Should parents allow their children to sleep in bed with them?

Ellen's children in bed

Ellen's children in bed - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 Children

If you had another baby, where would it sleep?” asked my daughter.

She has become rather fixated with the idea that she might – emphasis on the might – one day have another sibling.

“Well we don’t know if we will have another baby but if we do it will sleep in our room at first,” I said. “And then you or your brother would have to share.”

“If the baby was a girl, she could sleep with me,” she suggested, her eyes shining at the thought of a replacement for the dog (who, rather unsurprisingly, has recently rebelled at being dressed in a baby vest and nappy and wheeled about in her doll’s pram).

“Nobody seems to sleep in their own rooms in this house anyway,” I replied.

The truth is I can’t remember a single undisturbed night since I became a mother six and a half years ago.

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Of course there have been some understandable reasons for our sleeplessness - newborn night feeds, nappy changes, burping, toddler potty training, coughs, colds, temperatures, tears and tantrums.

But there has also been a great deal of parental bed sharing for which I can only blame on being too tired to do anything other than take the path of least resistance.

Now I’m pretty sure I’m not the only woman who complied a list of things I would never do once I had children.

Here were my 10 (Pre- Parenthood) Commandments:

1 I would never give my child a dummy. That was my first one. My reasons had something to do with dependency, speech problems or wonky teeth I think. But after weeks of rocking, soothing, singing and begging I finally relented and popped one in my son’s screaming mouth. It was the closest thing to magic that I’ve ever seen.

2 I would not use the TV as a babysitter. When the time comes, I thought, I will allow them supervised access to educational programmes for 15 minutes a day. But God bless Cbeebies. Once its resource had been tapped into there was no turning back. Frankly it’s the only thing that gives me a bit of peace and quiet.

3 My kids would never eat fast food. I’ll be far too busy cooking healthy nutritious meals from scratch every evening to venture anywhere near a MacDonalds, I thought. Now I am pretty good at sticking to this one and for the most part, my children eat well. But there are times when I just can’t be bothered to force-feed them vegetable ragu. And they don’t call them Happy Meals for nothing.

4 I would never use bribery. I’ll find more constructive parenting methods than this, I said to myself. Then I discovered things happen much faster with incentives.

5 I wouldn’t take my children out with a dirty face or messy hair. I used to sneer at mothers in supermarkets with filthy children. Now I understand that snotty noses, chocolate smeared mouths and tangled hair is de rigueur when you are under four. Which leads me to…

6 I would not spit and wipe. My mother used to do it to me. Spit on a hanky and wipe my face clean. Gross. And yet, once I became a parent I realised the sheer genius of this instant cleaning method.

7 I wouldn’t allow sweets. Guess what? Kids will do anything for them. What kind of mother is going to turn down that kind of opportunity for bribery (see rule four)?

8 I would never let a child of mine wee in the street. Mid potty training I quickly realised that when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.

9 I wouldn’t bore everyone with talk about my kids. I write a column about it now so I’ve clearly failed miserably on that score.

And finally….

10 I would never allow my children into my bed.

With my firstborn I resisted and resisted, sitting up to feed her at night and then carefully transferring her back to her Moses basket. I then moved her to her own room and she slept, well, like a baby.

Then, when she was two I fell pregnant with my son. It was a difficult pregnancy because I suffered from extreme exhaustion. And it was around this time that my daughter started creeping down the corridor and under my duvet. I just didn’t have the energy to stop her. And she has done it ever since.

Recent research has revealed that in the UK, 40% of parents share a bed with their children.

But is it unhealthy or do children benefit from that closeness late at night?

This is a tricky one.

Some parenting websites, psychologists and doctors say it is something you should discourage. That children need to learn independence, to settle themselves, coping mechanisms.

Others claim it will do no lasting damage and that in fact, it can help reduce their stress levels.

Now my son suffers from night terrors – horrible sweating, shaking seizures that wake him disorientated and afraid in the dark. And my daughter regularly has nightmares – slightly different in that they are brought on by her vivid imagination.

Naturally they both turn to me for a cuddle and I would be heartless indeed not to comfort them.

But I have to admit, with four in a bed most nights, it’s becoming a challenge to get enough kip. My husband, in particular, is getting increasingly annoyed.

The other night our son joined us at midnight and our daughter at 3am. We were all snuggled up together, dozing off when there was a loud bang.

Both the kids sat bolt upright in bed.

“What’s that?” my daughter whispered, fresh with the memory of her latest nightmare.

“Ouch,” came a voice.

We peered over the edge of the bed to see my husband in a heap on the floor.

“So much for your bad dreams,” he said crossly. “The only thing that goes bump in the night round here is me.”

Find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup