Our Longest-Running Family Tradition (a.k.a. How to Halt the Co-Sleeping Thing)

When our kids were small, we used to go through what lots of parents do: Being drudged out of sleep by that tiny, middle-of-the-night voice … the one that whispers “Mommy? …. Mommy? … Mommy?”

You open one eye. Peer upward. And there’s a 3-foot-tall human standing at the side of your bed, breathing heavily into your bangs. …

As you rub the sleep out of your eyes, you remember what all the parenting books say. They all tell you you’ll create a monster if you keep inviting your children into your bed. But … well … you’re just so tired. … and … gosh, maybe just this one more time … and man, is it 3 a.m.?

And you sleepily throw the covers wide and welcome your little human in.

We did this for our first child for three years. I kept reading in the parenting books that I should not do it, and I’d scan through all the bulleted reasons why not, and I’d basically agree. In theory. But – honestly – at 3 in the morning, I never cared. I just wanted to get back to sleep. And the path of least resistance seemed the best path to take.

But then we had another baby.

And that baby began sleeping with us, too.

And then we had a whole menagerie of stuffed animals joining us as well, not to mention a few building blocks and bedtime books.

Finally my husband sat up in bed and called “halt.” He said that we were either going to have to find a much bigger bed or we were going to have to figure out a way to simply stop this whole thing. He preferred the latter.

So we came up with a plan. He initiated the weekly “sleepover.”

Now, at first, the sleepover didn’t seem like a good idea. Why invite more of what we were trying to avoid? But somehow, some way, the promise of that one day a week appeased my then-4-year-old. And the baby never knew life any other way. And when we had a third child, he grew to accept the sleepover, too.

Miraculously, we no longer had any more of those “surprise visits” of children breathing into my bangs (well, except a few sick nights, but those were few and far between). If our son asked to come sleep with us, we’d just say, “not tonight, but Saturday! On the sleepover!” We talked up Saturdays as if they were Christmas — What should we watch? What time should we start? What snacks should we have? And, every Saturday night, he would come bounding in with his PJs. It was “his night.” He’d drag all the stuffed animals down the hallway, and we’d invite them, too. We brought popcorn and drinks upstairs, let him select his favorite Disney movie, brought the baby in, and let them stay up for as long as they could. Sunday mornings grew to be as traditional as Saturday nights, as we’d get the Sunday paper and all stay in bed, reading favorite sections, looking at the ads, throwing pillows around and just being relaxed.

This tradition continued for all three kids, and kept the “co-sleeping” thing to a manageable issue for all three. They stopped padding into our room every random day of the week. They knew they needed to wait. And they felt “welcome” on that one day, so it seemed to make everything all right. It was the simplest, most peaceful, most fun solution to the co-sleeping problem ever.

And here’s the best part: It lasted well into their teens! Of course, eventually our room looked more like a campground. We’d have children all over the floor every Saturday night, amid blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, books and iPods. We still tried to find movies that everyone would enjoy, although my middle daughter and youngest son and I would usually fall asleep while my oldest and my husband would watch Saturday Night Live at midnight. And Sunday mornings we still got up and read the paper – we’d share articles or ads with each other, and just relax and enjoy the pace.

What started out as a precarious guess to solve a co-sleeping problem turned out to be one of the longest-running family traditions we ever had.

Now, of course, things are different: The older two began begging out from time to time when they wanted to sleep in a comfortable bed rather than the floor. (I didn’t blame them!) Then, a few years later, Saturday nights became a precious commodity to my dating teen, so he was almost always missing. But every now and then, even now, we still do a “sleepover.” Choosing the right movie is key. As I mentioned in this previous post, we’re changing with the times. We’re adapting our traditions — making our traditions into teen things — and the sleepover has become a rare event. I’m thinking maybe I’ll make it a semi-annual thing, maybe just around the holidays, with a great holiday movie of some kind. And really good snacks.

There’s still a certain joy to waking up in the morning and looking around, and realizing — as Nathan whispered sleepily to me one recent Sunday morning — “We’re all here!”

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5 thoughts on “Our Longest-Running Family Tradition (a.k.a. How to Halt the Co-Sleeping Thing)

  1. I absolutely love that tradition!! I wish I would have thought of it with my kids. I never really had a problem with them coming into my room in the middle of the night, but it sounds like so much fun! I love too, what you said about you all being there – it is so hard to all be in the same room (or even house) when they start growing up and finding their own things to do. I was thrilled to have a family dinner last Sunday with everyone (except my son who is in Michigan). What a great and creative way to solve your problem =)

  2. Okay, I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again. You two seriously need to consider writing a parenting book. Your methods clearly are working since you have 3 incredibly amazing children and this story indicates the unique ideas you bring to the table. I’m waiting…
    Jersey Girl´s last blog post ..Mission Success!

  3. I second Jersey Girl’s idea that you two write a parenting book. Start now so that by the time I have kids, it will be put to good use!

  4. Thanks, guys. Okay, I’ll have to start my 16th book. (Would be nice if I could finish something, but what the heck? Starting is always the most fun!) I’ll start it here on the blog. (I’ll have to include things I wish I DIDN’T do as a parent also, though!) 🙂

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