When my husband and I began preparing for the arrival of my daughter, we never intended to co-sleep with our child. We took parenting classes, which taught us about the dangers associated with bed-sharing and how to ensure babies are safe when they do share an adult's sleeping space. We purchased a bassinet and a crib for our daughter to make sure she had a safe spot to sleep at all times. And then our daughter was born, and all of our plans went right out the window.
From the moment she entered this world, Emma was a horrible sleeper. She nursed hourly throughout the night for months, and sometimes even more frequently. I quickly started trying to find solutions. We tried bottle feeding, formula feeding, and eventually, bed-sharing. The first night I let Emma come into my bed she slept six consecutive hours. The next night, she slept four. And then eventually, she began to sleep through the night, as long as she was cuddled up next to me. Maybe co-sleeping wouldn't be so bad—it's something that's worked for others, famously Kourtney Kardashian.
The impact of co-sleeping on my marriage
As the months passed, Emma and I continued to co-sleep alongside my husband, who usually got the short end of the stick when it came to my attention and affection. Although we tried to make time for each other, intimacy became rare and date nights were few and far between. We were both tense as we tried to adjust to being parents and between that and our limited physical relationship, we went through many rough patches that had us both feeling as though we were drifting apart. Despite these rough patches, I became pregnant and when Emma was 2, I gave birth to her brother Liam.
When Liam was born, Emma continued to struggle with sleep and for several months, we shared our bedroom with both kids. While we eventually taught Emma and Liam to sleep in their own beds for at least part of the night, our parenting methods continued to take a toll on our marriage. Even though we were finally spending part of the night in our bed alone, our son, who is now nearly 2 years old, had developed severe separation anxiety while our daughter, who is now 4, began having nightmares. Most nights we would give up after repeated night wakings and bring both kids to bed with us.
During the day, Liam became terrified of being apart from me. Leaving him with a babysitter was out of the question and our rare date nights and time alone became completely nonexistent. If Liam was teething or out of sorts for any reason, I couldn't even leave him alone with his dad without him having a complete meltdown.
Needless to say, I was tired. I became cranky and I was detached from anything that wasn't my kids, including my husband. My husband and I began to bicker over everything from how to vacuum the floor correctly to disciplining the kids and everything in between. In addition to both of us becoming irritable toward each other, and our kids, we started to lose our spark and romantic moments began to die, along with our sex life. The fact that we were rarely alone was to blame. After a couple of months of walking on eggshells around each other, we knew something had to change.
Courtesy of Kimberly Rae Dixon
Changing our co-sleeping ways
Once my husband and I recognized and admitted to ourselves and each other that there was a problem, we discussed our issues honestly and critically. We came to the realization that our fighting was negatively affecting our kids and most likely, resulting in the nightmares and separation anxiety that were keeping them, and us, up at night.
We also realized that our routine was far too flexible for the kids. We decided to follow a strict bedtime routine that consisted of a small, healthy snack, a bath, and a bedtime story. We've also been staying in their room until they fell asleep, but not laying next to them in their beds. We made it clear that if they wake up during the night, they can call out for us and we will come to check on them. When that happens, we sit near their bed as they fall back asleep, just as we do at bedtime.
To break Liam of his separation anxiety, my husband puts him to bed more often than I do. It allows them time to bond with each other and has helped Liam get used to the fact that he's safe with people other than just me. We've also asked for help from our parents who watch Liam overnight sometimes. It takes him time to adjust after we drop them off, but it's gotten easier every time.
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While we're still working on maintaining a sense of normality in our family and sticking to our new routines, we've noticed a huge difference in both of our kids and our relationship. We're slowly getting more alone time together and Emma's nightmares are occurring less frequently. Had we known that co-sleeping would make it so hard on us, I'm not sure that we'd ever have tried it. Although it certainly has its benefits, its faults have been paramount for our family and nearly led to irreparable damage in our marriage.