Tuesday, November 28, 2006

She did it! Dr. Sears was right.

When Gracie was an infant, I made a decision to try co-sleeping, or as it is often referred to, a family bed. After doing a substantial amount of research, mostly reading articles on Attachment Parenting by Dr. William Sears, I decided to give this somewhat-controversial approach to sleep a shot. Basically, co-sleeping is a safe way in which a child shares a bed with his or her parents. According to Dr. Sears, this approach strengthens the bond between parent and child and can even help in the prevention of SIDS, as a parent is more aware of their child’s breathing patterns if the child is right there in bed with them. Most of the principles of Attachment Parenting appealed (and still do appeal) to me, mostly because there is a strong focus on the bond between parent and child and it seems like a more peaceful, nurturing way to parent.

Well, naturally, my decision to share a bed with Gracie was met with some raised eyebrows and criticism. Many non-Western cultures have embraced co-sleeping, but for some reason, it is looked down upon here. It is seen as coddling the child and as being unhealthy somehow, and the few parents that I know that have owned up to co-sleeping have seemed ashamed about it. I’ve found myself on the defensive several times when discussing this topic with other people, including close friends. Co-sleeping just seemed like the right option for Gracie and me—after all, it’s just her and me, and I work 9-10 hours per day, so any minute that I can spend with her is precious to me, and co-sleeping allows me to spend tons of extra time with her. It also enables me to respond quickly to her needs during the night, and provides tons of cuddle time with my little one.

Of course, one of my concerns when making this decision was how to bring an end to our co-sleeping arrangement when she grew too old for it. Dr. Sears’ articles say that most children that share a bed with their parents usually grow out of it between ages 2 and 3, and at that point they want to move into their own bed without much of a struggle. I always thought of this as somewhat of a pipe dream—I was certain there would be a struggle as soon as I even brought the idea up to Gracie. (Isn’t most everything a struggle with a toddler?) But I knew it had to be done sooner or later.

So, I moved Gracie’s “big girl” bed into my bedroom a few weeks ago. I started off by just letting her lay on the bed during her waking hours, then I started moving her over into her new bed after she had fallen asleep in my bed. After a few nights, she started to sleep in her big bed for the whole night after I moved her. Last night was a breakthrough for her. She didn’t even ask to lie down in my bed. At bedtime, she gathered up her blankie and her little stuffed bunny and laid down in her bed and fell asleep shortly thereafter. I couldn’t believe it. There was no struggle, no fussing, and no whining. She slept there the whole night, and woke up this morning like nothing had changed.

Who was the person struggling with this? Me! After she fell asleep, I had to fight off every urge I had to pick her up and put her back in my bed, just for one more night. I woke up several times during the night to check on her, only to find her happily sawing logs. Having a bed all to myself suddenly after sharing one with Gracie for two and a half years made me feel incredibly lonely and lost, and very sad. When I woke up this morning, I was surprised at how much I had missed her during the night and I couldn’t wait for her to wake up so I could talk to her and cuddle with her.

I am so, so proud of her, though. I know there will probably be a few relapses, when she will want to come back in bed with me, but she took a big step last night. I talked to my dad (who, incidentally, supported my decision from the beginning), and he was able to remind me that this is just one of many, many big steps that Gracie will be taking from here on out. And, I guess I will just have to get used to having all that sleeping space to myself! Time to invest in some fluffy pillows…