It’s been a long day. One of those days. Mama’s temper is short, Daddy’s been at work for many long hours, and the kids, Little Girl and Baby Boy, are quite put out. There’s a schism where our family unity and rhythm used to be and no one is sure what they can say to fix it.
So, we go to bed.
Our family bed isn’t very big — a queen bed squooshed in the corner of a very small room, painted a light robin’s egg blue and filled with thrifted and gifted furniture. It’s our little nest, though, and as the chicks come home to roost this harried night, the peace that has been missing all day decides to rejoin us.
Dressed in snug jammies or wrapped up in gauzy muslin, parents and children pile into bed. It’s one of those rare nights when Daddy comes to bed with the rest of us. Usually he’s the night owl of our bunch — and when she’s old enough, I’m sure Little Girl will follow suit — but tonight he’s exhausted with the alarm set for nice and early, and can’t resist the siren call of a warm bed and woolly PJs and peace and dark.
Little Girl comes rushing into the bedroom, teeth brushed and shining radiantly as she declares them, “squeaky clean!” and even gives us a few squeaks to prove it. She grabs her pillow, a grungy old thing that is coming apart and really could use a good wash, but is nearly impossible to pry from her hands. She climbs into the bed, and a bit like our dog (who’s been forced to find room on the floor), makes a spot for herself at the end of the bed at our feet.
My husband is already asleep, his back to me, breathing deeply and adding a comforting calm to the room. Little Girl’s restlessness has disappeared into quilts and blankets of the bed and she’s finally, finally still. I’m up, but it feels good to sit in the quiet of our bedroom, my baby boy snuggling into my breast, little milky lips popped open (after nursing and nursing — are little boys always so hungry?). For the first time in days I’m the only one awake.
After a few precious moments alone with my thoughts, I pull on the comfortable shawl of the sleepy sounds of my family, and I slip beneath the blankets. Baby Boy is cradled in my arms, my nose pressed against his fuzzy little skull, and I quickly, happily, fall asleep.
I don’t remember my husband and I deciding to create a family bed. It was something that simply happened to us and felt right. It was rather like stumbling upon your parenting style; it suddenly appears and feels good and you can see your children more centered and more happy. We are more centered and more happy.
For a long time, especially as Little Girl has come closer and closer to being a big girl and even moved herself into her own bed (only to move back in once I started working full time), we fought this idea of a family bed. There’s a fixed image in our mind of each little child in their own little bed in their own room. It’s what we knew as children (for the most part) and it’s what you see in the media, and in many parenting books, and in your friends’ homes, and it’s just what is done. It’s sometimes very hard to accept that what your family needs and is doing as a-okay when everything else around you says otherwise.
And many do like to say otherwise: They’ll never leave your bed, You’ll never be alone, They’ll become too dependent on you. For hundreds of years, and even now, in many other countries, mothers and babies, parents and children, share a sleeping space. And while circumstances may make those shared sleeping spaces the most convenient (or the only option), those little ones snuggled happily and safely with their mamas and papas and brothers and sisters don’t grow up to be any more dependent, their parents any more stressed or less loving toward each other.
And our children do leave our beds (have you ever heard of a college freshman — or a seventh grader at that — returning from campus each night to snuggle up to mama for a good night’s sleep?). A natural part of childhood is to crave independence, to create your own space, and to explore who you are becoming. When children are ready for that step in life, they will leave you and your bedroom far behind, if they haven’t already, and if you let them and accept that beautiful transition into the next part of life.
Regardless of where we put our little ones to bed each night, our hearts should be at ease. No one should push someone to feel they should parent in any way but what feels and works best for her family, particularly in regards to sleep. Sleep should nurture you and your children, refresh you for the day to come, and help you be the healthiest person you can be. For some, this does mean those sweet little beds each in their own room, but for us, for now, the family bed is a place where we and our children can recenter and reconnect with the family and prepare our bodies and minds and souls for the new day to come.
Kirsten Hussey is one lucky wife and mama to a mini brood — one hunky man and two funky kiddos — living in the woods of Maine. Besides all the fun stuff that comes with family, she loves to write, bake, and learn about new things. Latest research subject? Rudolph Steiner, anthroposophy, and Waldorf education. She blogs (when she can) at Little House, Big Woods.