Stop co-sleeping with the kids? We'll sleep on it

It feels natural now to sleep close to our kids, cuddling them and sharing stories, but when the arrangement stops working, we will know to make a change

Bedtime routines typically evoke scenes of putting a drowsy baby down in a cot, the glow of a night light casting shadows in the child's bedroom, a soothing lullaby playing in the background.

Our family's routine kicks into motion every day at about 9pm, when my two children - aged one and three - emerge from their bath, dripping wet.

They proceed to tear through the bedroom. Small, but no less terrifying, they are Godzillas clambering onto the family's mattress, jumping up and down like the little monsters they are.

A game of Monster Is Coming - my husband and I take turns being the monster (ironically) and everyone squeals - ensues, followed by reading time, during which the spare spouse struggles to fit them with diapers and pyjamas.

Then they get their milk bottles and we tuck them into bed.

This isn't quite as simple as it sounds.

Yesterday, tucking them in went something like this: I shape two huge "nests" out of pillows, lift the children into them and squawk like a seagull.

Then, to pleas of "Mummy seagull, my tummy is rumbling", I feed pretend worms into their open mouths. When they are "full", I tuck a blanket over them snugly.

Finally, I give them a goodnight kiss, flap my wings and glide gracefully out of the room. Later in the night, my husband and I crawl into bed with them.

Mid-squawk, I sometimes wonder if I have gone completely insane. Other parents do this too, right? They just don't talk about it.

Roars and carnage, however, do not seem to alarm anyone. The one thing that raises eyebrows, when I recount this story, is the bit about co-sleeping.

The decision to share a family bed crept up on us.

Initially, our firstborn slept in her own room. When the baby monitor sounded at night, we dragged our feet there to soothe her. If she did not stop crying, we took her out of the cot and rocked her to sleep.

This may have felt like the natural thing to do, but any sleep expert would tell you that it is a recipe for sleepless nights. They are right.

My daughter soon started waking multiple times a night. To survive this, my husband and I took turns sleeping on a mattress next to her cot, extending our arms in between the vertical slats to soothe her when she cried.

Soon, we figured that it was just easier for everyone if she moved into our room.

And it was. Each time she startled awake, she fell back asleep almost immediately, after feeling the warmth of our bodies next to her. It worked - she was sleeping and we were sleeping.

When our second baby came, he, too, started off in his own room. Now, depending on how the night is progressing, he sometimes sleeps with us too, in a cot next to the mattress. When he cries at night, we move him in with us for a cuddle.

This co-sleeping alarms friends and family. Some assume it's a transition phase and ask us when the children will be moving into their own rooms. Others are convinced we are spoiling them.

I soon discover, through research, that the topic is a rather controversial one.

Some experts believe that the family bed encourages trust, intimacy and bonding. Others think it stops children from learning to sleep on their own and hampers independence.

It is socially taboo, even. A poll last year found that nearly half of parents in Britain who co-sleep with their newborns lie about it.

Truth be told, I do find myself feeling a little uneasy when I tell people about our sleeping arrangements for the first time.

I am not quite sure why - perhaps because I think society generally perceives it as bad parenting.

Studies I have (albeit selectively) dug up, however, show otherwise.

Co-sleeping babies, it seems, grow up with higher self-esteem, less anxiety and become independent sooner. This may seem counter-intuitive, but apparently, such children feel more secure or attached to their parents this way and, as a result, become more independent.

And as renowned American paediatrician William Sears says, welcoming children into the family bed sends incredible messages that say "you are special to us, day and night".

I think this sums up exactly why we haven't put an end to co-sleeping. We find that it pulls the family together in a way that many other activities cannot.

Sleeping together allows for countless hours of cuddling, pillow fights and sharing of stories.

It also seems natural to me that children would want to sleep close to their parents and vice versa.

As for the question of when all this will end, the answer is straightforward: When it stops working.

Throughout this whole raising-a-child-or-two gig, one thing I've learnt is that there is no manual or set of instructions on how to raise kids. Pretty much all aspects of the journey, at least for me, have been intuitive and unplanned.

Potty training happened when my daughter one day decided she wanted to use the toilet. When the children were newborns, I pumped breast milk and fed it to them in bottles as this was the only thing that seemed to work. Buying jarred baby food felt weird, so we stopped and pureed our own versions.

And as long as we're all happy with co-sleeping and getting enough sleep at night, there's no issue.

I am sure we'll know when it's time to make a change.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 10, 2017, with the headline 'Stop co-sleeping with the kids? We'll sleep on it'. Print Edition | Subscribe