Co-sleeping and the single mom

single mom co-sleeping

The New York Times
“Motherlode” blog has a lively discussion going about getting kids out of the marital bed. I can relate, even if my queen-size pillowtop is not of the marital variety.

Who couldn’t love this guy who wrote the blog, pleading for advice on how to get his preschoolers out of his bed? “I’m tired of wrapping myself in a Power Rangers blanket with my legs dangling off the edge my son’s tiny bunk bed, while he nestles next to my wife on my Tempur-Pedic mattress!”

Co-sleeping is an over-argued mommy war topic that I’m not really interested in rehashing, probably because I haven’t figured out my position on the matter. And the matter – for me, a single mom – is blurred by the fact that sometimes I feel lonely sleeping by myself.

Here’s my single mom co-sleep story:

When Helena was born, I was married and her crib was in our room. The plan was for her to sleep in her own bed, us in ours. Half the time she wound up in our bed because a) I nursed her in the middle of the night, and we just fell asleep that way, or b) exhausted, I knew the easiest way to get her to sleep was to plop her in between my husband and me, or c) there is quite possibly nothing more delicious than sleeping next to the person you love the most. Which in this case, was Helena.

But then I would need some space and I wanted to “train” her to sleep alone. So there was lots of back and forth and inconsistency.

When Lucas was born, I was on my own, and I wanted a straightforward plan. This meant that his official bed was my bed. His sister slept in the second bedroom, and he slept in the middle of my mattress. It was easy to nurse him and sooth him, and I delighted in waking up to his sweet face, which by some miraculous force, erupted into a brilliant smile at the exact moment his eyes opened each morning.

By now, Helena was in her own big-girl bed and could sneak into mine. Most nights, we were entangled in what was known as the “Mommy sandwich”: A stiff pillow was placed in the middle of the bed to keep Lucas cozy and safe. I was curled up next to him on the left side of the bed, sleeping on my side. Then Helena would sneak in and cuddle up on the six inches between me and the cliff – two tiny bodies locking mine into position for the rest of the night. I was constantly exhausted, and my body ached all day from the immobility.

Now, for the most part, everyone sleeps in their own big-kid bed, but toasty little sleepy bodies often make their way into mine. I struggle with letting them stay. On one hand, if they’re scared or lonely and want a 2 a.m. snuggle with their mom – isn’t that my job? And what if I love to feel needed, and love a sleepy little snuggle bunny?

Well, nothing wrong with that, except that I don’t always feel that way. Sometimes – often times – I need my space. It’s not fair that one night I open the duvet when they toddle in and allow them to snooze until morning, then the next direct them back into their own rooms before they have a chance to protest.

This conundrum is not unique to single moms. However, there was a moment a couple years ago when I realized that I felt lonely when the kid were happily snoring in their own beds. For a second, I longed for them to join me. That is not cool. It is not a kid’s job to keep their mom company in bed! That was when I realized I was not only ready to date, that I had an obligation to fill that need in my life, lest I thrust it on my kids.

This was also the time that I invested in a lock for my bedroom door and got serious about a no-kids-in-bed policy. I started envisioning a man occasionally sleeping in that bed, and as much as it pained me, there needed to be some church-and-state separation at my house. Adults in one bed, kids in another.

More or less, that is how it works now. But sometimes, exhausted moms roll over in bed in the morning and are surprised – delighted even – to find a brilliant smile gleaming at them alongside the sunrise.

Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

29 thoughts on “Co-sleeping and the single mom

  1. I’m a widowed mom of two boys, 11 and 9. The year after my husband unexpectedly died (3 years ago), the boys usually slept in with me. Then the next year, after we moved to our new house, they slept in the same queen size bed together (even though they each have their own room) in one of their rooms or another after I finish reading to them.

    In the last year, my now 11-year old tween has separated from the mix and sleeps by himself in his own room. And now my 9-year old sleeps in with me again (although I do let them crash in the living room which they prefer, on non-school nights).

    Do I care? Nope. I am 100% sure that in a year or two, younger son will be in his own room because that’s part of the separation process.

    For now, it’s working for us. :)

  2. I’ve been the same way, Emma. Inconsistent. But it’s really only a problem w/my 7 yr old boy…he’s ALWAYS asking if he can sleep w/me. He uses everything from “I had a nightmare”, (every night?!!?) to, “I just dont want YOU to be alone, Mommy…” So gratuitous of him, wouldn’t you say? LOL

    My 4 yr old girl is happy in her own bed, door closed. Only very occasionally will she join me in the middle of the night.

    Not the boy. SOMETIMES I insist he stay in his own bed, sometimes I let him join me in the middle of the night, and sometimes I let him start the night out in my bed.

    I look at it like this: If I’m not DEAD TIRED, then it’s okay…he wont ALWAYS want to sleep w/me. But if i need my space, I communicate that to him and enforce it.

  3. Are any of you concerned about the lack of consistency and/or straightforward rules? I find my kids do best when there are clear rules – and my willy-nilly approach to co-sleeping is ruining them forever.


    1. Yes. Screw saving for college. I’ll be saving for their therapy. (Typed with elbows to the ceiling so I don’t elbow my kids that are 9 and 7 and pressed up against me so I cannot breathe let alone move in my KING size bed…..) Yup. I’m inconsistent and lonely and projecting my need for sleepy snuggles onto my children. :-/ But they’re just so darned cute!

  4. Great way of perfectly capturing the mixed emotions of sharing the bed. When my daughter was about two, she started sneaking downstairs and into my bed. She knew if she woke me up that I would carry her back up so she would sneak in. I even caught her asleep on the couch or outside my room because sometimes she would wait until she knew I was asleep to creep in. That started a terrible habit that lasted until she was almost 5 and really only ended because we moved to a much smaller place with her bedroom right by mine. Now we occasionally have a sleepover night but the last thing I want is a 7 year old kicking me through the night. I completely agree – clear rules and consistency are super important. As single moms I think that it’s extremely important to encourage independence for us and them which means our own beds are necessary!

  5. I am a single mom and not wealthy at all. My son is 11. He sleeps just fine in his own room but we still sleep together most nights.

    I love it for many reasons. The biggest being I love my kid and love having him close. I am warmer in the winter and it cuts air conditioning costs in the summer. Also we love to cuddle our two little dogs who sleep between us.

    I find he is too old to “cuddle” like he did when he was little but I still love having him with me. As long as he is comfortable and I am single he can always sleep with me!

    When he has friends over he sleeps in his room with them just fine. He sleeps in there alone too on occasion but overall he likes to sleep with me!

    I don’t mind and I will never feel uncomfortable. We both are dressed have a dog barrier and our own spaces in the bed.

    1. . Im in a relationship with a single mom I have know for a few years. We started dating a year ago and it’s looking serious. The child isn’t mine and his dad opposes her dating just out of jealously. We have managed to deal with that end.. So here is the question.

      IS it possible for us to have a serious relationship when her 8 year old boy sleeps in the bed nightly? He falls asleep in the adult bed then she will sometimes put him into his bed later at night around 11:30pm.
      Later when he wakes he walks in and jumps right back in.
      The personal time we had is going and for intamcy…. that’s starting to go right our the door. For fear he will walk in. Lock the door is impossible for the child screams in fear the minute he can’t just walk in.

      1. Sorry to tell you this, but that is not going to work. She has to decide if she wants a romantic relationship with you or a co-dependent relationship with her kid.

      2. How long you can have sex 1 hour at most …after that what you will do sleeping!!!!!!!!!!!!! …make sure that when you are having sex keep that door closed and locked after that that keep the door open .Now don’t tell me that you don’t affectionate in front of your kid(except sex) and kid loves it and they wants to be part of that. This is how family bond gets stronger.. let the boy live every time in your life.. Might be the boy having jealousy problem with you (new man in his mother’s life) or he may having oedipus complex or whatever reason is that he wants to be with her mother or feel threatened that new man is more important .
        Now from my own experience I used to sleep with my parents until 12(it is common in India)…. once (I was 9)my parents asked me that I can have my own room If I want … I denied immediately after that they didn’t make any comment about it …. but when I turned 12 I felt that I need my own room!!!!! I moved to my own room. Now if my parents force me to move out then I would have –ve effect on my life. May be felt less important in their lives.
        If you want to be father then don’t fight with that little kid….. he is not the threat too your relation .. your jealousy is the threat for your relationship … find the time for yourselves when kid is sleeping /not around or if your kid sleeping with you then have sex in other room join him when you are finished… if you can’t do this much then why you want be parents after all …..Within a year he will be his own because of his girlfriend….. Because of your sacrifice (what parents do always) someday this very kid will respect you most, because boys always follow his father. Otherwise this boy will be your worst enemy of your relationship and you will be always his stepfather/mother’s husband/mother’s boyfriend never be his FATHER/BEST FRIEND.
        Sorry for my poor English

        1. I ll be divorcing soon. Have been cosleeping since birth because of her anxiety. She was always wired differently, so she is with me. Some nights I wish there was more room, but I love being next to my ny eight year old. Our house is tiny, so no place for her to sleep now anyway. But I do want to corroborate what this person said. Many countries have cosleeping as the norm, this whole single bed thing is relatively new and a western concept. I think each person also has to determine why they are cosleeping. Honestly right now, the idea of a man sleeping by me is nowhere near as satisfying of a companion as my child is. She will be clamoring for her own bed soon enough, just like it seemed she would never stop nursing until she just kind of stopped. This is a completely different kind of relationship, and I definitely have emotional boundaries in place. I think it is totally doable, but you just have to make sure you are not invading proper boundaires

  6. What’s the whole deal here with “single mothers”?
    Aren’t most actually DIVORCED mothers?
    In the words of George F. Will, “Widowed is not divorced is not never-married”.

    (If you gave birth to a child neither conceived nor born into marriage, it’s a bastard, and the woman giving birth has committed bastardy.)
    I don’t get women telling the world their children are illegitimate/bastards when they’re not.

    1. You’re a bastard, and I’m guessing your mother was married upon delivery of you into this world. I’m a 100% single mom, no paternal involvement, out of a less than loving circumstance. I chose to not commit a sin and wear my Scarlett A and repented for 8 months. So take your condemning self elsewhere.

      (If you are a single mom though, it usually means 24:7 care of child with no assistance, and as being that mom who doesn’t have weekends and Wednesday nights off; I do take offense when people say they’re a single mom, when they do have aide. I never am rude about it though.)

      Get some manners and people skills.

  7. Great article! I go through a lot of the same thoughts/ambivalence. For now the kids sleep with me but they know that I have to be on the edge for some breathing room! I love it, they love it, everybody is happy….at least for the time being! :)

    1. Thanks Marion – curious? How old are your kids? I so remember saying: “Mommy needs space!” until eventually, well, I needed the whole bed.

  8. My baby is only 10 months so she sleeps with me every night. I love cosleeping so so much. It is a must for us at least while I am breastfeeding. But I can remember what my mom did to get me to stop trying to sleep in my parents bed. After a pattern was developing of me trying to wiggle my way into bed with my parents too many times, my mom told me I couldn’t go in their bed anymore, but I could bring my blanket and sleep on the floor in their room if I was too scared to sleep in my room alone. After trying it out a few times, I realized my own bed was much more comfortable than the floor! Ta da! Genius mommy.

  9. I was abandoned by my ex. It was fast, lots of transition, moving, etc. The kids were 3 and 7 and slept every now and then, mostly weekends, with us. After he left, we were in a very, very huge home alone and were all scared. He would not pay for alarm service or mortgage…just left. A year later, after the move to a smaller house, I tried to get the children to sleep in their own bedrooms, but the first storm and shaking of the smaller house had them in my bed. The children would not separate and I had them sleeping in one room or the other together. I would let them sleep with me on weekends. That was when I was still homeschooling. They got put into public school and the nights became the time we saw each other for homework, reading stories, and catching up on our day. Ive tried dating, but haven’t found anyone, so there are no bedroom issues there. It’s been survival mode for me and lots of changes. My children are now 11 and 8. The time we share at night is filled with laughter, and planning for the next day and then hugs at bedtime. One falls asleep as the other finishes homework. I still ask that they sleep in one or the other of their rooms every now and then and they can’t be separated from each other, but they will go. Our dog will go sleep with them. They have no problem sleeping at friends’ houses overnight, but at home they cannot sleep alone or be separated. I’m thinking my daughter will soon grow to want to be in her own room and things will naturally evolve. They get along very well and I am grateful for that and attribute that to nights spent together. When they visit their father, they look out for each other, as that is not the best situation always. I feel the time we share now at bedtime is happy and revealing if they have issues, and comforting to all of us. I feel it’s just a transition time. I worry about them not sleeping alone, but they are away from each other in school all day and most of the evening because of athletic practices, so they can be alone. Am I lonely? Yes. They do satisfy that. But I’m also made so much aware during the night of what is going on as I hear them talk outloud in dreams. I feel close to them and it’s my time for them to have a safe place where they can feel rest and peace, maybe get a Bible verse or story, and know I will always be here and will not abandon. I treasure these nights, and it’s not every night. But, they grow up SO fast and I do truly look at risk vs benefit. Right now, things are ok and as they should be for us. If I were married or in a relationship, it’d be different and there would be no children in my room. I am researching to see how single mothers feel about this topic and am enjoying this thread. I do want them to feel empowered one day and take refuge more in their rooms when they are home, instead of common areas. They really don’t spend much time in their rooms. My 11yo has started to go in her room and close her door. That is a sign of change. I think that each situation is different and you have to do what’s right for your family. They will grow up so fast and be gone before we know it. These are precious moments to me that I will not have forever. Those sweet dreams sometimes with a laugh, little feet and hands touching mine, light snores, and always a perfect way to wake up in the morning. For now, I’ll take it the nights they are with me, and I love it!

  10. If it’s about being lonely, then it’s self interest I believe and definitely not in the long term best interest of your child’s further development, otherwise you set the child up for codependency, blurring their roles and their boundaries , thats my view though

      1. I have no choice but to co sleep with my son i am a single mother with low income and i am renting a room at a friends house. But it doesn’t bother me one bit my son is 5 years old and we love snuggling together. When the lights go off we say how we are grateful for having a roof over our heads and a comfy bed to sleep in because lots of children around the world aren’t as fortunate. And how grateful we are to have each other. His father has a severe mental illness which he is hospitalized for.
        That is my story and I hope one day my son will look back on this fondly :)

      2. I would also like to add that despite everything we have gone through my son is such a happy trusting little boy. He is confident and so loving. He knows that i would give the world for him. He is doing so well at school and he is friendly and social. :)

  11. I honestly don’t think that letting your children sleep in your bed promotes co-dependency in fact quite the opposite. Both my children slept in my bed and both are confidant and independent. There’s lots of evidence to show that sleeping close to your kids helps them to be well adjusted. If it made adults co-dependent then whole countries like India and Japan where bed sharing is the norm would be full of co dependent people!

    1. Good points … but there is also consideration of social norms, and motives for co-sleeping. If it is a matter of family tradition / social normalicy / scarce real estate, that is one thing. If the motivation is the parents’ loneliness, another.

  12. After two years of dating a wonderful single mom, I’m having real difficulty accepting that as her youngest turns 20, there’s any place for her in what I’m trying to still feel is ‘our’ bed.

    I’ve read extensively on this and not with perfect scholarly disinterest, I’d have to say. It seems inconclusive; where does precious cuddle time become a persistent pattern that prevents the daughter from developing her own romantic relationship?

    At the end of the teenage years?

    II do want a partner relationship where we bunk down, even at the very end of busy days, together.
    Most every night.

    And getting asked sometimes at the last minute, not to stay together because she wants to stay up late, cuddle with her daughter and then, as often as not sleep with her instead of me, both hurts and feels like it may be more co-dependent, especially since my partner runs all sorts of errands for her soon to be 20-year old, that she could do for herself if that was slowly being expected.

    Sorry to rattle but I’m trying to find out how to (serenity prayer accept what I cannot change) disengage and let this play out, or to actively (don’t let this fester and get more resentful) try to encourage some limits that feel (with all friends/family I talk about this to) utterly reasonable and indeed healthy.

    And its vacillating between these stances that’s killin’ me!

    Single moms, please chime in…I need some perspective here and would really value your input.


  13. I am engaged to a single mother right now, that I am starting to feel has a co-dependency issue. It has always been her and her now 12 year old daughter. The last husband didn’t want the daughter and became abusive so she divorced and it’s been them ever since. I get that, I really do. But now, the daughter becomes so jealous that it is starting to drive a wedge between us and our time, leaving adult time almost non-existent. I want to marry her, and try to be as best of step father as possible for the daughter. But I also want a husband / wife relationship and fear that I am going to have issues of a 12 year old step child in my bed every night, and that’s not going to work for me. I am trying not to talk about it too much, but the more it’s brought up, the more jealousy issues come up. I feel like I am splitting a family apart, by wanting another family (first wife passed away 4 years ago from cancer). Any thoughts?

    1. I should note we are not living together, as we are both Christians. But we are set to be married in May 2018, and a huge problem erupted last Sunday night that caused some hurt feelings for me, and now more discussions between the two of us adults. I just want what is best for everyone involved…

  14. I agree with Wayne. As a guy that’s dating a single mother with a son that is 8, she and I sleep together and every time the child knocks on the bedroom door or cries when he sleeps alone.

    I am not willing to encourage a child of 8 to sleep in our bed, it’s odd and unusual and a tool used by overprotective and overbearing mothers to foster a unhealthy competitive relationship.

    This now means that the child throws tantrums and sees a new man in her life as a threat and will start derailing the relationship as he sees me taking his mother away from bed time.

    This will then cause me to resent the child as I now will sleep,alone while she heads in to the child’s bedroom at each tantrum and asking a mother to choose between a child and me and me compromising between adult time and over exposure to her child is not going to formulate a relationship.

    In plain English, she’s created a no win scenario for herself.

    I reduce the time I would visit her, why should I visit her home when it become a competition for her time. I will now see her when she can make time, which is minimal. I reduce contact with the child as I will never play the completion game, it’s her heart and he needs to be loved.

    However, when he proves a point that he’s more important I realise I’m the third wheel and our relationship is now complex.

    I won’t go with her to her parents anymore as new places requires her to sleep next to him and I sleep alone or she spends an hour with me and he will cry and she will have to sleep in the other roo, with him.

    So Her son has reduced the relationship to a scenario where I love her but we don’t spend time with one another, we don’t have adult time and I’m learning to resent the child’s behaviour so I only see her when she has time.

    According to my external confidants, I have an exclusive friends with benefits scenario that will get worse if she doesn’t deal with the relationship with her son in an adult manner.

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