New love, same bed-sharing arrangements? Co-sleeping can get complicated when a new partner enters the picture
The topic of co-sleeping is touchy, and it is one that continuously draws criticism among members of the parenting community. This is understandable, as leading organizations like the American Academy of Paediatrics have issued warnings that detail the health risks associated with co-sleeping.
This is not to say that many families don’t swear by the practice. In fact, in some cultures, it is the norm and some parents have lauded its benefits, including being more practical for night feeding and encouraging a parent-child bond.
“I’ve always known the risks associated with co-sleeping so it was never in my plans. But when I had my first child, I was a single mom and it was just easier to let her sleep in my bed,” says Pamela Mayer, a mom of two kids under 5. “The dynamic worked for us and I made sure to be extra-careful. To me, the pros just outweighed the cons.”
Mayer walked a thin line by deciding to co-sleep with her two children, and the line got thinner when her new partner joined the mix. “When my partner and I were ready to start having sleepovers with each other, my first child was 2 and it wasn’t as easy as I thought to integrate this with her.”
Because co-sleeping involves something as personal as sharing a bed, co-sleeping with a stepparent can be a sensitive and complex issue. While some kids may benefit from an added sense of comfort and security, others may struggle to accept a different family routine.
Mayer tells Yahoo Life that she could tell that her child was uncomfortable with the idea of someone else being included in their nighttime routine. “Before this, I had worked to get them acquainted with each other and my daughter comfortable with him," she says. "At first, she was resistant to the idea of him being present when I read her a bedtime story or kissed her goodnight.”
Switching up family routines can be detrimental to a child’s well-being. Routines build the family dynamic and they help give children a sense of control over their environment.
“In this matter, it is important to listen to and respect the child’s feelings,” says Crystal Jackson, a psychologist and head writer at The Truly Charming. “Some children may feel uncomfortable or unsafe sleeping close to a stepparent, while others may find comfort and security in it."
Jackson also adds that parents must take into account their child's individual needs and preferences. Mayer agrees, stating that listening to her daughter and giving her more control greatly helped the situation.
“I let her decide which side of the bed she wanted to sleep on and if she wanted my partner to wait in the living room while I tucked her in," Mayer says. "This greatly improved her attitude and after a few months, she was asking him to tuck her in.”
When addressing co-sleeping issues with a stepparent within a family setting, it is also important to establish clear boundaries and communicate them effectively. This often involves carefully discussing the child’s concerns and identifying potential solutions.
A potential solution could be establishing and creating distance between the stepparent and child on the bed during co-sleeping. It may also be helpful to establish a code word or signal that the child can use to indicate that they need space or want the stepparent to leave the room.
But while the child’s perspective is of utmost importance, it is also important to discuss a stepparent’s concerns. Reese Enoch was greatly uncomfortable with the idea of sharing a bed with her partner’s child.
“She was 2 at the time and I felt like that was old enough to sleep on her own,” she says. “Of course, a stepmom swooping in and trying to uproot the status quo is always going to be frowned upon, but I believed that my partner needed to set boundaries.”
This same issue popped up on Reddit, where a man’s complaints about his girlfriend’s daughter sparked some debate about controlling partners. Enoch tells Yahoo Life that she doesn’t believe she was being controlling.
“At the time, I didn’t have any kids of my own but I knew that I didn’t plan on co-sleeping with my future kids," she says. "But I understood that this was all my stepchild knew so I didn’t just rush in and make demands. My partner and I worked on transitioning her out of his bedroom before I was scheduled to move in.”
Another concern Enoch had was that the couple's sex life would plummet if they co-slept. “I know it sounds selfish but I believed that it would be inappropriate if we had sex in the same room she slept in.”
Enoch’s concern is valid, but this isn’t always the case. A 2021 review study shows that bed sharing doesn’t have a significant negative effect on "family functioning," and this includes sex between partners.
Experts say so too. Jilly Blankenship, a baby sleep consultant and neonatal nurse, tells Yahoo Life that it is still possible to have a sex life while co-sleeping with your child. It might feel especially inappropriate when a stepparent is in the mix, but she tells us that sex doesn’t always have to be in the bed. “If especially concerned, parents can always try a new, baby-free location. The sense of adventure and novelty just might give you the rush of hormones to revitalize your sex drive,” she says. “They can also change up the time of the day, like when one’s child is dropped off at the daycare or the babysitter arrives.”
While these are all possible solutions, sometimes co-sleeping with a stepparent just doesn’t work out. There may be underlying feelings of distrust from a child to a stepparent that may hinder this.
But sometimes, even with all the boundary setting and conversations, co-sleeping with a stepparent just doesn’t work out. There may be underlying feelings of distrust from a child to a stepparent that may hinder this.
This was the case for Andy Lewis, who is a stepmother. “When my partner and I were getting ready to move in together, we had a conversation with his child where we tried to explain everything," she shares. "Despite this, the first few weeks were miserable for everyone and we decided to take a different approach because it was obvious my partner’s child wasn’t happy.”
Lewis says that at the time, her stepchild was 3 and already too old to keep co-sleeping. “My partner recognized that it was time for her own bed so he spoke to her doctor," she adds. "He spent the next few months easing her into it so she wouldn’t feel replaced. It was hard at first but a few months later, we were all better for it.”
Jackson tells Yahoo Life that co-sleeping is a personal decision and not all blended families may find it beneficial or appropriate. Ultimately, she says, "parents need to weigh the pros and cons and make a decision that best aligns with the needs and well-being of the child and the family.”
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