A New York writer named Jonathan Daniel Stern, writing in the August 7, 2019, issue of the e-zine “Fatherly,” laments that co-sleeping has destroyed his marriage. As best as I can figure, Stern and his ersatz wife are still married and live under the same roof, but the marriage is gone, kaput, sacrificed to the co-sleeping demon. She sleeps in one bedroom, with the two kids; he sleeps in another bedroom, alone.
The Sterns have battled over the arrangement for as long as they’ve been parents. In the meantime, Mrs. Stern has collected reams of evidence to the effect that co-sleeping is good; Mr. Stern has collected a matching stack to the effect that co-sleeping is a destructive folly.
He is right, of course. Yes, there are studies “proving” that kids who co-sleep with their parents are as well-adjusted as kids who sleep in their own beds. So what? First, research in the so-called social sciences proves nothing. Second, if kids who don’t co-sleep are as well-adjusted as kids who do, then what is the point of co-sleeping? When all is said and done, the Stern marriage has failed for no good reason at all.
Co-sleeping was popularized by the 1976 book "The Family Bed" by Minnesota housewife and community activist Tine Thevenin. Since then, co-sleeping has contributed to countless divorces, including that of actress, author, and noted co-sleeping and attachment parenting advocate Mayim Bialik. From the start, when Thevenin’s book came out, I didn’t like the idea and began ranting against it in this column.
Thevenin pointed out that in certain other cultures, parent-child co-sleeping is the norm. I pointed out that the cultures in question — without exception, aboriginal — were still using stone tools and asked, “What is the sense of Twentieth Century (now Twenty-First, of course) American parents using Stone Age cultural practices as their model for doing anything?” I also pointed out that as the cultures in question move into modernity, parent-child co-sleeping is left behind and quickly forgotten. When a family can afford two bedrooms, the children sleep in one, the parents in the other.
The argument for co-sleeping consists, entirely, of emotional appeals. One article went so far as to accuse parents who did not co-sleep of abandoning their kids at bedtime, of inflicting upon them a form of psychological torture. That’s odd. Even when my mother was a single parent, I slept alone. It was not torture. It was my preference.
Some parents who co-sleep testify that their kids are happy and well-adjusted. OK, but that begs the question: Are parents who co-sleep able to assess their children’s social and emotional adjustment with any degree of objectivity? After all, objectivity requires a non-emotional approach to an issue and if these co-sleepers are anything, they are emotional.
After detailing the stress that his wife’s co-sleeping has put on their marriage, Mr. Stern seems contrite. He still believes that it is harmful to the child and “bombs the family,” but he then says that “had I realized sleeping together as a family surely beats sleeping alone forever, I might have surrendered my position before it was too late.”
No, Mr. Stern, you should not have surrendered your position. You are right. Your wife is wrong. (Yes, right and wrong do still and will forever exist!) She has responsibilities to the children, but she made a vow, a promise, to YOU, not them. The children do not come first. Neither do either of you. Your marriage comes first. It is, in fact, the most important thing in your children’s lives, which they won’t ever appreciate if you don’t pull yourselves back from the brink. It’s not too late.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.