For Elizabeth and Tom Boyce, the struggle to get some shut-eye each night night can be a battle.
Their challenge: a clan of five, rambunctious kids — ages 1 to 11 — dealing with nightmares, shifting beds, bathroom breaks, anxiety and nursing needs, not to mention Tom’s disability issues that require care.
By the time morning rolls around, Boyce writes on her blog, the couple’s bedroom ends up “covered in palettes full of sleeping children. It got old.”
Their solution: A giant slumber party of sorts, with the entire family co-sleeping in the same bed.
Not just any bed, but a nocturnal mattress fort that the family created using two child-size beds from IKEA in the master bedroom.
“I am for sure not the only one doing it,” Boyce, a professional photographer based in Plano, Tex., told ABC affiliate WFAA. “Honestly I think a lot of us do it without knowing that we’re doing it. A lot of people say, ‘My kids come into my bed at midnight; that doesn’t count.’ Yeah it does. Your kid is in your bed — it counts.”
A photo posted on Boyce’s Facebook page of the unconventional sleeping arrangement has been shared more than 3,000 times, drawing equally fierce criticism and praise, while also sparking a larger debate about healthy parenting. For some, the idea of many loved ones sharing a bed each night epitomizes the beauty of the parent-child bond. For others, the tangled mass of familial flesh is vaguely unsettling, evoking the kind of strong reactions typically reserved for parents who breastfeed older children or families that bathe together.
“That’s insane,” Alexandra Martin wrote. “Kids should have their own space just as much as parents should …”
“I love a lot about attachment parenting,” Shannon Lynch Altamura, “but co-sleeping with 9 and 11 year olds? that’s very extreme…”
But Genevieve Anne White, and hundreds of others who flooded the post with commends, disagreed.
“Just because it doesn’t fit your family doesn’t mean it is unhealthy, nor that it is unnatural,” she wrote. “Check out many other cultures where it is normal to sleep with family most of your life.”
Boyce told the Huffington Post that she’s been taken aback by the strong reactions to the family’s sleeping solution.
“I mean, I guess I can see if you didn’t know our family, it might seem strange,” she said. “But honestly, we are just loving, hard-working parents who are doing whatever it takes to raise kids to be loving, compassionate and productive adults in a crazy world.”
The communal sleeping arrangement began six months ago, when the family’s sleep schedule was “a mess,” Boyce writes on her blog. Now, they fall asleep in waves, beginning with the baby and toddler at 7:30 p.m., followed by another round of children at 8:30 and 9:30, according to Boyce. By 10:30 or 11, mom and dad have joined them, and the entire family sleeps simultaneously.
If some gets up at night, does it disturb everyone else?
“Everyone has easy access in and out of their bed,” Boyce writes. “They get up to pee and get a drink and get back in without an issue. Even the baby waking up crying almost never wakes anyone. Tom snores, but well, ear plugs do the trick. And it would be sort of rude to make the husband sleep in his own room!”
In an interview with thebump.com, James McKenna, a professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame and director of the Mother-Baby Behaviroal Sleep Laboratory, said co-sleeping is an option that works well for some families.
“Society and people assume that it’s okay to judge co-sleeping, separate-surface co-sleeping and bed sharing,” says McKenna. “Parents have the right to decide what is right for them, what’s safe for them, what works best for them and baby, and what is the best practice they will follow,” he said. “If you feel comfortable doing it — and you’ve made as many safety precautions as you can — trust your intuition that this is the right sleeping arrangement for your family.”
Jennifer Waldburger, co-author of “The Sleepeasy Solution: The Exhausted Parent’s Guide to Getting Your Child to Sleep From Birth to Age 5, told WFAA that co-sleeping can work, but should not infringe upon a married couple’s intimacy.
“I do think it’s important for a family who is co-sleeping to have a reassessment every couple of months to make sure that it’s still working for you [and] to make sure that everybody is sleeping well that you’re getting your couple connect time,” she said.
As far as the “couple connect time” is concerned, the Boyces have solutions for getting away from their kids.
“There are other rooms in the house,” Tom Boyce told WFAA. “They [the kids] can come and go anytime they want, but as long as it’s working well and they’re getting the sleep they need, then we’re not going to change it.”
Thus far, both parents said, the arrangement is working well. Boyce told Huffington Post her children are better rested, as are she and her husband. She noted that the family’s co-sleeping arrangement has no timeline for now.
“Who knows how long it will last?” she said. “They may want to move back out in a month! If that is the case, we will just separate the beds and try something else. No big deal. Whatever helps everyone sleep is what we do.”