Thoughts on cosleeping with preschoolers.

Something something long hiatus.

And moving on.

Late last night, The Barbarian and I were up watching some Rick and Morty (it’s brilliant–watch it) when we heard the wee folk’s door open. It had been several hours since they had gone to bed, and this is usually the point in the night when The Goblin Queen wakes and comes into our bed. She doesn’t cry or call for us, just carefully climbs down from her top bunk (she’s amazingly never fallen, even when she’s still half asleep–that girl is extraordinarily coordinated) and slips into our room. If we’re still up, one of us usually climbs into our bed with her and calls it a night, and when The Barbarian is out of town, it’s almost always my cue to go to bed. Occasionally, if we’re still in the middle of a movie or show, one of us will tuck her in with our faithful and furry old man Paco to cuddle with her. Whichever warm body curls up with her, she happily snuggles in and generally goes right back to sleep.

We’re not very routine-oriented people, but some routines create themselves organically, as this one has, and it feels right and good to all of us.

King Toad Agooga, since starting to sleep from the beginning of the night in his own room about a year ago, often stays for the whole night. The Barbarian was a sleep-talker as a child (and still on occasion as an adult) and also experienced pretty severe night-terrors, and I was a sleep-walker, all of which are linked behaviours. And while KTA did experience one or two night-terrors when he was really small, TGQ seems to have gotten the brunt of our childhood sleep issues, experiencing more intense night-terrors more often, as well as talking in her sleep (thank goodness no signs of sleep-walking…yet?). Even as a baby, it was always much more of a challenge to get her to sleep, The Barbarian spending many a long night walking around the yard with her in a carrier, on “Goblin Patrol,” scouting for orcs, as the story went. And when they were a bit older and sometimes napped by themselves, it was clear her sleep cycle was far shorter than KTA’s, as she always woke almost exactly 45min into the nap and rarely went back to sleep.

KTA, on the other hand, has always been a bit easier to encourage to sleep, and once out, sleeps really soundly for the most part. He’s also our early bird, almost always the first one up, even when he goes to bed late, which is definitely a bummer. But alas. He’s got a strong internal clock that seems to intimately know dawn’s arrival. But that’s not to say he hasn’t had his share of sleep hurdles, just of a different sort. For many a long month when he was somewhere in his second year and maybe even beyond (seriously, who remembers these details?), he would wake almost like clockwork at 2am and be wide awake with no hope of going back to sleep anytime soon.

We agonized over this situation in frustration, spending hours each night doing what we could to get him back to sleep, until I stumbled upon a wonderful article written by a UK-trained doctor, originally from Africa (yes, I am showing my horrible American tendencies here by not remembering which African nation…), who moved back home with her infant daughter and was re-introduced to her culture’s thoughts and practices with regards to infant and child sleep. Her daughter also began waking in the night and refusing to go back to sleep, but instead of lamenting and trying to change the situation, she heeded the wisdom of her family and accepted the situation for what it was–a few extra hours to bond with her child, even if it was the middle of the night. From then on, whenever her daughter woke in the night, they would just get up for a bit and find something fun to do, even baking cookies sometimes. The moments they spent together in the middle of the night became special, magical times that she–and clearly her daughter–cherished. Eventually, her daughter grew out of this phase and that was that.

Research has shown that humans in general seem to have slept in two shifts historically, a few hours in the beginning of the night, with a 2-3 hour wakeful period partway through, when people would occupy themselves with quiet activities before going back to sleep. An argument can be made promoting the idea that babies are far more in tune with our more evolutionarily derived sleep habits, and, therefore, sleep to their own tune, despite most Western parents taking it upon themselves to “train” their children to sleep on the preferred schedule of the parents, with, in my opinion, sometimes tragic methods and consequences. But The Barbarian and I have always tried to operate as parents from a place of trust and respect for our children’s unique, individual bodies, systems, and preferences when it comes to things like sleep and eating. Reading this article was like a bright green light allowing me to accept KTA’s seemingly bizarre schedule during this period, and let him take the lead.

So, night after night, I would sneak quietly out of bed with him, leaving TGQ, The Barbarian, and the hounds snoozing peacefully while we got up and hung out. We would cuddle, read, have a snack, watch a show, play. After a couple of hours, he would start showing signs of being sleepy again, at which point, we would crawl back in bed and nurse to sleep.

Was it ideal for me, having to then be “on” all day for two rambunctious toddlers? No, not at all. But working against his natural rhythm at that point would have caused more stress, more frustration, and potentially less sleep, and I came to enjoy our little nighttime bonding sessions, just me and my little, squishy toad, also lovingly known as the Rare North American Cuddle Toad. And after a few months, he stopped waking in the night and we moved on, that short amount of time being insignificant in the grand scheme of our lives, but those nighttime bonding sessions having great significance for his sense of acceptance, love, health, and well-being.

And this is the concept I mused over last night when TGQ woke up. The Barbarian and I decided we were done for the night anyway, and both crawled into our bed with TGQ snuggled right in between us. As we all lay there together, our nearly four-year-old daughter rolling from side to side to get alternating cuddles in with both of us, I realized that this is most likely the safest, most loved, most content she could possibly feel at her young age. I mean, right? Snuggled in a big, cozy bed between both parents, one hound curled up in his bed on the floor, the other snuggled up on the bed with us? I tried to think back to what would have made me feel the safest, most loved, and most content when I was that age, and snuggled between my two parents in their huge waterbed, which we often got to do, definitely seemed like it.

And the benefits are mutual, at least as far as we’re concerned, especially for The Barbarian, who’s gone so often. My children and I clearly spend a lot of waking time together, and that time is certainly not always tension-free. In fact, age three has been extraordinarily challenging for all of us in many respects. My children are the products of two epically strong-willed yet wholly sensitive individuals, and our little apples live happily directly under our tree. Some days, especially when I’m solo-parenting it for the week, we butt heads-A LOT. And some days it’s really, really, really hard to get out of that pattern and it follows us right through bedtime, meaning I haven’t done a very good job of properly connecting with my children that day. Sometimes I’m admittedly ready to just toss them in their room and slam the door at the end of their day. But when one or the other or both crawl into bed with me later in the night, I’m not thinking of any of that. All I’m thinking of is how wonderful it feels, physically and emotionally, to have my child or children snuggle up right next to me in bed, wrap their arms around my neck, utter a contented sigh, sometimes whisper, “I love you, Mama,” and drift off happily to sleep. I feel like in this way, we often make up for the times we’re at odds during the day and not truly connecting as we should, and it helps reset all of us for the coming day.

Often we play what we call “musical beds,” wherein we divide up between beds, usually The Barbarian crawling into KTA’s bed with him and TGQ and I sleeping in the big bed. The dogs then get to decide which bed or bedroom they prefer for the night. But this doesn’t always last, and we sometimes switch places, or one child wanders into bed with the other child and parent and one parent finds themselves with a bed to themselves. Sometimes when I’m alone and both children are sick or overtired, I ping-pong back and forth as needed, spending an hour calming one child back to sleep, only to be woken shortly afterwards by the cries of the other. More recently, we’ve been dealing with painful legs at night, and based off their reaction and the fact that ibuprofen, a muscle-relaxer, and calf massages help, I’m pretty sure they’re both dealing with restless legs syndrome, something I eventually realized as a teen I suffered from, and am now convinced I also dealt with as a small child, having been known for kicking the wall next to my bed all night and always waking up with a totally thrashed bed, even if it had been freshly made when I went to sleep.

So last night, after musing about happy cosleeping, I suddenly felt very sad for KTA, who was sleeping, seemingly contentedly, but all by himself in his bed across the hall. So I left TGQ and The Barbarian and both doggies in our room, and climbed into bed with him. Just as I was drifting off, his legs began twitching and kicking and he began whimpering, and in that moment, I felt so grateful to be there with him, so I could get him some ibuprofen and massage his legs to help him back to sleep before he got too worked up to get back to sleep quickly or easily. And I felt so grateful that when he woke uncomfortable and sad, someone was already there with him to comfort him. As his mama, that makes my heart so incredibly happy.

The debate over whether or when or how to cosleep drags on in the Western world, and my hope for all parents is that they have the information and support they need to make the best decision for their family. For us, we knew we would cosleep and can’t imagine it any other way. Is it always ideal or comfortable? Fuck no. A good gauge for whether I’ve been home solo for the week or not is how much my back hurts by Friday, as it pays the ultimate price for my contorted sleeping around so many small bodies, furry and otherwise. And, of course, there’s the nighttime thrashing around that results in tiny appendages whacking you almost always, it seems, in the face. The other night I woke up in bed with KTA to find myself shoved face-first into the wall with a fat little toad foot pressed firmly on the back of my neck.

Parenting. It’s not particularly glamorous, is it?

But for us, this works. And, of course, I have been told time and again by working parents that I would most likely enforce more current Western sleep habits if I had to get up and go to work in the morning, implying that I can easily sail through my day of at-home-parentdom with little to no sleep. And as an aside, please don’t EVER say that to an at-home parent. It’s beyond offensive. Yes, if you’re overtired at work, your job will suffer, and as an extension, possibly your children. But if I’m overtired at work, my children suffer directly, and that’s at least an equal situation.

In closing, then, I will reaffirm my support for all families to make the choice that works best for them, but because cosleeping is so generally frowned upon here but almost nowhere else in the entire world or throughout history, I would like to especially affirm my support for those families who choose to or simply find themselves naturally cosleeping. Don’t let ANYONE, whether other parents, family, or those myriad sleep “experts,” bully you into doing what they think is best for your child.

When it comes to parenting, if it feels good and right to you, it probably is. So stay strong and committed to your good choices.

And sleep well.


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