Recently, famous model-actress, Milla Jovovich, received wide media exposure for her views on co-sleeping. Co-sleeping is code for parent-child bed-sharing.
She and her British film producer husband sleep in the same bed as their daughters – every night. One daughter is 7 year’s old, the other just a few months old.
Ukranian-born Milla believes that her family is more connected because they all share a bed. She also contends that her daughter is much better behaved as a result.
Milla can’t understand why we in the West are so “disconnected” with our children, and why we think co-sleeping isn’t always a good idea. Model Milla takes it even further. She says she’s inspired by African parents because they co-sleep with their children.
The one thing that Milla and I share, is an interest in co-sleeping. In fact, in my recently published book, “BUT I’M NOT TIRED!” I discuss co-sleeping at some length, because it’s such a common problem in my child and adolescent psychology practice.
A few of Milla’s views about co-sleeping are spot-on. First, it’s true that there are strong cultural influences that determine whether or not parents co-sleep with their children. Second, she’s correct that co-sleeping isn’t generally the “Western way.” Third, it’s true that co-sleeping is a matter of personal choice.
As for cultural influences that inspire her, she’s right that in developing countries, it’s common for parents to co-sleep with newborns. Toddlers are normally cast out from the parental bed as soon as the next newborn comes along and takes the spot. Unlike Milla’s daughter, they’re seldom in the parental bed at seven years of age.
When there is space in the home for more than one bedroom, as is often the case in the West, co-sleeping is more a matter of personal choice. Milla certainly hasn’t let sleeping dogs lie on this point. And, why shouldn’t she break the silence on co-sleeping? While Western culture values individual sleeping arrangements from birth, there’s evidence to show that up to 70% of white American parents have recently co-slept with their child or children, and the numbers appear to be increasing.
A few of these parents agree with Milla that the “Western way” is “disconnected.” Like her, they believe that co-sleeping is a more natural, kinder arrangement that improves parent-child attachment.
Yet, while they’re entitled to their opinions, they’re a bit short on facts. For example, if parents meet their baby’s needs, attachment occurs at around 7 months of age, with or without co-sleeping.
Also, Milla’s point that co-sleeping has caused her seven year old to be more respectful and agreeable, has no expert support. The good behaviour has more to do with the luck of the draw genetics (that is, her temperament), and daytime parenting, than with night-time co-sleeping. Milla’s newborn may just prove this point one day. Even with co-sleeping, she may not be as eager to please her parents as is her sister.
Regardless, the fact that Milla’s happy with the co-sleeping arrangement means it’s fine. It’s not a moral or psychological issue, so it’s best not to make valued judgments either way.
On that note, there are no known studies to show that an individual sleeping arrangement is harmful. Sleeping arrangements are not about disconnection or attachment or compliance or respect. They’re about what works for the family.
And, unlike Milla, for many parents, the co-sleeping arrangement doesn’t work well at all. For them, it’s disruptive because, although their children may co-sleep like logs, sleeping children are rolling logs. So, parents are not only constantly awakened through the night, they wake up exhausted, night after night. Needless to say, exhausted parents are not good for children.
Why do parents co-sleep then? When parents co-sleep with their children because they can’t get them to sleep any other way, it’s called reactive co-sleeping. This means that it’s not a lifestyle choice, but it feels as if it’s the only way out.
In the short-term, co-sleeping is easier, but it rarely works in the long-term. So, if you don’t enjoy co-sleeping, it may be better to help your children face their fears. And, instead of succumbing to children’s sleep refusal, it’s a good idea to set limits for bedtime and sleep time.
There are at least 5 more issues to consider before you decide to co-sleep with your child:
- Co-sleeping with infants has been associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- There’s a taboo around co-sleeping with older kids. What will happen if Milla has a show in Milan? Will her seven-year-old daughter continue to co-sleep with her dad?
- What if the Jovovich’s have more children? If four in the bed’s not a crowd, five could be a tipping point.
- In my experience, many families regret co-sleeping, down the track. As their co-sleeping logs grow bigger, parental sleep gets more disrupted.
- The co-sleeping habit is hard to break. There’s no doubt that co-sleeping once in a blue moon is fine, because it won’t create a habit. I co-slept with my children, in their beds, very infrequently. I made the choice on those rare nights when they were very upset or very excited about a big event. Say, their grandfather’s death, or a holiday beginning the next day. And, as soon as they were asleep, I’d leave.
At what age, then, should you stop co-sleeping and get your kids to sleep independently? I suggest that, if you’re not up for co-sleeping as a lifestyle choice, it’s best not to start it in the first place.
On the other hand, if your child is firmly in the habit of co-sleeping with you, there are strategies in my book, BUT I’M NOT TIRED! that will help you to resolve the problem. Who knows? One day even Milla might want some ideas on how to break her children’s co-sleeping habit.
Names, locales, people and incidents have been fictitiously created by the author. Any resemblance to actual people, places or individuals is completely coincidental.