How Co-Sleeping Strengthened My Marriage

“No surer way to keep romance out of the marriage than to keep a child in the bed!”

“Co-sleeping will definitely wear on your marriage after time.”

“You shouldn’t allow your child in the bed on a regular basis because your husband will resent you for it.”

Do these statements sound familiar to you? Do you resonate with them, or do you find yourself facing them? Let me tell you our story.

I planned never to co-sleep. I thought it was unsafe, and agreed with the insinuation that it would break down our marriage over time because of lack of “us” time. So, we started out with a cradle in our room, then moved our son to his crib in an adjoining room fairly early on.

This worked out well for a time. When my son was a newborn, he slept just about as much as he should have. 2-3 hours, eat, repeat. As he got older, sure, he slept a little longer, but he never really made it past that 5 hour stretch of uninterrupted sleep.  We never let our son “cry-it-out” to sleep when he was very young- it just didn’t feel right to us.

When he was about 6 months, we tried controlled crying in an attempt to “sleep train” our son. This didn’t really work for him. He just would continue to cry until I came back, even if we stretched it in increasing increments- as many advisors suggested to us. When we were still all stumbling in a sleep-deprived mess a couple of months later, we resorted to drastic measures. (Maybe this no-cry-it-out thing is for sissies, we thought…) We tried a Weissbluth style cry-it-out-and-don’t-you-dare-peek-in-on-him-no-matter-how-bad-it-sounds-method. This turned out to be disastrous for both us and our son (despite our efforts to be consistent), and the crying never subsided or lessened after many tries, several nights in row, over 2 hours per night. (How long are you really supposed to let them go on like that, really?) When I would finally return to him, red-faced, hoarse, throwing himself against the crib walls, and seeming close to vomiting, I felt that this method almost bordered on abuse. We finally decided that our strong-willed little man did not respond well to this treatment. I resolved that I would no longer put him through that type of training, and that we would work with the situation however we could.

We were exhausted. My husband was working 3 different jobs and doing full time masters degree work online. He would get up at 6:30 and wouldn’t be done with his studies until 2 am, then he’d go do it all over again the next day. I would sneak into our son’s nursery when he woke up and try to settle him there in hopes to give my husband a chance to sleep. But my son wouldn’t settle quickly, so I would be up for about an hour with him each time- still every 2-3 hours, mind you- trying whatever method I knew to get him back into his crib.

Over time, I realized that I wasn’t functioning during the day properly. I was in a fog. I was grumpy and irritable. I was crying much more than usual. I was eating constantly to keep up energy. I felt like I couldn’t have guests over because I was too tired to keep up a conversation. I felt guilty, frustrated, and caught between opposing advice from my baby-training friends and my attachment parenting friends. Nobody else had this much of a problem, did they? Why couldn’t my son sleep in his crib? Why didn’t he lay down peaceably at night? I must just be doing something wrong, I thought. My son deserves better, my family deserves better.

The problem became all-consuming to me. And yet I was terrified to let our son come into bed with us to give us some sleep. What would people say or think? What if I hurt him? And worst of all, would I be one of those women who pushed her husband away over time because we never had a room to ourselves?

When my son was 10 months, I was up yet another sleepless night. Rocking, nursing, laying him down, sneaking out, only to hear screams again a moment after. Back at it again… and again… I realized suddenly when I felt myself jerk awake that I was nodding off in the rocking chair with my nursing son in my arms. I decided that staying in the rocker wasn’t worth the possibility of dropping him as I was falling asleep. I distinctly remember that first night when I picked him up, walked into our room, and made a conscious decision to bring him into bed and fall asleep.

Whether or not we had handled everything well up to that point is beside the question. The reality of the situation was that we were in survival mode, and we simply did not know what to do. But an amazing thing started to happen as we allowed our son to come into bed with us when he woke up in the night…

We began to get more sleep. All three of us.

As the fog began to lift from our brains, we realized a few things that we only discovered in hindsight.

One- I finally recognized that I had been experiencing a mild form of late onset postpartum depression. It was nothing compared to what many women go through, but it was very difficult on our family. Once I was able to think a little more clearly, I was able to talk about it better and find ways to help work through some of my struggles.

Two- I realized that my protests against co-sleeping were mostly culturally-based. I feared the pressures of many around me more than I considered the needs of my own family. I thought that I was trying to do things the “right” way by getting my son to sleep all the way through the night in his crib, when there really isn’t one right answer for every family.

Three- As for my fears of pushing my husband away, he actually laughed when I brought them up. He said that he liked having the family together at night, and that it didn’t bother him a bit! I realized that I hadn’t actually asked him about my concerns, and that those worries were mostly planted by other people! He was just willing to support me and help towards whatever sleep goals I had for little J. Besides, we actually had much more quality “us” time in the evenings when I was well-rested and feeling better. Being sleep deprived doesn’t really encourage anyone towards more intimacy or late night conversations!

So we formed a system. We’d put our son to bed in his crib. When he woke up, into our room he came, and if he had to nurse, I slept while he did it. If he cried, he’d usually settle right back down since we were right next to him. For the first time in almost a year, all of us were getting the most sleep possible. If felt great. It wasn’t perfect- of course, we’d still have rough nights, but it was so much better than before.

In summary, we felt like the decision to partially co-sleep really helped solve a lot of physical exhaustion and emotional struggles we were going through. It also helped us to strengthen our identity as a couple, because we had to make and defend a choice that was very different from what many of our friends supported. It gave us more energy and, therefore, more quality time together in the evenings.

So to those who may want to try co-sleeping but fear its effects on your marriage, I encourage you to give it a try and remain open-minded. It may help you- and it may not- but only you can know what’s best for your family. You can always switch back if it’s not working out.

If you’re someone who believes that co-sleeping only ruins marriages, I encourage you to think outside the box and realize that it may be helpful to many families. Try to soften your prophetic warnings, and be gentle with new parents as they find the arrangement that is best for everyone.

There is no right answer for every family, but there are possibilities to be explored. Be sensitive to your spouse, and listen to each other’s concerns. Find the arrangement that suits you best, and be flexible, as it could change at any point! And of course- no matter what sleeping arrangement you choose- always make sure that you are taking proper safety precautions.

What about you? What works best for your family? Please share!

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Thank you for sharing your story- how encouraging! (Also, I LOVE this pic of you and J 🙂 ). For now, we get S down in her crib first, and when she wakes up in the morning we bring her into bed with us to squeeze out a couple more hours of sleep. We like this arrangement, and it works for us!

    Reply

  2. Posted by dac on July 30, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    i am SO in support of you and Rachel, as well as others who have chosen this route in varying degrees. Some children just seem to need more close contact with the ones in their life who know, love, and protect them.
    As the Mom of a first child who slept through the night at 8 weeks, then a second child who didn’t sleep a single night until she was 4 1/2, i know very well of which you speak.
    Did i do anything different with them? i don’t think so.
    Parents will get a whole lot of advice on this subject, but they really need to look at what is best for their family as a whole. And everyone needs sleep.
    My second child certainly taught me not to throw around judgement on those parents whose child does not meet our culture’s sleeping norm. Believe it or not, i now actually treasure having had those long ago night hours with her. 🙂

    Reply

  3. You write so well, and I love how you share your views without any judgement. Co-sleeping can be such a good thing – I totally agree. I think it’s so sad how us parents put enormous amounts of pressure on ourselves, especially with the first child, to make our children fit into a mold. But it’s so much better for us all when we just do what’s right for our own families and throw away preconceived notions and ideas, and just let our children be who they are.

    Reply

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