Since a bout of the cold in mid-December, my little creature has been coming into bed with me most nights at some point in the early hours. Most of the time, I wake up as I hear his little footsteps rushing across his bedroom floor, navigating his wagon of building bricks and his train set. He pads through the hall in the blue glow of the nightlight. He jumps into bed beside me, clutching one of his soft toys, says hello, asks for a cuddle or some milk – or both – and often promptly falls sound asleep.
Some nights I lie awake briefly beside him, stroking his hair or cuddling him as he has requested. I will do whatever it takes at that moment to get him back to sleep as quickly as I can, usually to allow me to do the same. It never takes much. Other nights he comes in so quietly, or I am sleeping so deeply, that I don’t even notice his presence until the early morning, when I am woken by his little hand stroking my arm, or more likely, him climbing on top of me and shouting at me to wake up.
It’s a habit I was initially keen to break. I’ve heard all about children whose parents sleep beside them, and I know that it can be a dangerous cycle to fall into. It can lead to strained relationships with partners. It can cause an attachment that is difficult to reverse. I worried. I asked his dad if he was doing the same at his house, but apparently he frequently sleeps right through when he is there. Elsewhere, too, such as at my parents’ house, he tends to snooze until early morning before joining them for a cuddle. What began as comfort during a time of sickness seems to have turned into a learned behaviour when staying at home with mummy. I was concerned. This wasn’t in the books, and if it was, it was generally under the category reserved for Very Bad Parenting Moves.
He was a co-sleeping crib baby until he was a little older than six months. It was perfect for us – I really struggled with breastfeeding when the baby was born and expressed my milk to give him the best start that I could, but I was exhausted and up overnight to express even if he was asleep. Co-sleeping worked for us and our new routine. I think it develops the bond between mother and child beautifully. I still remember how we almost moved him to his cot on his 6-month birthday, and I pleaded with my ex to hold off just one week or so, in order that I could have him beside me on the morning of my first Mother’s Day. We did, and he transitioned to his cot beautifully, sleeping right through the night as he had done since he was five weeks old.
Some people bemoan the health concerns of co-sleeping. I no longer drink when he is with me, and I don’t smoke, so I have no such worries. Besides, I love how warm he is beside me: he sleeps soundly and appears to be so comfortable that it would be a shame to carry him through to bed and disturb him. He behaves like a normal toddler: I get kicked and rolled on and he is a wriggling mass beside me. He wakes at 7.15am, typically, but on the very occasional blissful morning we can sleep until past nine, when he wakes and says excitedly, “It’s morning, mummy!” as I open the blackout blind.
I know that the idea of a co-sleeping toddler will raise eyebrows. I am a single mother, after all: surely, psychologically, I’m replacing some of the company, security and warmth that I received from my ex-husband with my little boy? Perhaps. I am happy to admit that yes, it is nice to cuddle him close, but please: I’m mature enough to realise that they are two very different forms of company. I can understand when someone has a partner that it might cause difficulty, but that’s not an issue for me. I would never have adult company in my bed on the nights that I have my little one, certainly not for a long time yet, and not before I imagine he will have outgrown his phase of coming into bed beside me.
Most of all, though, I have realised that my little boy is growing up so quickly before my eyes, and that I want to savour every single moment with him. There will come a time, in the not-too-distant future, when he will reject the very cuddles and kisses that he begs for now. He will develop such an increasing sense of independence that I may not see immediately, but suddenly he won’t want to hold my hand or be kissed. Already he tells me that he wants to walk “by myself, mummy!” and he makes a joke about how I should carry him from the bath “like a little baby, and sing the little baby song.” He knows that he is no longer a baby. He laughs his big, raucous laugh when I use my baby-voice and rock him as I did when he was little enough to do so with ease. He is aware that he is growing and changing, and I am too. Why should I give up the one sleepy, vulnerable moment where he thinks, “I need my mummy to cuddle me right now,” and tell him that he is breaking some “rule”?
Is it selfish? Possibly.
Do I care? Not really.
As long as those little footsteps pad across the hall, I’ll be here for him, and I dread the night when they stop, or worse, when he intentionally makes them quiet so that I am unaware of what he is doing. All little babies grow up, so grant me this indulgence of holding onto mine tightly, when he asks, for now.
Do you co-sleep? Is it a habit you found your little one broke on their own, or do they continue to sleep beside you? How do you feel about it? Please do leave your thoughts below, or tweet me @onesinglemama84 on Twitter.