Before becoming a mother, I was steadfast in my belief that I would never cosleep with my future children. Ha…Ha…Ha… When you make those “never” parenting statements, the probability increases you will have a child who tests them. We gave birth to a daughter, who was a nursery reject. Yes, that’s right she was ejected from the hospital nursery because she wouldn’t stop screaming at the top of her lungs, and the only solace was being held. Instinct took over, and I just knew my daughter needed to be held and sleep with me. You know how parenting books advise the importance of skin to skin contact for bonding. Well, Miss E certainly got a MEGA dose of snuggles because we needed to hold her almost 24/7 for the first five months of her life. She would scream bloody murder and very rarely sleep for more than a few minutes if put down to sleep. All the baby gear and sleep techniques didn’t help. We were okay with it. We had longed for a baby for four years, and to have a baby who needed to be held all the time was our dream come true. Along the way, I read the The No Cry Sleep Solution, and I was assured that our family’s sleep habits were normal and healthy for our daughter.
Fast forward four years, we had become part time cosleepers. No, I didn’t need to hold her all the time anymore, so no bad habits were formed by “spoiling” our baby by holding her all the time. Miss E still needed Mommy or Papa to lay next to her until she fell asleep, but we had started to become weary of it. It was taking her longer and longer to fall asleep and needing to rest next to her for close to an hour doing nothing was becoming dreadfully boring. We started to get irritated with our daughter, and sometimes it showed. We know when we get to a certain level of frustration, our techniques aren’t working. Cosleeping had worked for our family for a long time, but it was time for a change. We both believed at nearly four she could better understand the change.
We explained to her that she needed to learn to fall asleep by herself. She wasn’t happy about it, but I stated that I was positive that she would be able to learn how to do it. I had reminded her that she was now able to use the potty and get dressed by herself, and she could learn how to do this too. I set up a sticker chart, and showed her that each night she fell asleep by herself, she would receive a sticker. After 7 stickers, she would earn a surprise.
The first week was rough. She cried a lot. She got out of bed a lot. It was well over 20 times of getting out of bed the first night. She begged me to go to sleep with her. During the day, there were a lot of meltdowns. I supported her by remaining calm and loving. I didn’t need to resort to locking the door to get her to fall asleep on her own. Each time I escorted her back to bed, tucked her in bed, and told her I loved her. I still wanted her to know that we will still be there for her at night if she needs us even if she needs to sleep by herself. At the end of 7 days, she got a small toy.
By the second week, it was much better. She only got out of bed once or twice to find me to tuck her back in, and there was no more crying. By the fourth week, she didn’t ask me to stay and didn’t come out of bed to look for me to put her back to bed. After the fourth week, I haven’t needed to use the sticker chart.
Now, she successfully falls asleep on her own. I am so proud of her because she showed true bravery because she was afraid to sleep by herself, but she worked through her fear. I was worried that I would traumatize her because the first week was so rough, but my concerns were put to rest when I observed her playing bedtime with one of her stuffed animals. She tucked it into bed, stroked his head, said “I love You”, and told it she would be back in the morning. When the animal wanted Mommy to come back, she returned and showed caring to her animal helping it go back to bed.
I am not writing this to condemn parents who sleep apart from their children. Each child and family is unique with different needs, and I believe there is not one parenting strategy that works for all families. All that really matters is that children sleep and caregivers provide a safe space to sleep, and cosleeping can be made safe for newborns and young children. Just because you had child(ren) who slept all night in their cribs doesn’t mean it works for all children because some need the warmth of a parent. I also believe there are some babies who need their space to sleep soundly.
Those of you accidental cosleeping parents who long for your own bed, it won’t last forever. You can lovingly teach an older child to sleep on her own. You haven’t developed a bad habit by responding to the needs of your baby and continuing to cosleep with a toddler, preschooler, or older child. You will know when you need to change your sleeping strategies, and you will know when your child is ready to cope with it.
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