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An Oversight of Our Culture

By Tine Thevenin

Our days, our deeds, all we achieve or are,
Lie folded in our infancy.

~ John T. Trowbridge

Most of us have read or heard sometime, somewhere, what an "authority" advises on children sleeping with their parents or with other siblings. Although the opinions on this subject are quite controversial, the practice is usually discouraged.

One may pick up many a book on childrearing and read that bad sleeping habits in a child are formed when mother hears her baby whimper and "rushes" in to see if everything is all right. The child will wake up more frequently, these books tell us, just to get his mother near him.

A mother is ridiculed for wanting to pick up her crying baby. Yet, this response to a call, the concern for her offspring, is an action that comes from the very depth of her motherhood.

The child is scolded for reaching out to his parent during a time of need. He is to be told "lovingly" but firmly that nighttime is not a time for his parents' love and attention.

These are the books that strongly advise parents against taking their children to bed with them, whether in time of stress or as a matter of course. The parent is neither allowed nor encouraged to place trust and value in his own parental emotions, but instead becomes the innocent victim of old prejudices that linger on. If he does not follow the advice, then he must rely on his own wandering common sense, or be harassed by wondering what to do. Our society proclaims co-family sleeping as taboo. It also gives us no satisfactory answers to bed and nighttime problems with children.

The parental instinct concerning an offspring is not to be underestimated, although for many years this seemed to be the case. But times are changing. In a newspaper article of January 1974, Dr. Spock is quoted as saying he admits parents of this country have been persuaded that only trained persons know how children should be reared. This, he continues, has resulted in a lack of self-assurance on the part of the parents. He goes so far as to call it a "cruel deprivation" that has been imposed on mothers and fathers.

In 1974, another article appeared in a publication entitled "Why Some Babies Don't Sleep." 1 The authors of this article found that the most common problem causing parents' concern was the child's waking at night. In their comments on the result of their research they wrote that some of the advice which frequently comes from health visitors, welfare clinics and general practitioners is not always very helpful and may actually have little real experience behind it. The minimum research, they report, which is done on this problem compared with matters concerning hospital care of sick babies, is, as a matter of fact, striking. "What has emerged from the research," they continue, "has not filtered through very effectively to those who need it."

What do parents have to say on this subject? A young mother wrote, "I deeply feel that our baby should be with us during the night. However, she has a bedroom of her own. Why? I do not know. I wish it could be different. We frequently have such difficulty in getting her to sleep without crying. I wish I knew what to do."

I was this mother, writing about our first child when she was nine months old. As a new parent it never occurred to me then to take her into bed with my husband and me.

By the time our second child was born, we had talked about this subject with various people. To our great surprise, we found many who "confessed" to taking their children into bed with them. They did so usually because of a child's sleeping problem or because it seemed to result in a happier family.

Many of these parents tended to express a belief in other more natural approaches to childrearing, such as natural childbirth, breastfeeding, and natural family planning. They felt that family co-sleeping, either children with their parents or siblings with siblings, fit logically in the philosophy of this natural approach.

This book brings to light the experiences and opinions of those parents who have their children sleep with them. it also presents additional supportive medical, historical and cultural data. Co-family sleeping is advocated here as a way to solve bed and nighttime problems with children, create a closer bond within the family, and give children a greater sense of security. It supports a concept in childrearing that has been practiced throughout the ages, throughout the world.


1 Bernal, Richard. "Why Some Babies Don't Sleep," New Society, 2-28-74.

Excerpted from The Family Bed: An Age Old Concept in Child Rearing, Avery Publishing Co., 1987.

Reprinted with permission by the author.


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