your SO, sex is still out of the question. But, you’re still close. There’s still some skin-on-skin action. There are still reminders of that night and all the others. Still a chance to tease each other about what you could have tomorrow night… or some time next week, when the kiddo stays at her aunt’s house. It’s not much. But it’s important.
Finally, and this might be silly, but I think there’s something to be said for my kid spending time on my side or my SO’s side. As important as it is to feel safe with us, as important as it is to know we’re indivisible, it’s equally important to me that my kid feels safe when there’s only one of us. Should something ever happen to me, I want my child to know she’ll be OK in her dad’s care. If something should happen to him, she needs to know that Mom is just as capable of offering protection from the wild things that go bump in the night.
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By no means am I suggesting this theory is perfect. As much as I know my partner should come first, I’m sure that bond will be put to the test over the years. I do, however, think this is my compromise between being one of the many parents who ban kids from entering their bed at all and parents who let little Johnny go spread-eagle between them every night. This decision might change. After all, the dude and I are still a little ways away from worrying about nightmares and the boogeyman. But last night I fell a little more in love with this partner of mine and, in the process, I recognized another way I could work at making sure it lasts. At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t matter how you make it work, as long as it works.
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