Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Family Bed....

This is something I've been wanting to post about for a while but hadn't quite gotten the nerve to do it. After all, I'm not a parent so I have no particular bonafides in this arena but, still, as a community member, I have an opinion.

When Hillary Clinton wrote her book "It Takes A Village", the phrase became a cliche of sorts ~ a lot of lip service to the concept but no practical applications. As I recall, the book didn't come up with anything either.

When I was in Northern Thailand, especially in the villages, one of the things that became immediately apparent is that the children were all well cared for and very secure. They were lovely, well-mannered children who seemed legitimately happy.

The Lanna people, as an example, live in houses with one large room. Everyone lives there together, eats together, sleeps together and neighbors come in and out rather freely. It is not unusual for children to call three or four different women "mae" (mother) and it's quite sincere. They grow up in an environment where they receive the love of the community and are also taught the responsibilities of family and village community life. They have the trust of the elders and have more freedom than perhaps any children in the world. There is always someone around to give them guidance and advice. These factors form, over the growing period, a clear perception of the people and life around them and a solidarity with their fellow villagers that makes them virtually inseparable. There is often a sharing of work, of food, of families and of homes.

I know that is not possible here but there is an idea that has always attracted me. It was under discussion quite a bit several years ago. It is the idea of the Family Bed.

There are many reasons why I believe it is a good idea.

~* It seems to me that babies and children would feel much safer, more secure, at night if they are sleeping in the same room or same bed as their parents, brothers and sisters,

~* Bedtime is less of a struggle because the children are not crying and carrying on because they don't want to be put in a dark room by themselves,

~* It is a bonding thing... It would seem especially important for parents who aren't able to spend as much time with their children as they'd like due to work,

~* Sharing sleep is said to cause children to become more self-confident and independent, despite some arguments to the contrary,

~* Mothers and fathers sleep more easily because they don't have to be worried about their child in another room, and finally,

~* There is some evidence that SIDS deaths are fewer.

More important than any of these cited reasons above though, I think it makes a child feel loved, not forced to behave in a way that he or she may not be mature enough to handle (being alone all night) and helps the child to feel more bonded to the family and a sense of community.

Ideally, of course, the child would be surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles and extended family as well to create a community for them but that's not always possible. The Family Bed seems to be one compensation for that.

I'd be interested to hear what others think. :)




jen said...

great topic, chani...M spent the first six months of her life in our bed, and then moved to her crib. we missed her when she left. since, we've tried both and to be honest, it works better for her to be in her own space, but luckily for us bedtimes are never an issue - M goes to bed easily and has created a little world in her crib.

this week though (yet to post about it) she got her own big girl bed, and it's been a bit of an adjustment.

that said, if it had worked out better for her to be w/ us, we'd have done it that way. i like her being close, in fact, i like having all of us close together.

i often think it's weird, we are in one room and she's all alone in another. we talk about it sometimes..and i do very much appreciate the concept and those who do it.

QT said...

Chani - as a person who grew up in a household with an extended family, I rarely slept in a room alone!

Personally, I think it works better when a granparent is the other adult sharing the room with said child. My parents taught me that when they were in their room alone, we were not to disturb them unless there was an EMERGENCY, and we all respected that.

They both worked outside of the home and I think they needed their own space away from kids and mother-in-laws. That, and I am sure there was some nookie going on!

Anvilcloud said...

I wouldn't like it. Young, hard-working parents need to sleep, and that can be enough of a problem these days. Besides, Mom and Dad need their relationship too, not just for that either.

Julie Pippert said...

We loosely followed many attachment parenting principles, including the family bed. Although TBH, it wasn't a principle to me so much as a thing that worked best for us. Okay I'll have to come back later to finish.

sober briquette said...

When my kids were babies, their rooms had a crib and another bed. From the day we came home from hospital, they slept in their room, but I had a bed to lay in while nursing, and sometimes fell asleep there, with the baby. Although I'm not sure it would have made a difference, we really could not bring a baby in our bed because it's a waterbed.

As toddlers (still with Enzo), I would occasionally sleep with them in the "big bed" as they got old enough to be out of a crib.

The problem that I experienced, is that some children will really fight sleep. They do not want to "miss" anything, and if there is someone else present, especially a favorite person like a parent, they take much longer to fall asleep. This may not be a problem in other cultures where schedules are not so highly valued.

There are three families from India who I am getting to know through my daughter's school. They all rent one bedroom apartments, so the whole family sleep together.

Up until age 4, I shared a room with my two brothers, while my sister - the eldest - had her own room. I guess because she needed a place to do homework. When we moved, I shared her room for about a year until she went to college, then I had the room to myself, while my brothers shared. I kept a sleeping bag in my closet, and often crept into their room at night to sleep because I didn't like being alone.

Anonymous said...

For a while, when I was very young, I lived in a house crowded with relatives.

My Grandfather was at the center of it. His daughter/my aunt and her five children moved in with him when her husband died; my mother/his daughter, me, and my Dad moved in when Dad was injured and had to train for a new job.

It was the happiest time of my life.

Hel said...

I love the idea.

As a child I was genuinely scared of the dark and I would hate to do the whole train them not to manipulate you into giving them attention at night thing.

Reading your post has made me feel all snuggle-ly and a little bit broody.

meno said...

I am of the opinion that each family should do what feels right and works for them.

Anonymous said...

Don't talk of that to me... we lost a baby with SIDS death. At that time, I followed religiously the new theories of the doctors : "cut the umbilical cord" soon, put the baby in another bedroom as soon as born, and put him stomach sleeping....and years later, all the contrary was recommended...Not that I think it was the main reason of his death, no reason apparently, but now, I won't trust any theory of any kind. So, family bed ? I think that a mother must follow her instinct, and not listen to any theory....That is my theory!

Caro said...

Hi Chani. All three of my girls were allowed and encouraged to climb into bed with us. My eldest slept with us until she was about three. Our middle child, the one I nickname my Koala-in-the-middle-baby, still needs to cuddle from time to time and does. As for the baby well she never demonstated any interest in sharing the family bed, even as an infant. My neighbors who are Haitian, often point to me how north americans need a lot of space-"You know where we come from, there is no such thing as one person per bedroom, households are simply too big and most people can't afford such a luxury." Ultimately, I think it's up to each family to decide what's best and what works.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

As a child, I was never allowed into the parental bed, or even their room. As a parent, I fell asleep breast-feeding all of my kids in my bed, and when they could walk, they often crept in with me.

The Thai custom you describe is similar to that of Pacific Islanders, which I first read about in Margaret Mead's book, "Coming of Age in Samoa." The children ate and slept wherever they liked, and all the adults treated them like family.

Since I felt myself to be affection-starved growing up, I was quite enchanted with such customs. I think that the specifics don't matter so much as long as children feel loved and valued. Our culture is sadly lacking in practices that accomplish this.

Pam said...

I, too, think that each family should do what's best for them. I do believe, however, that the whole family piled into Mom and Dad's bed for conversations or to weather out thunderstorms and monsters in the closet is fun and memorable.

The Atavist said...

My son often came into our room in the middle of the night. I would sense someone standing beside the bed and I would reach over, pick him up and put him into the bed between his mom and me, and there he would stay until the morning. He felt secure and we didn't mind. I think every situation is different and it all depends on so many things, but there is certainly nothing wrong with making the child feel comfortable and loved.

Just a grail said...

Great, Great post! My son is five and has slept with me since birth, his older brothers still sometimes sleep with us also. I don't talk about it much, it is not widely accepted here in the States, but he is content and secure, he likes to snuggle and for him it is a major source of comfort, for the other boys too. Too many people think of the bedroom as a sexual place and can not seperate the two, I think that is why people get so upset about it.

Charles Sheehan-Miles said...

We did it. Eleven years later, I can't get the kids out of the bed.

MsLittlePea said...

Hmm this is a good topic. I agree with heart. I don't have any children but I still have very vivid memories of being afraid of the dark. My mom was always welcoming if I wanted to climb in with them but my father was always very stern about me learning to be independent. I don't know if it was a cultural thing(she's from the Philipines, he is from West Virginia) or not. I still have fear of the dark-not that I blame it on them, I think everyone does a little.

I can't imagine leaving my kid alone and afraid in the dark though. I don't really have a problem with either situation, to share or not to share. Whatever works best and is healthiest for the my mom's country, sometimes a small space leaves no choice about who sleeps where. I find it a little strange that some people let the family dog in the bed but the kid who's had a nightmare gets marched right back to sleep alone and scared.

Thailand Gal said...

Jen, I hope you will post about that soon. It will be very interesting to hear M's reaction to getting a "big girl" bed and what your instincts are on her reaction :)


QT, grandparents are good, too. Something tells me that there must be some provision for privacy built into this system for parental privacy, even in the Thai villages. Someone was having sex. There were plenty of children there! LOL


Anvil, I get you. The critical thing in this, in my opinion only, is that some time must be set aside for parents but also instill a sense of community into children.

My mind isn't made up on this altogether. I only have an opinion, not a position yet. :)


Julie, I'll be interested to hear more from you, especially since you've done it. How did your children seem to respond?


De, interesting history for your children and for you! Oh, boy! If I'd climbed into my brother's or my parents' bedroom at night, I would have been screamed at so loud, they would have heard it in San Francisco!

You seem to have found the perfect balance in all of this.


Thomas, it sounds like a great household! I hope you'll blog about it one day! :)

Do you come from a family with another culture?


Hel, you have touched on a core issue. At least in my perception. Why is it that anyone would possibly view the insecurity of a little being, so new to the world, as conniving or manipulative? Instead of creating a safe place for children to learn, it is a power struggle?

Back to that same old Calvinist "all people are wicked and evil" mindset.

Children just want to be safe and loved.

When did that become too much to ask?


Meno, in one sense, I agree. In another, I believe the well-being of the community should count, too.


G, I am so sorry about the loss of your child. Truly. I won't insult you by pretending I understand. I do not know how painful that would be.

Theories are theories, very true.. and I'm not one to jump on the bandwagon for the latest and greatest. In this case, I am kind of looking at years and years of history ~ along with results.


Caro, as I said above, I agree with the family decision part of it. At what point though should we examine what is best for the community? What produces the most secure and happy children?


Susan, I am with you completely. Some of the unconscious reasons that I am probably drawn to my culture (still feels weird to say that... "my culture" ... the possessive.. the possession of "it" .. kind of spins around in my mouth and I'm afraid to spit it out so bluntly :) is the community aspect, the closeness of families, the value placed on relationships with others in the community ~ all the things I never had here.

I remember the Margaret Mead book, too. And had the very same reaction when I was teenaged, reading it...


Pam, agreed. While I don't know of it personally, I think there would be great value in that.


Atavist, it sounds like you allowed your son to determine what his needs were and responded accordingly. Something tells me that's the perfect balance.


Grail, you get the nailgun award of the day! :) Yes, I do believe that it is such an issue for two reasons: The first one being exactly as you mentioned: inability to separate the bedroom from the titter-behind-the-hand view of sex. The second is that in order to prepare children for western culture, the child has to be forced to fend for him- or herself.. far too soon!


Charles, that's okay. When they're ready, they'll find something else.. or perhaps they will decide that it's just a good healthy way to be. :)


This such a great discussion! (beaming)

Peace, all...



Thailand Gal said...

I find it a little strange that some people let the family dog in the bed but the kid who's had a nightmare gets marched right back to sleep alone and scared.

Pea, Couldn't agree more. It does seem rather skewed, doesn't it? The overriding need to harden children in western culture is baffling to me.

It would be really interesting to hear what your mother would have to say about all of this.




liv said...

Chani, thought provoking as always. I had both of mine sleeping with me as infants because I was simply too exhausted to move other than to shove a boob in a waiting mouth. Davis moved over to his crib at about 6 months when I was too sick one night to be with him and my husband wasn't at home. He slept 12 hours. I slept 12 hours. Done. That said, I missed him dreadfully especially as the marital relationship deteriorated. Ava (#2) slept in our bed for about 2 months. She has always had the habit of kicking one leg while trying to fall asleep, and as you might imagine, this can be distracting to other bed inhabitants. She rested in the bassinet next to the bed for another month until she finally got dumped in her own bed when the grunts drove me crazy.

I loved them with me. I love them in their own spaces. I love dragging them back to me as I get whimsical and weepy about growing babies (okay, preschooler and toddler). From my own experience, I can say that I think it is healthy for kids to move on. It may be a western behavior or feeling, but my desire at some point was that my husband and I would have our own bed to ourselves. I think there is merit to the notion that as we work more during the week, in and out of the home, couples have a truly private time to restore the relationship. Make no mistake, I don't think I'm getting divorced bec. my kids spent time in bed with us, but I do think that it changed the overall ambience of the marital bed.

Thailand Gal said...

Hi Liv...

I can imagine that having two children to care for would have put you in that position. As you say, laying there, having only the energy to shove a boob in a waiting mouth.

There does have to be a provision made for parents to have time to themselves also. I'm not sure what the Thai folks I met did. We didn't have an opportunity to discuss that openly because it wouldn't have been an acceptable question from a foreigner. My guess is that they found some private area and had their time together hidden from others. At least I've never read anything or heard anything that indicates they did it in the open. My guess is that extended family plays a lot into that. The parents weren't responsible solely for caring for the children. Aunts, uncles, grandparents or siblings keep the children entertained and busy for a period of time.

There are many things I have to learn yet in all of this, too.

Perhaps some brave Thai woman or man reading here will tell us.

Some people are going to resonate more with western culture and I'm not here to slam that or somehow make that not okay. It just doesn't work for me which is why I chose something else.

I'm interested in all points of view. :)



crazymumma said...

We have very flexible sleeping arrangements in our home. Both girls were in the family bed, or more specifically, in the morning any of us could be found in any of the three beds in a variation of a theme.
As infants they slept with me/us.
They both got big girl beds at about age two, would start the night there and end up in bed with us.
Now they start the night together in bigirls bed....they want to be together to snuggle (I love that). And in the middle of the night they crawl in with us, or we stumble into them if it is a nightmare or illness.
I say remain flexible to the needs of the child because each is different.

What always astounded me was how personally some people took our philosophy.

Three years ago

patches said...

Hi Chani. I'm visiting via meno's blog. This is a very interesting topic. Being childless, I don't posses the proper credentials to speak on this subject, but like most I'm not short on opinions. You are spot on about families and communities taking a more proactive approach in raising children. We distribute house keys and independence to children like we are handing out flyers for a restaurant.

My mistress (I'm the family cat) is active in the lives of her nephews and niece, and makes certain they know she supports them in all their endeavors, whether it be sitting in the stands or building pine derby cars. Supporting children extends beyond the boundaries of the home. I agree with those who feel it is a personal decision (the family bed) for each to make at this juncture. It is paramount for children to feel safe, secure, and loved, but I also feel it is important to preserve the marital bed. I'm sure it is possible both to coexist, but being childless, I don't have the experience to concur how.

Laurie said...

My son slept with me whenever he was scared or felt lonely. Sometimes he crawled in so I could read him a story and we would both fall asleep. I think it's a good thing.

KC said...

We never planned to have Joles sleep with us, in fact, we thought strangely of those who did that, but once she was born, I felt such an immediate attachment to her that I couldn't imagine her sleeping alone after the two of us being one for so long.

Our pediatrician advised against it- the American Pediatrics Association is anti-family bed since there are many deaths/injuries due to parents rolling over on babies etc.

Pretty soon, we transitioned to her own bed since she slept better that way and I honestly can't imagine us all sleeping together right now. Of course, I'd make exceptions when she's older and scared during a thunderstorm or something...

flutter said...

At any given point in my life, I would rather have eaten my own eye than slept in the same bed as my father.

Thailand Gal said...

Flutter, I can understand. I would have preferred to consume broken glass than sleep with either of my parents.

Perhaps I'm dealing in ideals here to a degree.. and also, in the village communities I am talking about, there is a great deal of accountability within the community itself. From what I saw there, it's not too likely that anyone got away with much crap.



Thailand Gal said...

Crazymumma, Blogger probably cut off some of your comment. "Three years ago...." What happened?


Patches, well you are certainly a very talented cat. Much better than my dog who is content to bark at imaginary intruders but never mastered typing in any form.

I'm going to have to depend on someone with some village experience to answer the question about marital beds. My guess is that it's handled in a reasonably practical way ~ before bedtime or in the mornings after the children are out of the bed. It must work out somehow. Those villages were all full of children. :)

Extended family is critical! Nuclear families as little islands certainly doesn't seem to work very well.


Laurie, I think it's a good thing that he always felt safe enough to do that.


KC, the report sounds interesting. With so many children all over the world doing it, it's hard to imagine there are very many deaths or it wouldn't have withstood so many years.

I think you're right in one regard though. As long as it's available and if that seems to be the child's preference, then sleeping alone is good for them. It sounds like Jolie likes it well enough.. but then you'd probably already created enough security for her early on. :)




Melissa said...

I think to each their own. I see the positives in both ways. Personally I would be afraid I'd roll over and crush my baby.

In many cultures where this is prevalent, a lot of it is born of necessity. People have only one or two room houses, therefore everyone crashes together. I've lived and stayed with families who do this, and it's kind of fun. As people move up in income brackets and get bigger homes, they do separate out sleeping arrangements, but still would keep a child with them until they were at least toddlers.

Be careful in assuming that abuse does not happen. It is absolutely as prevalent in Thailand as it is over here!

Hel said...

I enjoyed reading the conversations in your comments as much as the post itself. A very interesting and thought provoking subject.

My Marrakech said...

In most of the developing world there is a family bed or many people all sleep in the same room. It's just a simple question of lack of space. I do think that sex is an issue. Many people I know grew up under these circumstances and saw or heard their parents having sex at night. This makes me feel profoundly uncomfortable but perhaps I should review my thinking.

Thailand Gal said...

Melissa, I know domestic violence is an issue in Thailand. As you say, it's an issue everywhere.


Hel, I've enjoyed the discussion here, too. There's something about hearing a lot of different points of view... :)


Marrakech, Good point. I do think we have to examine that. While I can't say that listening to people have sex is at the top of my personal hit parade, I don't see anything inherently wrong in it.




liv said...

East. West. Wherever you feel at home is best! I love that you are so passionate about something that resonates with you. I hope you got from my comment that what I own is my attachment to the concept of "me" time which, to my mind, is quite a western notion. I find mostly that I'm a melange of ideas just trying to swim in the same stew! xoxo

Thailand Gal said...

Liv... thanks. :)

It's funny how these things resonate with us and it becomes deeper and deeper until it's just as natural as breathing. I'm getting there. Just yesterday, I noticed a subtle shift. Admittedly, it startled me a little bit. It wasn't a change I'd intentionally create.d

When we really resonate, we don't have to *try*. It's more a process of discovery.

I get you about the "me" time.. and ,yes, I would agree that it's a western concept. It doesn't seem like a particularly harmful concept though.

In other cultures, it's more automatic, kind of built in to normal life. It's only western culture that encourages the overscheduling and such that prevents people from living a balanced life.



Suzy said...

Wow, go away for a few days and miss out on some great discussions. I slept with my kids (or, they slept with me,) but I didn't always do it with a glad heart. At some point when I was having my eldest, I read something somewhere that resonated with me about attachment parenting, and that's what we did. There were times when I loved it and times when I deeply resented it and wanted my own space. My eldest was not a good sleeper; I don't think it would have mattered where or with whom she was sleeping! My youngest was a much better sleeper and probably would have done the sleeping in a crib thing just fine, but she came along subsequent to my daughter who died and I wanted her near me. They went through a period of a couple of years where they slept together, and that was the sweetest thing. In the grand scheme of things, it all goes by so quickly. I think people need to do what feels right to them.