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Actually, sleeping with my 5-year-old is pretty great

I’ve been a parent for 10 years (if you count pregnancy, which I do). All that time, and I didn’t realize I was an attachment parent until a month ago.

Even then, I took some convincing. “You totally are,” insisted my friend, during a conversation about different parenting styles. Our other friend nodded enthusiastically in agreement.

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It turns out, they’re right. And I feel a little ridiculous for not having recognized it sooner. I read and write about parenting practically on a daily basis. I know exactly what attachment parenting is. I just didn’t know what it was back when I was a new mum, and didn’t recognize it was what I’d been practicing all this time.

According to Attachment Parenting International, attachment parenting is “an approach to childrearing that promotes a secure attachment bond between parents and their children,” with methods including feeding on demand (check), responding to crying (check) and co-sleeping (massive check).

The latter is one of the most controversial aspects of attachment parenting — and one even some of my closest friends don’t understand. For me, it’s simply the norm. I slept with my parents every night until I was 4, at which point my sister came along and I graduated (without too much of a fuss, by all accounts) to my own bed.

So when my own babies came along, it seemed like a natural thing to do, particularly as I was breastfeeding. I knew what the risks of co-sleeping were, and always made sure it was done safely. I was surprised, back in those early newborn days, by how rare co-sleeping seemed to be — at least among the families I knew. As a new mum, I found myself justifying the decision under the weight of those disapproving looks. I still remember one mother telling me I was “harming” my child.

I wonder what those mums would think now if they knew that my daughter (almost 6) still sleeps in my bed. Every single night.

Yes, it seems that not only am I an attachment parent, I’m showing signs of handcuffing myself to my kids so they can never, ever leave me.

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Or so the naysayers would have you believe.

The truth is, it was never a conscious decision to share a bed with my daughter until now. Her big brother (now 8) was a co-sleeper too, but when we moved house when he was 2, he was perfectly happy to move into his own room, and apart from the odd occasion when he’s feeling ill or in need of some extra mama comfort, he’s in his own bed every night.

I certainly didn’t try to persuade him to stay in my bed, and I don’t make that choice for my daughter, either. Every few months, since she turned 4, I’ve asked her if she wants sleep in her own bed. We’ve tried it a few times. We were both miserable. One night, having taken advice from fellow parents who had “mastered” controlled crying, I sat on the floor outside her bedroom. Her every sob was a blow to my heart. What was I doing? I was spending my evening sitting on the floor feeling guilty, and she was spending the evening lying in her bed feeling unsettled and lonely.

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Ten minutes later, we were both tucked up in my bed, happy and warm.

Of course, a big part of how we parent is how we adapt to different situations and try to make the best of what we have. I’m a single parent, but would my daughter still share my bed if I were still with her dad? I honestly don’t know. But I do have the luxury of making decisions that suit my kids and me without consulting another adult. There’s nobody else in my bed and there’s plenty of room, so why shouldn’t she jump in?

When the kids are away overnight with their dad, I have the bed to myself. I don’t sleep any better, but equally, I don’t lie there weeping because I don’t have my daughter’s foot jabbing me in the ribs. To those who call our sleeping practice unhealthy, well, I simply can’t think of a healthier way to do it. (And to couples who say co-sleeping ruins a couple’s intimacy, I say, try having sex somewhere other than a bed once in a while.) 

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Within the parenting community, there’s definitely a sense that extended co-sleepers are a fringe group, and that it’s somehow shameful. It’s definitely not a common choice, but this doesn’t mean it’s wrong. If both parent and child benefit from it, how can it possibly be criticized? I know my daughter, and I know she’s doing great. She’s secure and quietly confident and thriving in every way. Far from being a shrinking violet, hiding in her mother’s shadow, she’s tearing around the skate park with kids twice her age.

She just loves to cuddle her mum at night. And one day, possibly in the not-too-distant future, that’s the last thing she’ll want to do. She may not want to be under the same roof as me, let alone in the same bed. So I’m sure as hell going to savor these cozy, sleepy, sweet cuddles while she’s giving them out.

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