Despite the fact that cultures around the globe have long practiced what is known as “co-sleeping”, where an infant sleeps in the same bed as its parents, the issue is pretty hotly debated here in the U.S. Even though co-sleeping is viewed as normal and natural in most of the world, here it is considered a practice that threatens the life of the infants whose family co-sleep. Last fall the city of Milwaukee caused an uproar when they released this PSA warning of the dangers of co-sleeping:
While I have no doubt that there have been rare instances where babies were suffocated while sleeping in adult beds, I also doubt that co-sleeping was the only factor in these cases. I wonder if anyone has bothered to research what percentage of these deaths occurred with breastfed babies vs. bottle fed babies, or if the type of bedding or mattresses were contemplated as factors. Not to mention the overall home environment. All 5 of our children co-slept, some longer than others and others more than we’d like, but not one was ever rolled by me or their father.
There is a bigger issue here however, and I think it is a push to rebuff the idea of attachment parenting. The reason this issue is more hotly debated in the West as opposed to less technologically advanced cultures is because we have reached a consensus that the proper care and rearing of children is best handled by experts and those of us who don’t outsource our children directly are strongly advised to at least take our parenting cues from those who know best. This avoids creating over-attachment for when we are separated from our children later. It will make the transition easier when the child is enrolled in pre-school, or perhaps kindergarten. I was once again reminded of a quote from Anthony Esolen’s book, 10 Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child:
Now take the child from the mother, and place him somewhere else. Not in another home, among different people who love him-and who will be sources of mystery to him too. Not with his Aunt Violet or with his grandmother, nor even with the kind old lady next door. Place him with-here is the crucial word- a professional. Place him in the context of a money-making- here is another crucial word- industry. Take him to those functional places with tellingly abstract and impersonal names, like the Early Learning Center, or the Tiny Tots Academy. Place him among professional caregivers, rather like people who will walk and feed your dog at the kennel, only nicer. They will feed the child, will parcel out the child’s day with appropriate Learning Activities, will enforce the scheduled Naptime, and will send him home clean, well-fed, generally contented, runny-nosed, patted, played with, and unloved.Thus will his natural hunger for love be filled instead with the pleasantly functional.
As a young mother I recall having people discourage me from holding my firstborn too much for fear of “spoiling” her. It was natural to me to want to hold, cuddle and talk to my baby girl. However, I was a working mother at that time and other working mothers warned me that what I was doing was only going to make it harder for the both of us when I returned to work.
At the time, I took to heart the wisdom of these more experienced mothers because I didn’t want to create a scenario where my little one would be miserable when I left her at the sitter as I went off to my crappy job that I was working mainly to pay student loans because my husband was paying most all the bills. It never occurred to me that it was good, natural and normal for me to be attached to my daughter and she to me; that it wasn’t something to be discouraged, but encouraged.
This is the world in which we live now, one where a mother runs the risk of being branded “too attached” if she keeps her young ones close. Ironically, at the very stage of parenting when parent should be letting go, our culture encourages parents to do just the opposite, micromanaging every aspect of their lives and making every decision to ensure that they are on the path to the best possible future. This is defined of course by GPA, test scores, and college acceptance letters.This well-meaning misplacement of a level of attachment that was better served when the child wan an infant can produce less than desirable results:
This treatment of children is usually well-meant but usually disastrous. It makes kids prone to some of the worst mental illnesses, and it weakens our social fabric by weakening young people to the point of cowardice. These children are more prone to follow destructive peer pressure, more susceptible to herd mentality, more passive against bullying and abuse, far less likely to defend another person, and unwilling to assert their will in questioning corrupt authority.
Like most of life’s most vital areas, we call up down, down up, right wrong, and wrong right. And then we wonder what is happening to this generation of children. Seems we have bigger fish to fry than deciding for loving parents in whose bed their baby should sleep. We have also failed to recognize that when our children feel a strong, secure bond with us from the start, they have more confidence to branch out on their own as they grow and we loosen the reins.
I don’t say this as a staunch advocate for long term co-sleeping, because there were times our sleep would have been much sweeter (not to mention out intimacy more frequent) if the children were in their own beds. But we don’t regret the decision we made to bond with our babies as much as possible when they were babies.
My suggestion to new parents is to trust your instincts. Despite our inclination to turn to experts for the best information, no one knows what you baby needs more than you do.