My daughter, Lily, has always been an anxious kid. She could speak a full sentence at 18 months, but refused to talk to most people who weren’t her parents. She cried and screamed when she started preschool, and is exceptionally nervous when we go somewhere new or when she has to meet new people.
She’s been co-sleeping with me, in my bed, for over a year now. She’s 11. Some may wonder why one would choose co-sleeping with older kids.
Well, up until two years ago, Lily and her little brother shared a room in our tiny two-bedroom townhouse. We moved just before her 9th birthday, about four months into the Coronavirus pandemic. The kids each got their own rooms. While her brother has adapted well to sleeping on his own, she has not.
Lily did OK at first, but the house makes noises and her room has weird shadows. Then her beloved hamster, Snowflake, got sick and she couldn’t sleep for worry over the rodent. After bedtime, she usually stayed in her bed, listening for me. When she heard me come up to bed, she stood at the door to my room looking sad and forlorn.
I always invited her to cuddle in with me, where I would ask what was bothering her. At first, it was just Snowflake’s illness and eventual death. Later, she talked about kids at school and other kid-level worries. Sometimes, she couldn’t put it into words.
I invited her to just get in my bed when she came to my room. She didn’t have to look sad or even have any particular worry to talk about. We settled into a comfortable position—facing each other with our right hands clasped together in the style of people who have a secret handshake. She came night after night.
I’m sure every expert out there will say I shouldn’t be co-sleeping with my older child.
Nights she stays in her own bed are rare. When I come out of the ensuite after brushing my teeth, she is usually there, cocooned in the duvet in the middle of the bed.
My husband carries her back to her own room when he finally comes to bed. He hates this ritual. The more nights he finds her there, the grumpier he gets about her co-sleeping with me. He sometimes lectures on how it hurts his back to carry her to bed, how she’s too old for this and how she needs to do better. But I am happy to have her with me.
I tell him to just wake her up to walk to her own bed. She doesn’t fully wake and still gets a good sleep. Let him grump. These moments with my firstborn are fleeting, and she will soon enough be a teenager who won’t want to be seen anywhere near me and our relationship will fracture.
We co-slept with both kids when they were babies, and I think Lily misses the closeness. Ours is not a family that talks much. I know I have terrible weaknesses as a parent, but I am glad Lily still feels safe with me. We have tried putting on relaxing music in her bedroom. We even bought her a weighted blanket and blackout blinds to help her sleep—but she still does best co-sleeping with me.
I’m sure every expert out there will say I shouldn’t be co-sleeping with my older child. Many people said we shouldn’t co-sleep when she was a baby, and then a toddler. I’m sure that some day she will grow out of it, but I hope it isn’t soon.
To be clear, she is perfectly capable of sleeping without me. She stays at her grandparents and sleeps alone. She has been to and has hosted slumber parties without issue. On an ordinary night at home though, she feels best with me. When she does get in my bed, we don’t usually discuss what is worrying her anymore. We get in to our handshake pose and she’s asleep within minutes.
When she’s busy at school, climbing club and with her friends, I don’t see her much. And our days are often full of chores, violin practice, homework and other things. Bedtime is when there are no more tasks. We’re free of those responsibilities and there is just the two of us.
I tell her she’s my favorite girl ever, kiss her forehead and hold her hand. She relaxes and falls asleep quickly. Safe and comfortable, right where she wants to be—co-sleeping with me. I don’t want this to ever change.
Small things can result in enough stresses to keep her up at night. We rearranged her bedroom furniture and she came crying to me that it all felt wrong. After a few days she got used to it, but she still comes to sleep with me.
As she moves into the teenage years, her stresses will become bigger. If she feels most comfortable talking to me well past bedtime like this, she’s welcome to come. I will take these stolen moments of closeness with my daughter when I can get them. She will one day grow up and move away, and I won’t be as important in her life anymore.
I always say this isn’t about me, it’s about her: a child living through a stressful time and seeking out comfort. But in some ways, it is also about me. My parents were good enough parents, but I would have never in a million years gone to my mother for comfort like this. Lily needs a safe place, and I am happy to be that for her as long as she needs me to be.
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