Single parenting and co-sleeping, when’s it time to switch?

I get letters…
In fact, I just got the following email:

“I was looking for some parenting advice for a friend of mine, hoping that I would dig up some neat clinical advice (as this would help take the sensitivity out of it), but can’t seem to find anything. Perhaps you can help….
My friend, Mike, is going through a divorce and he and ex-wife have been separated for quite a while now. His 8 year old daughter co-sleeps with him whenever she is at his house and I think co-sleeps with mom when with her. I think it’s a habit that goes back a few years now, but I wonder whether this is appropriate/healthy/unhealthy? The child has her own room, but it seems there is no question that she would sleep there. I think Mike is aware that this might not be right, but worried about upsetting the child. Anything I read relates to much younger children, is there any accepted advice for dad’s with girl’s age 8 going on 9? Would be most grateful if you can give me a steer in the right direction…..”

I disagree with the basic premise of this message, actually…


The whole basis of attachment parenting is to create strong, loving bonds with your children rather than to push them into being independent and autonomous so darn quickly, as seems to happen in so many other areas of our culture and lifestyle. As a result, it’s rare that an AP parent — in my experience — asks “is it proper” or “what will others think” but instead focuses on “what does my child need right now?”
There is a possibility of abuse and of awkward situations where a parent is having their own emotional needs met and loses sight of what’s best for the child and their evolving need for privacy and individuation, however. An obvious and relevant example is when co-sleeping offers the parent someone to cuddle with and share a bed (non-sexually, of course) even as the child might well be ready to migrate.
What I’ve done as an attachment parenting single dad is to work towards compromises, because there are ways to handle the situation that meets the child’s need for being close to a parent while they’re not in the same actual bed.
One that I’ve written about before here is what I call the sidecar and it worked very well for our babies and toddlers. In essence, you get a second bed with a mattress that’s exactly the same height as the parent’s bed, then connect them somehow. Add a few bedrails and you have a sort of 3/4 bed that spills onto the big one. Over a few weeks, keep putting the sleeping baby into their own sidecar and suddenly they’re happy to be near mama or dada and you’ve got a whole bed to yourselves.
The bigger kid version? Bring another bed into the room again, but this time don’t have them attached. If you have sufficient floor space, push their bed to the opposite side of the room. I think it’s a great compromise and meets their need to be close while you’re clearly moving towards them sleeping in their own room, something that’s certainly quite appropriate by the time they hit adolescence.
Our sleeping arrangement is remarkably fluid with three kids in two rooms plus the master. We have a comfortable, nice quality air bed that migrates from room to room, depending on more things that I can even figure out 🙂 and it works fine. When one of my kids really wants to sleep in the room with me, that’s the setup and it works quite well.
Thing is, I think sleeping arrangements are one place where a bit of mellow, a touch of zen can go a long way towards comfortable evenings and a good night’s sleep, so I really try not to stress out or worry about who sleeps where other than that I really do prefer to have a bed to myself so I can stretch out.
Now with your friend, I honestly don’t see any big issues with him cosleeping with his 8yo daughter, as long as it’s not because he doesn’t want to be sleeping in a bed alone. That’d be a problem (and it can happen, us Dads are human too) and should be addressed. More likely, though, his daughter is used to cosleeping, shares a bed with her mom, and prefers the safety of a parent an arm’s reach away.
For them, I would suggest that he do what I do with my 7yo and wait until she’s fallen asleep, then move her into her own room along with any stuffies, toys or other things she’s accumulated at bedtime, to spend the rest of the night. Make sure her room is pretty cool and get her involved in decorating it, putting up pictures, etc.
Doesn’t work? I’d say that you should at least move her onto a different mattress in the same room. Even if every time she crawls back into bed if she wakes up in the middle of the night, it’ll still get her starting to think about her own space and realizing that the safety of Daddy is still there even if he’s ten feet or further away.
Hope that makes sense as a response, and I welcome readers adding their own two cents too, of course!

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