I hated co-sleeping, but I did it anyway

Feb 24, 2016 at 5:00 p.m. ET
Image: Christopher Futcher/Getty Images

I’ve always believed children should sleep in their own beds. I know, I’m old-fashioned. I know the trend has moved toward more co-sleeping or “the family bed” in recent years, but I’ve always been a firm believer that situation wasn’t for me. My bed is for my husband and me. For sleep — my sleep. For sex and relaxing. There’s nothing relaxing about waking up in the middle of the night with a tiny little toe shoved in your nostril.

Yes, I understand occasional bad dreams may bring a child into the parents' bedroom. Saturday morning snuggles? You bet. I’m not a complete ice cube, but I’ve never believed co-sleeping was something that was right for our family.

Until it was.

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My husband and I adopted a 2-year-old in 2012 (he’s almost 6 now). Our social worker and members of our adoption support group encouraged co-sleeping to facilitate bonding. Trying to bond with a newly adopted toddler who’s not clear on what’s going on brings its own set of challenges. We were advised to squeeze in as much close, physical contact as we could to establish that parent-child bond.

I was beyond excited, over the moon to be this kid’s mom. But co-sleeping? Uh… no. I lovingly transformed our spare room into the coolest kid space ever. There was a note in my son’s case file that said he slept in the same bed as his foster mom. I blew that off and convinced myself he’d happily snooze alone in his little pimped-out Pottery Barn Kids palace.

He had other ideas.

Our first six months with Zack are a blur. He was not down with sleeping in his own room. Trying to compromise, I pulled his toddler bed into our room. Fail. This kid was perfectly happy to sleep in our bed and only in our bed. Any movement toward another sleeping situation tanked.

I could get him to go to sleep in his own room by sitting beside his bed and patting his back. He’d snooze for an hour, then wake up crying. I wore a path between his room and ours. It became a nightmare of a routine. Hear kid cry. Go to his room. Pat him back to sleep. Shuffle back to bed. Get approximately 45 minutes of sleep. Repeat.

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I was a wreck. Little things like running low on Diet Coke would send me into a nuclear-grade meltdown. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is used as torture. A sleepless night here and there? Sure, a human can suck that up, but every night? We’re not built for that.

After a few months, he got to where he'd sleep in his own bed for two to three hours at a stretch. Instead of crying for me to come in, he started tiptoeing into our room and crawling in our bed. He'd wedge contentedly between my husband and me (usually just as I was falling asleep). I guess the fact that he was sleeping longer and coming to us instead of crying for us to come to him was a sign he was becoming more comfortable. I went from getting up with him every hour to three or four times a night.

We kept insisting co-sleeping wasn’t for us, even though our small human was telling us otherwise.

Looking back, I don’t know why it took us the better part of a year to buy a king-sized bed and accept things as they were. We were stubborn, older parents with very set notions of what parenting should look like. That didn’t include a kid in our bed every night.

Regular sleep for everyone won. For whatever reason, Zack needed to sleep with us and we eventually accepted that. The bonding process felt like it was going well, but looking back, I see there were underlying insecurities that popped up at night and made him crave that closeness.

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I don’t wish for many do-overs in my life, but if I could turn back time, I’d let Zack sleep with us from the get-go. I wish I'd have been more open to his needs and less rigid in my parenting ideals. And I will never get that lost sleep back.

Co-sleeping didn’t put a damper on my sex life because I was more rested and actually interested in intimacy instead of making love to my next cup of coffee. We both had more energy to get creative and find time to be intimate. What did hurt my marriage was being a crazy woman who bit my husband's head off with almost no provocation and being so zoned out we couldn't have a real conversation. Not experiencing the joys of REM sleep did put a strain on every part of my life, especially being a wife.

Things got better when everyone started sleeping regularly. And, parent sex only takes a few minutes, right? Please say that’s not just me. Where there’s a will and five minutes, there’s a way, but if one partner is a walking zombie, you're probably not getting that kind of action.

I’m here to bust the myth that all co-sleeping families are gung-ho on the idea. We did it because our child needed it… and in the end, I needed sleep more than I needed to be right. If all signs point to co-sleeping as the best thing for your child, rewind and consider your position… and yes, your position might be the fetal on three inches of mattress space, but at least you’ll be sleeping. Sort of.