I celebrated my son's sixth month by unwrapping an ageing family heirloom. Living in Japan at the time, my mother shipped from England a Moses basket - the very one that I inhabited pre-solid-digits - hoping that her first grandson might warm to a little piece of family history when he set off for his own bedroom. I showed my wife the lovingly preserved offering, she made the appropriate cooing noises, and I don't think I've seen the Moses basket since.
My son first slept in his own room when he was five. In the intervening years, my wife and I did a lot of talking, plenty of arguing and a fair amount of researching. To my wife, born to a fairly normal Japanese family, the idea of him sleeping away from her side was nothing short of unthinkable. To my horror, she explained that she hadn't left her parents' futon, or its vicinity, until she was well beyond her sixth year, and she had every intention of seeing that our son followed a similar trajectory.
I was appalled, but there was very little I could do. I wasn't about to pull the child from my wife's arms and plonk him in the other room alone, with each one wailing for the other, and so I bit my tongue, sulked a lot, and - I'm afraid to say - felt a mild resentment to the poor mite as I stepped over his mini futon into my own each night.
It's easy to suggest that my frustrations were related to our privacy as a couple, a problem envisaged stretching into an unknown future, but I'd be doing myself a mild disservice - I'm not solely sex-driven, after all. No, I remember feeling nervous, mainly that I'd roll over and squash him, or that my heavy snoring may deprive him of his sleep (as much as his crying disturbed mine - give and take, really). If anything, it seemed like a downright dangerous idea, and my mother obviously felt the same. As soon as she heard, I was urged to change my wife's mind. My son, only six months of age, had become the catalyst in a cultural bedtime war.
It was through research that sense finally won out. Unable to get through a day without gazing forlornly at the Moses basket and wondering what might have been, I began looking for articles on the subject of co-sleeping and found that there was very little evidence to support my fears. While some studies have suggested that a high percentage of cot deaths occur in a co-sleeping situation, a review of the evidence by the NHS points out that these incidences occur when the child is exposed to additional risk factors, such as the parent's prior use of alcohol or drugs. In fact, a key 2004 study found that, "routinely sharing the parents' bed in infancy has been associated with greater self-reliance and social independence at preschool age than a history of solitary sleeping".
I had always been able to see the obvious traditional reasons, from a Japanese perspective, for co-sleeping. In fairly cramped confines, floor space for futons was limited and so it seemed perfectly natural for the child's futon to be pulled close to the mother's. As I gradually let go of my own traditional mindset, I realised too that I was the only young father amongst my friends getting a good night's sleep. With my son within arm's reach, my wife was able to breastfeed without having to go anywhere, and comforting the child was a simple matter of stroking his brow. Given where we lived and how we slept anyway, I began seeing co-sleeping as a very positive thing.
Even returning to UK, back to beds raised from the floor, there was no excuse. We were able to pick up a miniature wooden bed from Warren Evans that sat comfortably alongside our own, and the process continued just as comfortably. Better still, the mini bed was small enough that rolling onto it would cause an adult to wake up before anything untoward happened to the child (perhaps the worry I found most difficult to shake).
Inevitably, I ended up passing the articles and studies on to my mother and apologising to my wife for my stubbornness. There were compromises, of course - that we'd try to get our kids into their own rooms well before their sixth years, and that we'd make sure we found time for each other - but with our daughter now at the age of four, and our son at nine (and long since in his own room), I'm happy to report that we've survived and seem to be comfortably functional, which is more than I can say for that old Moses basket.
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