Should you allow your older child to crawl into your bed at night?

A reader writes in a surprisingly common question about co-sleeping:
“I’m curious as to what your opinion is on the subject of co-sleeping. I raised my 9 year old on attachment parenting since he was an infant, and will occassionally find him in my bed in the morning. It doesnt happen very often, however my ex’s fiance who was raised in a very non affectionate household seems to think that this is very unhealthy. My son is a bright kid and highly affectionate himself, and I find that an occassional sleep over is fine. Your thoughts on this subject are greatly appreciated!”

My gut reaction is to say “different strokes” and tell the meddling step-wanna-be-parent to take her nose out of your business, but I won’t, because it’s disrespectful and because situation being reversed, you wouldn’t want someone telling you that your concerns about the welfare and psychological well-being of your step-child aren’t your business.
Instead, I am going to say that I think in modern Western culture we are all too eager to push our children away from our embrace, to create independent little folk who can stand on their own two feet and navigate the complexities of life solo. Look how mature my 7yo is, she can take the bus / order food / bike to school / be home alone without a problem!
The problem is, children aren’t adults with a height deficiency. They’re kids. And that means that they are still developing physically, psychologically and neurologically. Their brains don’t work the same way our adult brains do, they cannot process and react to things the same way we do, and that should illuminate our decisions as parents. Too often, it doesn’t.
Once in a blue moon, my older children will share my bed or just want to be in my room, more than willing to curl up on an air mattress so they’re in the same physical space as me, and I’m fine with that. If it were every night, if they were unable to feel safe in their own room night after night, that would concern me a bit, but if they can succeed at sleepovers with friends, then they’re probably fine.
I would say that in your situation if it’s just once in a while, maybe 1-2 times/month, there’s nothing to worry about and you should just tune out the step-mom. If it’s more frequent than that, perhaps you and your son should check in with an AP-friendly psychologist and see if there are any underlying fears that can be addressed.
Good luck and, of course, I’m not a trained counselor so please take my suggestions with a grain – or two – of salt, as the proverb suggests.

4 comments on “Should you allow your older child to crawl into your bed at night?

  1. How wonderful to have a 9yr old who is so loving and comfortable with affection as to want to come and snuggle with you still! Owwww!
    I have family throwing all kinds of obscure things at me when I am carrying my 1.5 yr old “too much” for their liking! And one I had commenting about someone have their 8yr old sleeping in their bed being “sick” Aren’t people just the weirdest with their ideas!! Sick!!?? Sad, I feel sad for their children.
    I feel it has a lot to do with how they were raised and the type of affection they have received (As in maybe lack from their family and only from partners so therefore maybe in their minds only associating affection with sexual attention??)
    I am envious and only hope my boy will always feel this safe and comfortable with me, regardless of who my partner is – well, I hope they are just as open hearted to him and affection between family too!

  2. I cannot agree more with your statement, “children aren’t adults with a height deficiency.”
    It can be hard NOT to take advice from books, friends and family in regards to things like sleep and the need for contact or to be in arms. Parents struggle with the sleep thing, for example, and seek answers as to how long they should co-sleep (if at all), or at what age should a baby fall asleep independently, etc. Because of this struggle and search for answers we often forget to listen to our intuition, and our children.
    Especially during developmental leap periods babies can be especially needy. They may want to be in arms or to nurse constantly. Why not just give them what they want–the path of least resistance and most natural? That phase will pass and new ones will occur.
    My wife and I have a 6 month old, so I don’t know how it goes with older children. But I know they will have needs and they look to us to help them. I imagine there are continuous developmental phases throughout childhood (and throughout life!). So it is our job to watch and listen and provide them with love and attention–to help them through things in an “open-arms” way rather than pushing them into some pre-conceived notion of independence.
    From what I understand and see, that close connection with them–for example, co-sleeping–actually strengthens a child’s security, and it follows that they will eventually be very independent.

  3. 9 yo is “older”? Wow! My 8 yo girl has just started talking about getting her own room, let alone her own bed (well futon actually). This is pretty normal here in Japan.
    I do understand how other people react to it though, as I was kinda surprised when I asked my Japanese wife what age Japanese kids usually sleep together with parents until. At the time my eldest was only 3 months old, and my wife answered, “oh maybe till 10 or 11 yo.” Blew me outa the futon, believe you me.
    Now it is just the way things are, no big deal, and definitely not “sick” or anything.

  4. Our son pretty much slept with us most of the time ’til he was about 5. Even then, he would often come in and curl up with us ’til he was 8 or 9. He’s now 16 and one of the happiest, most well-adjusted kids you could hope to meet.
    I just gave up my preference for sleeping in the nude for a few years — no biggie. 🙂

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