The Sacred Flow of the Family Bed

This article appeared in Rethinking Everything online Magazine !

 

The Sacred Flow of the Family Bed 

Before having children, sleeping in a family bed, or co-sleeping as it is sometimes called, is not something that we ever planned to do. In fact, I had never heard of it at all! At my terribly traditional baby shower, the main gift that I received was a beautiful, expensive crib. I still have a photo of me, hugely pregnant and standing in front of it, holding a little teddy bear, which I guess I was supposed to put in the crib with Devin when he was born. In every photo of me holding the material items at my baby shower, I have a confused, blank look on my face. It felt wrong instinctually for the things to be the focus of that event. I had no friends attend; only a few co-workers who drank punch and looked at their watches as I opened my gifts. Every gift that I received was designed to separate me from Devin in such a disempowering way.

I never ended up using that crib that was in all of those sad photos. In fact, I sold it on eBay when Devin was only a few months old and in the description for the listing I wrote: “Never used – brand new, mahogany crib. We made the loving choice to co-sleep and can’t imagine sleeping away from our child at night.” Despite my “description”, the crib sold immediately and I got top dollar for it too. It is no surprise it sold so quickly with the focus on separating a mother from her child, even before birth, in our culture. Even asking for my crib, a higher price than it was worth and promoting co-sleeping in my description did not deter the buyer. I felt sad thinking about the lonely baby that would sleep in it for years, away from the warmth and love of his mother’s arms and breast.

Our journey to what would be a constant flowing and evolving of sleeping arrangements was authentic; yet may seem chaotic to someone outside looking in. I can remember sleeping with Devin next to me and thinking how right and perfect it felt. I wanted him with us, and he wanted to be with us. Along with the crib, we were given a bassinet that, I am sad to say, was passed down for three generations in Joe’s family. It was presented to me as if it was something I should be very honored to receive. His mother and grandmother actually cried when they gave it to me. Yet, in my eyes it symbolized sadness, isolation and loneliness for Joe, who slept in that very bassinet alone for the first year of his life.

When Devin was two days old, I placed him in the bassinet away from me when we went to bed one night. I could see him on the other side of the room and he could see me. I could feel his asking – his longing to be with me physically. He needed me; yet there we lay separated, desperately wanting to connect and be together. He began to cry after only a couple minutes and I jumped up to retrieve him. I kissed his forehead and cried telling him that I would never do that again, and I didn’t. Those two minutes were brutal and painful. My tears were not only for that moment, but they were for the very experience of taking part in this twisted experiment of separating the two of us.

It was at that moment of deeper realization that I grew immensely as a mother. I knew that I was walking down a path in which I had to be strong and confident in a way that I had never been before in my life. I knew that I would never, ever sleep away from my children if we wanted to be together, despite any outside opinions or voices. I did not know anyone else that had ever shared sleep with their baby. I began researching co-sleeping online and when I did, it opened me up to a world of parenting that I never knew existed. I had found my tribe and this recognition was the very first time I truly honored my inner knowing. In an instant, I evolved. I began turning up the volume on my beautiful inner-self that I had been silenced early on and then ignored for all of my life. It was a new beginning in every way for me. I was mothering from my heart and gained a new sense of self-love in doing so.

Of course, Joe’s parents were greatly insulted that I didn’t use the heirloom bassinet. I gave it back to my mother-in-law, thanked her for offering it and told her proudly that I did not need it because we were going to co-sleep with Devin. This honesty and confidence in my parenting choice began a spiral of negativity between her and me that continues even today. She told me that she and her husband wouldn’t be going upstairs in my home again because seeing a bed that we all slept in would make them uncomfortable. It made me feel like she thought what we were doing was wrong, shameful and dirty.

With the crib sold and the bassinet returned, there was nothing in our lives separating us at night from Devin. He was with us at night, just where he should be.

We bought side rails for our queen-sized bed so Devin would not roll off. We made sure we shared sleep safely and didn’t have big pillows or puffy blankets near him at night. We read everything we could get our hands on about co-sleeping online. I woke often to nurse, yet I rarely felt tired during the day like everyone said that I would as a new Mom. I loved being between my husband and my son. Joe felt that it only made sense to co-sleep. He loved waking up with his family and our mornings were filled with giggles and cuddles. It was a profoundly important bonding time for our family. I cannot imagine not having that time for all of us to connect – that time between night and day when it was quiet and peaceful when the earth stood still for us to truly be together as a family. We were physically with our child twice as much as a mainstream parent! How could that not benefit the child and the family?!

As Devin grew, it became obvious that a queen-sized bed was not big enough for us all to sleep comfortably. We attached a twin bed to the queen, and purchased what is called a “bed-bridge” to connect the two beds seamlessly together. (bed-bridges are often used in hotels to turn to twin beds into a king-sized bed). Oftentimes, when space is limited in a co-sleeping arrangement, many parents blame the co-sleeping when; in fact, it is lack of space causing the issue! It is so important to grow your bed as your children grow, so that everyone is comfortable. Co-sleeping becomes difficult when parents are inflexible and unwilling to change to meet the growing needs of the family.

When our second child, Tiffany, came along, I slept with her in another room for a few weeks, while Devin and Joe shared the bed in our family bedroom. Devin slept through the night for the first time the night of Tiffany’s birth. It was perfect! He was two and a half and no longer needed to nurse at night, so I was able to give myself completely to my daughter, physically, at night. She was awake often in the evening and she and I were able to lie together or rock in the chair without waking Joe and Devin. After the first month or so, we joined the rest of our family in our nest, our family bed.

After several months, the bed became crowded again. Instead of adding another twin bed, we removed the first one, and brought in another queen-sized bed. We attached the two queen beds together to make one huge bed. Our family bed was a beautiful, sacred space. It was where we spent half of our time, so it took on an energy of love, joy and contentment for all of us.

One day, I decided to give our family bed an upgrade! I hung silken fabrics from the ceiling and created a stunning canopy bed. I used a handmade quilt that my grandmother made as a head board. My grandmother made the entire piece by hand and it took her over three years to make. After she died, I was gifted this quilt on my wedding day. Bringing it into this space of love was homage to her in my eyes. She was with me, behind my decision to listen to my heart. Her quilt spread the entire length of our huge family bed on the wall behind our heads. Feeling so alone and shunned by our decision to share sleep from Joe’s family and from friends, I created ways in which we could feel supported and loved. This was just one way in which I did that.

Making our family bed as beautiful as I could was fun for me! It was an outlet for my creativity that I celebrated. I printed brightly colored stars of all different sizes to stick on the ceiling above our bed. It was our sanctuary, our nest! I wanted the space to be cozy and uniquely ours. I surprised my family with our newly-decorated space and they gasped when they saw it. Over the months, we expanded on its beauty and added functionality as well. Shelves were added to the space where Devin slept, so he could have his books within easy reach. I purchased a wireless headphone set to I could watch television at night without it waking the kids. We found many ways to meet all of our needs in our family bed space.

When Ivy was born, I also slept with her separately from the other family members until we were ready to join the rest of the family after our cocoon time together. The first few months were bliss but, when Ivy began growing and moving around more, the room in the giant bed became cramped, yet again. I moved with her to a different room where she and I slept in a queen bed comfortably together. Everyone had space and had their needs met. It worked out this way perfectly for us for years. I would go to bed much earlier with Ivy than Joe and the other kids would go to bed. One family bed room was for the “early birds” and one for the “night owls”.

Joe and I set up a twin bed in a spare room for the two of us to connect when we wanted to make love. It became our special little space where we would connect in the peace and silence of the night or as the sun rose in the morning. He would knock on my door and I would nurse Ivy before going out to meet him for our rendezvous. We also were able to get creative and kinky and enjoy one another physically in other rooms of the house, like the kitchen, living room or shower. Sex was never boring, and because of this, our sex lives became richer. Just because you have a family bed, does not mean sex isn’t possible! On the contrary, it opens up possibilities and a new level of creativity as the two of you discover new and exciting ways you can connect as a couple!

During the time when I was sleeping in a bed with Ivy, Devin really wanted to fall asleep with me. He liked to have his back tickled as he fell asleep, so I honored that. He would fall asleep by my side and Joe would later carry him into the other room into the bed with him and Tiff. This went on every night until Devin was nine years old. Also, during this same time, Tiffany wanted to fall asleep in the living room watching her favorite television shows. We also honored this and Joe would carry her up to bed when she fell asleep. Needless to say, Joe had some killer biceps during this time in our lives from carrying two children to bed every night; but he did it, unwaveringly and with love, until they both outgrew the need.

When Orion was born, I slept with him and Ivy from the beginning. As he grew, we attached another bed to the queen creating another huge family bed in the second bedroom. Again, it was perfect and just what we needed for everyone to be comfortable. I again created a unique, functional and beautiful space in our second family bedroom. I slept between our two youngest children and Joe between the two oldest, every night and still continue to this day.

We are proud to share that this arrangement has worked amazingly well for everyone in our family. We still are not done with our evolution in regards to our family bed! One thing is certain though – we have always respected our children’s need to be with us at night. We are connected and present through sickness, nightmares, or simply to cover up a child whose blanket slipped off. I truly believe that the most natural and healthy place for children to be is with their parents at night until they out grow the need and desire. Devin is twelve and still chooses to share sleep, and we celebrate his authenticity and desire. We see what an amazingly capable and loving human being he has become as a result of having his needs met and respected. The family bed has only strengthened this within him.

Today, our children are four, seven, ten and twelve years old and we all share sleep. Joe, Devin and Tiff are in one huge bed in the “night owl” family bedroom, Orion, Ivy and I are in one huge bed in the “early bird” family bedroom, which are connected. It is truly one enormous space with two enormous beds! Expansion and growth has been our mantra for the last decade. Neither Devin nor Tiffany need to be carried to bed anymore because falling asleep in the bedroom works for them now.

Devin and Tiffany each have their own bedrooms in addition to sharing sleep with us, but instead of beds in their rooms Tiff has a giant craft table and Devin has a workbench and computer lab. That is yet another benefit of sharing sleep – you have much more space for the kids to use their own rooms for creativity and exploring their passions in life! It has opened up opportunity for their rooms to be workshops, craft rooms, dance studios, libraries, pet centers, music shops, design studios, sewing rooms, blacksmithing shops, and media rooms. It allows them to have more space when they are awake to grow and pursue their interests with a focus on their joy in the moment.

Over the years, our sleeping arrangement has evolved and changed to meet everyone’s needs. I know that they will continue to grow and evolve. Our home certainly doesn’t look like a magazine or our culture’s ideals of what a home should look like. Our beds are huge and have mismatched blankets, pillows and quilts and are filled with stuffed animals and treasured dolls. Every night, we all pile in together along with our pets, whom are also respected in their desire to sleep with us all at night.

The family bed is a living and growing entity in itself. It becomes part of your family as an extension of you. It should be a sanctuary, a nest, and something honored and respected. It is uniquely yours and it should always be big enough and comfortable enough for everyone to sleep happily together. I know that my children will outgrow the need to share sleep in their own time, in their own way. In the meantime, I am enjoying every second of our family bed knowing that this is such a short season in our lives. We will always cherish and remember this time and no “expert” or authority could ever convince me that we are doing a disservice to our family by choosing to live and sleep together.

This is more than co-sleeping, it is nighttime parenting. Looking back on the last decade of our life together as a family, half of my memories reside in the sacred place we call the family bed. I cherish every one of them and trust in my heart that this is the most healthy, connected and respectful way to parent our children. It is such a big part of who we are today, as a family. As I write this, my family is snuggled up together and warm in bed. Tears of gratitude flow from my eyes. I am so grateful for listening to my heart all of these years. It has allowed me to be a stronger woman and mother and the decision to co-sleep was the pinnacle point in our journey to parenting, which set the stage for all else that followed. I love the family bed and will always hold it sacred as it is where it all began.

~Peace & Love, Dayna

Comments

  1. You have a beautiful family, and your story really inspires me to go on and continue believing in my heart, and what it tells me to do in my mothering ways, and in guiding my children as they continue to discover, explore, and learn the things they are genuinely interested in,without the influence of traditional schooling, or any kind of curriculum which doesn’t pertain to whatever interests them. Having said that, I’m really grateful that I have found an invaluable source of support for these things that greatly matter to me and my family,(as this kind of set-up is very rare here in the Philippines, and almost always would muster eyebrow-raising reactions) and for this, I would like to send my sincerest “thank you” from the bottom of my heart, for continuously being truly an inspiration.

    • Maya, you are very welcome!
      It feels so good to know that I am supporting you from afar. I love how true you are staying to yourself and your beliefs. I am grateful to know you.

      ~Peace & Love, Dayna

  2. Dayna,

    I love your writings and especially wanted to share this one with lots of people. I tried to pin it to Pinterest to add it to my mothering board, but you don’t have any large images on your site for Pinterest to pick up on.

    Any chance you might consider adding some so we can use this tool to share your words?

    Thanks!

    • Kari,

      Thank you for sharing my article on Pinterest. I added a photo per your request.

      Thanks for visiting my website!

      ~Peace & Love, Dayna

  3. Thank you for this. Your honesty is inspiring. I parent very different from they way my parents did it and want me to do it. Its nice to know I agree with someone who follows their heart.

  4. Dayna,

    I like.

    Peace and love,

    Kelly 🙂

  5. Hi,
    I have been sleeping with my kids now for 18 years & even when my God Daughter lived with me because of schooling at age 14 she often joined us [best way to stop home sickness that I ever came across].
    When people look at me strangely I site the fact that we are the only civilization & only in recent times that separate child from parent. What a bizarre concept!!! My Grandmother gave me this advice when I was in my 20’s, if at all possible maintain separate bedrooms from your husband as there is nothing more romantic than “sneaking around” once again she was right!!!
    My children are confident, well balanced, affectionate, caring, individuals who are diametrically opposite in natures. They are free of separation anxiety & converse confidently with adults, but best of all they are still KIDS who laugh, learn & play; they are extremely close with each other & me without being clingy. I have always cited our sleeping arrangements for the above as it is the only thing I do differently to others.

    • Soozie,

      Thank you for commenting about this. I think it is so wonderful that you share sleep with your kids and your God Daughter! We co-sleep with all of our kids and will continue to do so until they outgrow the need to be close at night. We completely respect their choices in regards to sleep. We are a very close and connected family and we have never forced separation at night. Congrats on following what feels best for your family!!

      ~Peace & Love, Dayna

  6. Hi Dayna,

    I think that you’ve been whole life unschooling your children since birth–or at least some of them? I’m not sure. I was discussing unschool sleeping today and how children of different ages might deal with it. I know that children who are raised conventionally and switch over to whole life unschooling have an adjustment period.

    I was wondering if you could maybe make some comments, maybe do a blog post, about their ability to self-regulate sleep from a young age, if they did it well or if it was erratic, etc., to what extent you think their ability to do this had to do with co-sleeping. Or if to some extent you did try to set a schedule for their sleeping when they were infants or toddlers, what were the things that prompted you to do that?

    Thanks!
    Also, awesome job.

    Amelia

  7. Thank you Dayna for this candid and personal account of your journey into co-sleeping. It is funny, because it couldn’t be more practical and natural to do, and in a modern world where parents are constantly looking for practical solutions for child ‘rearing’, you’d think more people would choose to co-sleep.

  8. Dayna, what a beautiful post. We are expecting our second now and our first, who is four, sleeps with us and does not want to move out. Who could blame her? I wouldn’t want to either. We are putting a queen and a twin together and my husband has built a beautiful frame for our “new” bed. We are all excited about the extra room. Your post was so lovely to read as it reaffirms that children need to be with their parents and there is nothing wrong about accommodating that need for however long it lasts. Really, I need to be close to my babies at night just as much as they need me. I never worry that there is something wrong or that my daughter isn’t safe. All I have to do is open my eyes and I see her! Thanks for the great post, I’m saving it on my computer to read again.

  9. Martha Donnelly says:

    I just found your website–we just last year started unschooling (my son is 11), but we have always had a family bed. Thank you for sharing this, I never meet anyone in my “real” life who parents as we do and it helps, somehow, to know we are not alone. I agree with you, our bed, and our nighttime ritual has been and continues to be a sacred, wonderful place for us as a family.

  10. This was a beautiful and touching story!
    I can totally feel the love and peace you offer.
    I have followed you since the beginning and you have helped me change my strict ways, and Joe
    has helped me thru his WLU group. I am a better parent because I have great teachers to learn from 🙂
    Peace n love to both of you and your families
    Toni

  11. Margaret Wallace says:

    Dayna,

    I enjoyed reading this intelligent, sensitive, loving, nurturing piece about sleeping together as a family. I live in Australia and have raised three lovely daughters. I did school them traditionally but not competitively, but my home was nurturing and loving. I enjoyed being an earth mother and I find as I get older I am becoming even more involved in reaching out to the community in loving ways. In my daily interactions with all life I enjoy spreading peace and joy. For some, life is so hard, any small act of kindness helps. I send you my joy and love. Xxxxxx

  12. I love what you say about honoring and respecting a child’s needs, and how this leads ultimately to a well balanced child. If you think of what that implies about the inverse, you can understand why so many youth are not well balanced by anyone’s standards – they are pushed out and forced to grow and mature at increasingly faster paces. I think I needed to read this, and re-asses how I have been dealing with my children as of late.

  13. Thank you for sharing this story. We are a bed sharing family as well so it came as quite a shock when our oldest asked for his own room at age 4.5! He is such a physically affectionate boy and we truly loved sharing our bed with him and his younger brother but we decided to give it a go. I still don’t really know why he made that decision a year ago but he has only crawled into our bed (for more than morning cuddles) once since then. He knows it is open to him and I think that even having that knowledge is enough for him. His younger brother decided to start sleeping with him (at least for the first part of the night) in the other room a few months ago at about age 2.5. I never thought that my husband and I would be without a child in our bed but, alas, we are. And it’s a little bit lonely! I certainly don’t complain when our littlest crawls in during the night for some cuddles and we’re looking forward to sharing our bed full time again with baby #3 in a few weeks.

    I love how you call it a “flow.” Constantly changing and adapt to your family’s needs. There isn’t really any predicting what your children will need or choose but it’s so important to be open and flexible to them and their needs.

  14. Dayna,

    Thanks for linking me to this, I have just finished reading it. I did ask hubby while I was reading it if he would be okay with doing a family bed in a future house where it is possible and he said sure as long as the baby didn’t beat him up LOL. I did want to do this with our oldest, but he is opposite his younger brother and ended up moving into his own bed and room at 4ish monthes because he was not getting his rest and neither were we, he wanted his own space. We moved him into the nursery and he was a much happier better rested little man…still was a few month’s before he slept completely through the night though.

  15. As I read your article it reminds me of me. Except we didn’t have a large bed. So one of us parents would have to hit the couch! Right now two of the still sometimes fall asleep in our bed and my husband has to carry them to their own bed. I also watched the wife swap episode and I must say you guys did very well on it. I wish I had found your blog sooner. I am also into attachment parenting and I homeschool. Although I don’t share the same passion for unschooling, I love the approach of respecting the children’s choices instead of trying to control them. It is hard for me with three very strong willed boys to get them all “in line” as we are taught kids should be. But when I let them pursue what they love, the day just flows. Greetings from Puerto Rico!

  16. Dayna,

    I never thought I’d co-sleep either. My daughter is 8 months-old and as you said, it just felt right and I know she feels happier sleeping with her parents. I knew it the night she was crying in her bassinet and I picked her up and just laid her between me and her dad, and she stopped crying. All she wanted was to be near us.

    My question is this: the critics say that the kids won’t grow up to be independent if they co-sleep. I very much want my daughter to be a strong, independent person. I want her to be an individual and to understand how important individualism and independence are. So, what do you see with your kids? Do they still manage to be independent and confident?

    Also, do you miss cuddling with your husband?

    Thanks!
    KM

    • I think that the family bed is a beautiful idea….We did the same for our two children.. They actually decided when they wanted their own rooms We allowed them to come and sleep with us when ever they were I’ll or just needed some family time. Most times they would start out wit us and then they would end up in their own bed.. We would sing and read story’s together and talk about my and my husbands childhood. They love that special time with us… My parents allowed me to sleep with the! Too. I think people do it a lot more than are admitting to it….There is a lot of good in it if done the proper way…

Speak Your Mind

*