Coke vs. Pepsi, Seinfeld vs. Friends, co-sleepers vs. Parents Who Force Infants and Very Small Children to Sleep All Alone in Scary Rooms at Night: You know which team you’re on, and nothing written here is going to change that. That said, if you are brave enough to admit publicly that you are still sharing your queen-sized bed with a 4-year-old, there is a new op-ed that offers some good fodder for the next dinner party, assuming that as a parent you ever get to leave your house and go to dinner parties. Writing at the Los Angeles Times, Benjamin Reiss, who just published a book on the history of sleep, notes:
“Go to your room,” we tell even very young children, “and stay there all night.” We have invented elaborate techniques to support this supposedly essential aspect of child development, implementing them at great emotional cost to all parties involved. For the parents: agonizing decisions about when and whether to comfort a crying child, bleary-eyed squabbles about which parent takes a turn in the middle of the night. For the kids: fear of being alone in the dark, and resentment of the adults who, in the words of historian Peter Stearns, “hovered about urging sleep when none was wanted.” The resulting frustration seems to have reached a boiling point, as evidenced by the best-selling mock-bedtime book, “Go the F — to Sleep.”
Why do we do it?
In short, no one forced kids into another room in Europe or North America before the 19th century, and it only happened because industrialization and cities forever linked crowding with the spread of disease and unhygienic conditions. Also, savages slept crowded together in rooms and they never invented anything good, the thinking goes. White people who slept together in one room were the super-poor kind, and no one wanted to be associated with them.
Next came doctors, who began arguing that too much coddling is bad (John Watson), seeing your parents have sex is bad (Sigmund Freud), and locking a child into a cage at night is best (Benjamin Spock). Then Richard Ferber popped up in 1985 and basically said, hey, do whatever you want, but people who co-sleep with their children are primitive losers.
Hey, maybe they are! The debate over co-sleeping has always poked silently at this history, even as the practice itself has gone from a thing poor people with no money or space do to a thing New Age bougie hippies in Brooklyn with too much money and space do. And let’s not even get started on sleep training, the single most divisive aspect of parenting. But the most important thing to remember here when it comes to parenting decisions is that they are highly individual and need not be justified, and that co-sleeping, like anything else, has pros and cons.
The second most important thing to remember here is that if you find yourself having to justify this choice to someone who is looking at you like a maniac because you bunk at night with five children ages 1 to 11, you can turn this around on the naysayers: People who force children into dark scary rooms alone all night are classist snobs. Then see what they say to that—and if they ever invite you to another dinner party.