"This Bed is Just Right!” by Celeste Behe

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Once upon a time, our bedroom was a little bit famous, although admittedly not quite as well-known as the Three Bears’ chambers.

It all started when our son Benedict, now 23, was still an infant, and his sister Grace was 17 months old. I was involved at the time in La Leche League, an international organization that promotes breastfeeding and natural mothering. It was at a League meeting that I first learned of the practice of “co-sleeping,” in which parents and their children share a sleeping area, or “family bed.”

The concept of the family bed appealed to me right away. I had never recovered from the trauma I experienced when, on the advice of my pediatrician, I let Grace “cry it out” at night when she was only six months old. Hearing her wails from my bed down the hall, I had cried along with Grace and uttered rude words against Dr. Fiendish, the Scourge of Babyhood and Giver of Evil Counsel, for five nights running.

I was enthralled by the idea of being close to my children both day and night. Being separated from them during the dark hours of the night was hard for me. Besides, I was the sleep-deprived mother of a demanding nursling. I had trouble staying conscious enough to keep a grip on Baby while breastfeeding him in a chair at 3:00am. I developed a real empathy for the poor sleepy apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, who were unable to “watch one hour.” All I had to do was nurse for ten minutes on each side while watching a “Gomer Pyle” rerun, and still I couldn’t trust myself not to snooze out and relinquish Baby to the forces of gravity.

Sleeping in a family bed would allow me to be with my children continuously, and would eliminate the need for me to get out of bed to breastfeed the baby. Naturally, I was eager to try out a family bed, although my husband Mike was cool to the idea. But Mike relented once he realized that I had the backing of a dozen militantly maternal women from the local La Leche League chapter. He knew that resistance would be futile.

We devised our first family bed by lowering the side of Ben’s crib and securing the open crib side to the side of Mike’s and my queen-size bed. I loved the convenience of having only to reach over to the crib to pick up Ben for a nursing. But Ben would, to my dismay, often wake up while he was being transferred back to his crib after a nighttime feeding. So it wasn’t long before I found reasons to breastfeed Ben while lying in my bed, and if both Ben and I fell asleep during the nursing session, well, there was no harm done. Needless to say, the crib soon stopped serving its original purpose, and was instead appropriated for use as a changing table and handy catch-all for baby goods. Meanwhile, Grace was very content to spend her nights snuggled in with Mom, Dad, and her beloved baby brother.

This lovely arrangement hadn’t lost its appeal by the time Clare was born 18 months later; there was no doubt that the new baby would be joining the rest of her family in bed. But the practical question was, where would we put her? Even a newborn takes up some room, albeit a small amount. And, for safety reasons, Clare would need her own space, free of pillows and heavy blankets.

It was at this point that Mike and I made a decision that scandalized the grandparents, but earned two thumbs up from La Leche League. We went out and bought a double bed to place alongside our queen-size bed, thus equipping our bedroom with wall-to-wall mattress space.

Our family bed was nearly perfect. Clare was free to nurse throughout the night, and often did so. Ben liked to sleep in the family bed by night, and use it by day as a comfortable surface on which to practice headstands. It was just the thing to accommodate Grace, whose favorite sleeping position was parallel to the headboard. And the family bed provided plenty of getaway space for the parent who didn’t want his torso used as a foot warmer.
There were two small disadvantages. One was that bed-making necessitated crawling across an expanse of mattress and trying to jam sheets into barely-there cracks between bed and wall. It was such a chore that, by the time I was six months pregnant with Leo, I had given up on bed-making altogether. The other drawback was that we had to keep our bedroom door closed when the furnace man came to clean the oil tank, or the plumber stopped in to repair a pinhole leak. I mean, how do you explain attachment parenting to a beefy guy wearing a tool belt?

Our family bed became the center of our home. We’d gather there every night for family rosary, and occasionally, for a discussion or “family council.” On rainy days when the kids were confined indoors, our bed was the site of raucous play sessions. And it was while seated on the family bed with the kids lolling around him that Mike, over a span of many months, read aloud the entire Narnia series plus the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Word of our family’s unusual sleeping – and living – arrangement spread throughout LLL. I got used to hearing, “Oh, you’re the lady with the wall-to-wall beds!” when I met people at League functions. I wrote and talked often about our family bed. While visiting family in the Bronx, a group leader I’d never met even asked me to be co-leader of her New York City LLL group.

But that was then. Three of our four daughters are now old enough to have children of their own, and four of our five sons could whump any burly repairman before he could say “Dr. Spock.” Our present bed is an unexceptional king-size bed. It can, and often does, accommodate seven-year-old Gerard in addition to Mike and me. Eleven-year-old Helen will also occasionally join us the three of us in bed, and when she does, Mom’s sleeping space ends up the approximate size and shape of a yardstick. It has been a long time since I’ve had a nursling beside me, although I still have bittersweet dreams about breastfeeding a baby that I know I can no longer have.

Our family bed has been a blessing. It has given us restful nights and pleasant memories. It has fostered a sense of security in our children, encouraged siblings to be more protective of one another, and strengthened family ties.

Isn’t that what “happily ever after” is all about?

Copyright 2010 Celeste Behe

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About Author

A writer, speaker, and the mother of nine homeschooled children, Celeste Behe has a rare perspective on parenting, family life, and the importance of keeping up with the laundry. If asked to describe herself in twenty words or less, Celeste will say that she’s a humorist, logophile, calligrapher, nostalgist, and Bronx-born Calabrese who walks by faith and talks with her hands. A recovering Mompostor™, Celeste is on a mission to help moms overcome their insecurities, take back their vocation, and save the world!

14 Comments

  1. Celeste, thanks for sharing this lovely column – we never completely had a “family bed” but did often have two little boys with us – I’m wondering at what point the kiddos in your house would transition to their own rooms, and if you ever had any problems with that move? Thanks again!

  2. With our 3 we never had a family bed. We did have an open-door policy early on and later a knock first policy. All seemed to work out well.

  3. I relate so much to your experience Celeste, thanks for reviving happy memories!
    I am a devotee of attachment parenting as well, and the family bed began when I brought my first child, a colicky baby girl, home from a difficult birth. What a blessing it was to us as a family to co-sleep!
    We still have our youngest, 8 year old Christina with Down syndrome using our backs as foot warmers/ kickplates. I think it has given her a security that she needs to deal with school during the day. On
    Saturday mornings, we are joined by the 13 year old girl, for a fun family time, usually erupting into tickle fights. and we pray the rosary on the bed before sending the older girls to our rooms.
    I too spent many tense moments trying to keep my wall-to-wall bed a secret from the world, until, when, during a moms group, I let it slip. All five moms admitted, that, in one form or another, they had a family bed too!

  4. Thank you Celeste!!! It’s great to read about other Catholic mom’s who enjoy a family bed. It has been a blessing for my family and I really couldn’t imagine it any other way. No cribs to buy, no nursery to decorate, etc… I think this is really where attachment parenting starts! God Bless you!!!! =)

  5. Lisa, only one of our children ever made a “clean break” from the family bed, and that child was Ben. He was three and a half when we finished setting up a bedroom for the boys. We told Ben, “Here’s a nice little bed just for you. Would you like to sleep in it?” Ben picked up the pillow from “his” spot on the family bed, walked out of the bedroom, and never looked back. Most of the other children, however, “weaned” themselves from the family bed over a period of time, continuing to divide their nighttime hours between their own beds and the family bed until they were upwards of five years old. We’ve never needed to coax a child to leave the family bed, although there were times when Mike would have done so if I hadn’t stopped him 😉

  6. Michelle, thanks for mentioning the money-saving aspect of the family bed! It’s amazing how much unnecessary stuff is usually put into a separate nursery for Baby. Employing a family bed is a good way to go green 🙂

  7. A very interesting and enjoyable column — thanks for sharing, Celeste!

    We have not done a family bed (though we had the boys in bassinets in our room when they were small). I was wondering if there is any impact on the marriage, with co-sleeping? I say that because given all the demands of parenting a young family, my husband and I already feel like ships passing in the night, so having a zone that is “just us” has been extremely important for maintaining closeness. What has the experience of co-sleeping parents been, in this regard?

    I am also wondering if moms who work outside the home find co-sleeping harder than moms who do not. I have a pretty unforgiving morning schedule (a teacher with a long commute & no wiggle-room in terms of start time) so I never even felt tempted to try co-sleeping, as I knew the only way I could make it through the day at work was to claim some sleep space to myself. But other professional moms might have felt differently, and I’d be interested to hear.

  8. Glad this was a system that worked well with your family. The impact on the marriage is very important and I fear the couple soon loses it’s coupleness without private time. Not sure how other babies come about with such a non-private sleeping set up.

    Nursing all three of our children,17 months for the last one, I enjoyed the quiet times in the rocking chair and my husband was able to be part of it, too by getting the baby for me, then getting a good night sleep as the breadwinner of the family. Our three children never shared the bed with us and are all very good independent sleepers, maybe too good as teenagers!

  9. Ginny and Ebeth, I guess the family bed has encouraged my husband and me to look for alternative places in which we could share “together” time. But it’s hardly been a chore; in fact, the creativity we’ve had to exercise in finding kid-free zones has kept things interesting. We also would make the most of nighttime hours after the children were all asleep, which really wasn’t hard to do with a little prudence and a lot of judiciously placed pillows and blankets. Finally, I’d often arrange a date night by serving a romantic dinner on a card table in our bedroom, while the baby slept in a pram outside the locked door and the older children were occupied with some extra-special diversion. I can say with all honesty that our marital relationship hasn’t been negatively affected by the family bed, and it may even have benefited from it. For one thing, it’s hard to “let the sun set on your anger” when one of your kids insists on a ”group hug” at bedtime.

  10. Thanks to you, Celeste, for responding and for your kind words about my blog! I really appreciate it.

    I also wanted to say that I really like how you shared your co-sleeping experience and what it meant to you without implying that every family has to do the same. I am always kind of hesitant to read articles that are pro-attachment parenting because often they seem almost judgmental of those families who don’t . You gave readers a chance to learn from your positive experiences with humor and with grace, and that is such a help to other moms. Thank you & happy early Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  11. Celeste, We moms are all in this crazy world together and each family has it’s own set of what works and what doesn’t. Discussions like these help us to learn from each other and even try new things.

    Thanks for sharing your way of family with us, I must admit I’ve learned a thing or two! Glad you stopped by the pillars, I appreciate your generous words!

    Blessings to you and yours,

  12. Pingback: This Bed is Just Right! (Catholic Mom, 2010)

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