The Parenting Shaming Nobody Talks About

February 1st 2016

Laura Donovan

A lot of people have a lot of opinions on parenting, and many have strong views on co-sleeping, when parents and children sleep near or with each other. It's no secret that young kids like to climb into bed with their parents after bad dreams, but some children like to do this well beyond the toddler years, and some don't know what to make of this parenting approach.

Defenders of co-sleeping beyond the toddler years.

During summer 2010, actress Angelina Jolie Pitt told Vanity Fair that she and her six children, then ages 15 months to eight years old, engage in "family sleep."

Angelina Jolie at Comic-Con

Here is how Jolie Pitt described the experience:

"Everybody files [into the bed] and we watch a movie. It breaks all the rules. Mommy and Daddy are very tired the next morning. We have that in L.A., and when we hang out in France, we’ve got it there. When we had two kids, the nine-foot bed was extraordinary. With three, it was verging. Now, at six, it’s tight. We end up pulling the couches to the sides. We’re thinking of building a room just for family sleep."

The Jolie Pitts are far from the only family to embrace co-sleeping. In 2010, kindergarten teacher Juliana Olivarez told Redbook that she co-slept with her son until he turned 13, as he had night terrors when he slept alone and she felt neither of them would have ever gotten any sleep had they slept separately. Olivarez's friends shamed her for doing this, though, as it demonstrated a lack of boundaries.

"These people don't have night after night of no sleep," she said, adding that even though her son is a well-adjusted teen now, they still sleep in the same bed from time to time. "I know, kids need boundaries. I'll have boundaries when he moves out."

Why adolescents might want to co-sleep.

Family counselor Denise Knowles wrote in a piece for the Independent last year that some adolescents might choose to co-sleep because they're unhappy and going through a vulnerable time.

"Maybe they’re being bullied at school and don’t feel able to tell you, but derive huge comfort from having you close at night when the terrors of facing the next day are at their most acute," Knowles wrote. "Or perhaps their first love affair has ended and this has made them feel abandoned. To make up for it they want more physical comfort from their parents."

Knowles added that outright kicking one's children out of bed probably won't work. Setting a timetable for them to sleep alone, however, might be a better approach, Knowles argued.

"[E]mpower them by suggesting they come up with a plan to gradually withdraw from your bed," she wrote. "You could also set a timetable for them to move back to their own room."

Why some object to co-sleeping.

Some experts worry that co-sleeping is an indicator of other separation issues and that the child might have not be conditioned to sleep independently.

"We aren't teaching these kids to self-soothe," Dr. Cora Breuner, who works in adolescent medicine at Seattle Children's Hospital, told Redbook. "[T]hey're not learning how to fall asleep on their own."

In 2011, an anonymous dad told Today's Parent that sleeping in the same bed as his 7-year-old daughter made him stop sleeping naked, as she started to "see things and ask questions."

"I will go as far to say when she rubs up against me, it feels uncomfortable to me," he said. "On the couch and cuddling is different. It’s when you lie down and get under the covers that it starts to feel icky.”

The "ick" factor that the anonymous dad described is what drives many people to label co-sleeping inappropriate. This is similar to the shame that some mothers receive for breastfeeding their children beyond a certain age. But like mothers who breastfeed beyond a socially acceptable point, co-sleepers say there is nothing sexual about co-sleeping in healthy, non-abusive families. In fact, they have seen vast improvement in other areas of their lives and in other relationships.

Why some say co-sleeping can improve sex.


In addition to the previous arguments, some attest that co-sleeping is a sexual buzzkill for people in committed relationships because children can eliminate the possibility for parents to have spontaneous sex in the bedroom. Some say co-sleeping can make it harder to have sex when you're already busy and likely having less sex due to the stresses of parenting and adult life. Christie Haskell countered this argument, however, in a 2011 piece for The Stir, writing that the bedroom isn't the only place most couples have sex anyway.

"In fact, it's the boring couple who restricts their lovemaking to the bed," she wrote, adding that the bedroom isn't a kid-free space anyway. "Why? Because in the middle of the night for nightmares or in the morning for cuddling or Attack of the Blanket Monster, I think the parents' bed has always been a place kids enjoy playing and bonding and cuddling ... But if you want your bedroom kid-free, be my guest, but stop telling me I should with mine, or anyone else, for that matter."


Amanda Low wrote in a 2013 Mommyish blog post that co-sleeping got her and her husband to have sex on the couch and not get stuck in a predictable, boring sexual flow in their room:

"We don’t have the option of falling into some humdrum nighttime-missionary position sex routine with baby there. Instead, we use the afternoon, or the morning. We shift around cushions and blankets throughout the house like Tetris blocks."

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