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Watching your children grow up is such a beautiful joy and also a bit of a sorrow at times!
My oldest child has finally said goodbye to the family bed, and I simply cannot believe that we are here at this ‘checkpoint’ of her life already.
How we started our Co-sleeping Journey
Before my 4 year old was born, I immersed myself into all sorts of books in an attempt to discover what parenting tips and practices appealed to me. I would pick and choose my favorite bits from them all and build them together into a parenting lifestyle that worked for me and made me a better mother.
I tended to lean towards books on topics such as breastfeeding, home birth, natural family planning, and babywearing, which all lead to another concept I hadn’t thought much about– co-sleeping.
After reading all about the mechanisms or dynamics behind the birth bond, the breastfeeding relationship, and the importance of skin to skin, I came across Dr. James Mckenna and devoured his work.
Needless to say, MANY books later, I became utterly convinced that co-sleeping was the way.
However, I was still initially concerned because I had never done it before! I wanted to trust in my biology, and my baby’s natural instinct to sleep close to mother, but I wanted to do it right.
In time I learned that trusting the process and observing how a baby naturally responds to and desires the mother’s constant presence was incredibly comforting, like I was right on track, fulfilling that primal motherly need as all my ancestors had done before me. 🙂
Sharing my bed with my baby was very comforting for the both of us, and made both of us feel safer.
The Initial Co-sleeping Set Up
Before that first baby was born, we set up a crib next to my bed with the third side removed. This is sometimes called a ‘side care’ set up. It worked very nicely for us.
In those early months, the baby mostly slept right by me, but as she got older she learned to want her own space, and would roll into the side car until she needed more snuggles.
To be honest, it was really, really wonderful to go to bed together as a family. We all would play together for a while before falling asleep with our baby, and it really was ideal.
At about age 20 months or so, I was pregnant again and needed to night wean my child because I had developed a nursing aversion that was too difficult for me to manage at night. She had a hard couple of weeks, but we transitioned fine eventually, still bedsharing for a time.
A few moths later, close to the arrival of the baby, we moved the sidecar crib across the room in an attempt to have my oldest daughter still in the room with us, but no longer in the bed. We tried this set up for many weeks and although we had nights were it really worked great, it was mostly extremely difficult, and although I had a huge pregnant belly, it was HARDER to try to get her to stay in her own space, than to all squish together into the bed.
So we reverted to what we had previously done, promising to try again when she was ready. My poor vocal chords just couldn’t handle singing for 45 minutes + a night anymore.
Sleeping 4 to a Bed (plus a side car)
When the new baby came, we were pleasantly surprised how well we all still seemed to fit into the king-bed+side-car situation!
The baby slept by the wall, then me, then my husband, then the toddler in the sidecar.
We all got the sleep we needed, while still providing the physical closeness my toddler needed. The baby slept very well, and the two children never woke each other because they hardly ever cried. Bed sharing has allowed us to practice nighttime parenting very quickly. Our responses to their needs are only a breath away!
I want to add that OF COURSE there were times when we felt too crowded, or had sleepless nights for whatever reason. But sleepless night will happen no matter where you choose to sleep. You literally do sign up for sleepless nights when you become a parent! Bedsharing actually made it all so much easier for us.
Well, that was almost 2 years ago.
My oldest is now 4, and the baby is now almost 2. We have moved to a new house, and all of us had been sharing a king sized bed for about a year.
We were starting to realize that change needed to come soon, there simply was not enough space for us all anymore, and our toddler had turned into quite a roller and middle of the night kicker. I was starting to think about transitioning my toddler to her own bed and own room, but I didn’t want to make her night time sleep worse.
It got to a point where each night while putting the two kids to bed, they would roll and kick and play so much that I would get frustrated in my motherly sleepiness and threaten that she would “have to sleep alone in her own room!” That got her to calm down, but it also made sleeping in her own room something to be afraid of. Looking back I realize that I should have used a better method. Sometimes in parenting your rational brain just wont wake up!
After several months of tolerating the night time rolls and kicks, we finally decided that it was time to teach my oldest how to sleep in her own space, if she was willing to try.
Transitioning to My Toddler’s Own Room
I thought a long time about how to make the transition not so scary.
(A funny thing happened, I read an article another mom had written about bedsharing with her own toddler. I liked the article so I went to leave a comment, and I already had—one year prior!!)
First, I painted some walls in her closet, and we made her a bed to make her room more special.
Then, we spent about a week talking about the upcoming transition.
“Next Friday we are going to teach you how to sleep in your own bed! Its going to be so exciting!”
She was afraid of this big change and kept insisting that “she would do it when she was 4!!”
I let her express her fears to me and I told her all about how I knew she could do it. I told her about how I slept in my own bed when I was her age, and how fun it was to pile up all my stuffed animals on my bed and sleep in a zoo pile.
I told her about how her friends her age were also sleeping in their own beds, and how they liked to make their beds in the morning.
I also explained that we would still sing and pray together, and that I would come get her in the morning just like always.
We hung up some little lights and a tiny bell I told her she could ring if she needed my help at night. She liked the bell.
We made some “party muffins“
She still cried.
We continued these conversations for several days, letting the idea sink in and take hold in her. I really didn’t want to force her if she wasn’t ready, but I suspected that she was. She just needed to also suspect the same. 🙂
Then, one day that same week, she suddenly completely abandoned all fear and simply was very excited for the night she finally got to grow up!
I was amazed! And so relieved!
(Side note: for those of you who haven’t read the book “The Whole Brained Child” I highly recommend it. I do believe that allowing my daughter to repeatedly play out this sleeping scenario as well as her fears in our daily conversations allowed her to reason through it, and finally choose to give it a try.)
The first night, we did the same bedtime routine she was used to (story, song, prayer, bed) but in her new room. I stayed with her until she fell asleep. She woke up once, at around midnight, and needed re-comforting. The rest of the night she slept amazingly!
Me on the other hand, I was listening for every tiny little sound all night long so that I could jump up or wake up my husband to go get her if she needed it. I hardly slept!
The next night, we did the same thing, but she woke up and cried for a while and needed a snack. My husband stayed with her for a while and he fell asleep in her room waiting for her. Eventually he came back to bed when he woke up a few hours later. 🙂
She was doing very well, but my husband and I were a little bit sad about this new situation because we felt so far away from her. We didn’t know if she was safe, if she was cold, if she was still breathing, etc. We were more comfortable in the bed and she was sleeping much more soundly! But we still had those parenting worries of “is my baby okay!?”
The third night, she didn’t wake at all, except for in the morning when she woke up and called for me to come get her.
Yesterday morning she woke up and when I came in to find her, she was up and making her bed herself. “Flatting the blanket” she called it.
And here we are. I am so proud of her. She is sleeping so much better, and so are the rest of us. In fact, I think she is handling it much better than I am (as far as nervousness goes.)
Does a mother ever stop worrying about her kids? Inquiring minds want to know!
Watching kids grow up is so, so hard. I can’t believe I am here pregnant with my third child already. I can’t believe I have already crossed the potty training bridge, and the “your own room” bridge. To be honest, these bridges were a LOT easier than I thought they would be!
Slowing down and letting it happen without stressing about speed was vital. Letting kids do it when they are ready is also vital, as much as you can.
Next on the list is to think about night weaning my next child in preparation for the first. Tandem nursing wasn’t my favorite thing. Maybe I will like it better this time, but only time will tell.
We plan to have the two toddlers sleep together in one bed if they choose to, once the younger is weaned and ready.
So my toddler said goodbye to the family bed, for now. And everything is okay.
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