I love to sleep. Let me rephrase that – I love good, quality sleep. The way we sleep changes with almost every step of our lives, though. We nap when we’re young, maybe catch up on a few zzz’s in between classes, and as adults, we are taught that we should wear our lack of sleep as a badge of honor for grinding and working hard.
Sleep is again changing for me. This is because I am no longer alone. My wife, of course, is a welcomed addition. Recently, however, there has been a third party that has moved in and claimed space in the tiny territory that we know as Sleep Land. That third party is our year and half old son.
Co-sleeping is when one or two parents sleeps within very close proximity to their baby. This can mean sleeping in the same room but often refers to sleeping in the same bed. Co-sleeping, I feel, has become a dividing factor among parents – almost to a bipartisan level. You are either for it or you’re not, and which ever side you’re on, you’re very passionate about it.
I’ve also spoken to several parents who believe in the power of co-sleeping, the benefits that it brings to a family and how it bonds them when they have little to no time during the day. After all, aren’t we all super busy these days?
My Honduran-born parents were a source of inspiration when I asked them their thoughts on co-sleeping and if they had ever done it with me or my brother. My mother said that as children we were encouraged to sleep on our own because it was simply better for us and the family as a whole. Mom and Dad had their bed to themselves – that’s how I got my younger brother – and I, a toddler in a small Garifuna town, grew to love independence.
Thankfully, I have other young fathers in my life with a bit more experience than me who had wise words to share. One of them is Jeremiah L. Kirkland, a father of two and former director of Maternal and Child Services for large a healthcare system in Rochester, N.Y.
During our phone conversation, he laid it out plain and clear. “Two kids can sometimes send you over the edge time-wise. I do feel that it’s very important for parents to have time to bond together with their children. However, I don’t feel that the time used for that bonding should be inclusive of the parent and child sleeping in the same bed especially at such a young age,” he said. “It truly becomes a safety issue and although it may be easier for the parent to calm and soothe the child from crying or having issues sleeping at night, it presents a serious and even deadly threat to the child.”
This stuck with Jeremiah as a real-life co-sleeping example hit close to home in a tragic way. A few years ago, he was a pallbearer in the funeral of a 2-month old child who was suffocated in bed by the father. The father happened to be an old high school friend of his, and needless to say his heart was broken. It’s not until we experience it for ourselves that we can can measure the magnitude of the issue’s heaviness. He was shaken and forever changed. I can’t say that I blame him.
Our change to co-sleeping
I know that with our baby’s first visit to his regular doctor, she explicitly made sure we learned of the dangers. She even, awkwardly, made sure to lock eyes with ours to affirm the seriousness on the matter. She alerted us on SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and how it’s increased when a bed is shared. Because of this, we never really let our son stay sleep with us. If he ever fell asleep nestled between us, we made sure that he immediately went into his crib.
It wasn’t until much later, at 17 months, that he began to invite himself to our bed. We struggled with getting him to sleep on a schedule and we tried to compensate by snuggling with him and keeping him soothed.
Our back-and-forth stance on co-sleeping really stems from our inability to have him “Ferberized”. The fact that we have to be so refrain from our natural instinct to help him fall back sleep and to let him self-soothe is too daunting as new parents. Maybe we’ll have better luck with the next one. Maybe then, we’ll be stronger.
When my wife and I got married, we never discussed what our sleeping habits would be with a baby. It just didn’t cross our mind. I guess we just assumed they would always sleep in their cribs. We didn’t know, or expect the potent power of their hugs and kisses and how after a long day at work, it can be better than an Epson bath for your feet. I’ve grown to love those moments after an exhausting day. Those brief moments when we are cuddled in bed – just the three of us – I am at my happiest.
As a dad, I see both sides of co-sleeping. On one hand, I want to heed the advice of medical experts and keep my son in his separate crib. The second part of me loves the physical connection between a parent and his child during this nightly ritual.
I’m learning a few things along the way. I know that it’s not always about wanting to do what’s easy. It’s about doing what’s right and safe. That, and if he ever wants any siblings, he’ll go back to his crib.
A version of this first appeared on W+V.