Is cosleeping with the toddler okay? Even if your husband isn’t happy?

Reader Question: Is cosleeping with the toddler okay?Today’s reader question comes from a rather unhappy husband who would like his wife back in his bed.

Reader Question

I have nowhere to turn to in regards to my wife cosleeping with our toddler. We are both Christians and attend church on a regular basis. Ever since our two year old was born my wife has been sleeping with him. She claims, “It is so much easier to breast feed him when I am next to him.” This has been going on for 28 months. She now sleeps in the same room with our other son with the youngest. We have not slept in same bed for well over two years. Our sex life is nonexistent–11x in past year. I am at my wit’s end and have nowhere to turn.

Wow. Okay, let’s try to tackle this. Because it’s mostly women who read this blog, I’m going to address most of my comments to women, with some words to the husbands at the end.

First, I have to say: I must be a glutton for punishment, because I’ve talked about co-sleeping before, and every time I do I get lambasted from readers. So let me start with some disclaimers:

I understand that it is often easier to sleep with babies.

Of course, my husband is a pediatrician and has seen babies get suffocated from parents sleeping beside them, so he would always want me to issue the warning that cosleeping is not recommended by pediatric societies.

But nevertheless, I know many parents do it. I do know that breastfeeding is easier if the child is in bed with you, and for many moms, sleeping with the baby is the only way to get some sleep.

I also understand that some COUPLES choose to co sleep with their toddlers.

I don’t think this is ideal, however. I think that couples need alone time, and I think that the “family bed” can create a situation where you can’t move the kids out of your bed, even if you want to, because they’re so used to sleeping with you. I have known families who can’t get their 7 or 8 year olds to sleep in their own rooms.

Nevertheless, you are the parents, and if you and your husband both, together, willingly choose to have the kids in your bed not because you can’t get them to sleep in their own rooms but because you genuinely want them there, then I completely support that.

I would just urge you to make sure that your husband truly wants them there, because my husband talks to many patients who cosleep with their kids. Every single time, when you get the dad alone, he says he wants the kids out but the mom won’t hear of it. So, mom, be sure it’s your decision as a couple, and you’re not just shutting out his feelings because it’s something you want so much.

That being said, the wife should be sleeping with the husband, not co-sleeping with toddlers (or co-sleeping with older children) without the husband.

When your wife cosleeps with the toddler instead of the husband.

The wife’s bed is the husband’s bed. Period.

If the couple, TOGETHER, choose to bring the toddlers or children into bed (as I said above), that’s fine. But a wife choosing to sleep away from her husband in favour of her children? That’s a huge red flag.

Sometimes obviously you can’t sleep in the same bed, if there are snoring issues or health issues or work schedule issues. But in general, couples should sleep together.

Here are some things to consider:

Sex is much harder when you’re cosleeping with toddlers

I have had moms who cosleep with their children tell me that, “we still have sex! We just have to get creative and have it in different places!” That’s wonderful. But it’s also a basic fact of human behaviour that when you make something more difficult you will get less of it.

Often when couples make love it’s unplanned. You’re lying in bed, talking and snuggling, and things “just happen”. If you’ve removed the opportunity for things to “just happen”, you will have sex less often.

When you choose to cosleep, you simultaneously choose to sacrifice some of your sexual encounters.

Your husband’s feelings matter

Now that you’re married, your husband matters more, not less, because those kids are counting on you to stay together. If you sacrifice a bit of your marriage to make your kids happy, are you really helping them?

Your marriage matters once you're a mom!

Marriage is hard enough once kids come. They take up so much of our time and energy. If you have no time away from them, just the two of you, you put such an added strain on your marriage.

Yes, you love your children with an all-encompassing love. Moms would die for their children in an instant; most of us would have to think for a bit about whether or not we would die for our husbands. It’s just a different relationship. But just because it’s less intense, in a way, does not make it less important. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Kids will clamor for your attention. They will bug you. They will make sure you don’t forget them.

Marriage doesn’t work that way. When a marriage (or a husband) is being neglected, you likely won’t hear kicking and screaming. It will be a slow fade. It will be a withdrawal, an increasing distance, a drift.

There’s nothing urgent keeping your attention on your husband, so you must be intentional. When you spend all of  your energy and affection on your kids, you don’t help them. You hurt them, because you hurt your marriage. You are “one flesh” with your husband, not with your children.

Your children should not bear the weight of your emotional needs

When kids get your attention instead of your husband, they will be very happy. Kids are naturally selfish and they’re naturally leeches: they want all the attention they can possibly get.

Ultimately, though, if a child comes between you and your husband you create a very unhealthy emotional dynamic for that child. Your children know that they trump your husband. They increasingly take on the need to make you happy, and they distance themselves from their dad. It’s not good. And you should not put on your children your needs for emotional closeness. You’re the parent; you’re the one who meets the needs. If you can’t separate from a toddler because you love holding them too much, then you’re putting your toddler in the giving role. That’s selfish and it’s wrong, and ultimately it will hurt them.

Kids need to learn to separate and do things on their own

One of the best gifts you can give your small children is the ability to put themselves to sleep.

Think about this: you naturally wake up several times during the night (we all do), but we usually just roll over and go back to sleep.

But what would happen if you woke up and your pillow wasn’t there? Could you go back to sleep? Perhaps not, because you associate your pillow with sleep.

When you have to rock your children to get them to sleep, or give them a bottle to get them to sleep, or breastfeed them to get them to sleep, or lie down with them to get them to sleep, then when they wake up, they will need whatever it is you do in order to go back to sleep. They won’t just roll over and doze off again.

So if you have to lie down with your toddler to get them to sleep at night, then when they wake up at 2 in the morning, they will want you to come beside them again. And so we think, “it’s easier if I just stay here.”

And then we progress to,

My baby needs me and loves me so much!

But your baby needs you because you’ve taught your baby (or toddler) to associate you with sleep! If you teach them to associate hugging them and kissing them and then lying them down in a crib or toddler bed with sleep, then they’ll sleep that way, too!

A baby who needs his or her mother to go to sleep does not love that mother more than a baby or toddler who can go to sleep happily by him or herself. That baby has simply not learned how to sleep on their own. And that baby will easily become more fussy and more anxious because that baby doesn’t know how to calm him or herself.

Yes, it may take a while to teach your kids to sleep on their own

It is difficult. But you need to get your marriage–and your life–back! You aren’t doing yourself or your marriage any service by making your life revolve around your kids. I have known moms, though, who refuse to help their kids sleep on their own because they like the feeling of being needed by their kids. They crave it. That’s not fair to the children and it’s not fair to your husband.

A note to husbands whose wives cosleep with the kids

If you could have written the letter that this man did, I just have a few thoughts.

Your wife needs to know that you still love her, and that the marriage is important. Spend time with her. Do some things with the toddlers and insist she take some time to herself. Ask her to do a “marriage check-in” once a day just so that you can keep up with what is going on in each other’s lives. Share with her your feelings about life–about work, about church, about God. Don’t wall off your feelings. She needs that connection.

And then, once you are talking regularly and you have time together, sit her down and tell her your concerns about the sleeping arrangement. Show her this post. Tell her that the kids matter to you so much, and that’s why you want a rock solid marriage–for them. Ask her what you can do to create that strong marriage, and then ask her to come back to your bed. Tell her you know it will be hard, but  you’ll research how to do it and you’ll do it with her, full partner.

Just understand that her motivation is likely that she loves the kids so much. Show her that you love them, too–and then work through this together.

Now let me know in the comments: Have you ever had to stop the kids from sleeping with you? How did you do it?

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