My nearly nine-year-old son wants to sleep in my bed. Should I let him? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri


My son, who is nearly nine, insists, at least once or twice a week, on sleeping with me in my bed as our special time. We used to do it on occasion, but now he’s asking for it more.

I’m not sure if it’s a phase, but it’s been going on for about six months. I have a daughter too, who is six, but doesn’t request it. I know as the older child, he misses our time we had together before she was born.

When he was a baby I was quite overwhelmed and had little help from family, who lived abroad, and a very lax husband. I worry that it’s coming back now that I didn’t give him enough of me. So can I compensate and restore some of that unmet need retrospectively? Or am I missing something and actually it’s not necessary as there is something else going on. I know he does it more when he’s been told off, so it’s his way of reattaching to me.

I hate saying no as it feels like rejection as he’s just asking for time for just the two of us. My husband then gets annoyed and in the meantime my daughter hasn’t quite twigged and I’m fearful she’ll be upset that we’ve been having such time without her. What do you think?

You sound very sensitive and caring, but it also sounds like you are trying to keep a lot of people happy, which is a shortcut to exhaustion. I also sensed a strong seam of guilt running through your letter; guilt is the enemy of confident parenting. Guilt is also the burden mothers often carry when others around them haven’t pulled their weight.

It’s perfectly natural for children to want to sleep with a parent if they are worried about something. We attend to our children’s needs during the day, so why not at night when the world seems scarier. I’m always amazed that some people let their pets sleep with them, but not their children. I’ve always allowed my children to sleep with me whenever they need to. But that doesn’t work for everyone and I also say no if I feel my need is greater than theirs on occasion.

I go back to the word confident. If your child feels you are unsure, he may well feel you need comforting and reassuring, rather than the other way around (I remember a situation where a boy wanted to sleep with his mum after a burglary but when questioned the boy actually felt his mum needed protecting rather than vice versa). As parents we need to be the backbone for our children: we need to be strong when they can’t be, not the other way around. Do make sure your son isn’t being used to heal something in you. That’s not his job.

I went to ACP registered child and adolescent psychotherapist Deirdre Ingham. She thought your letter was thoughtful, and suggested that it’s useful, when we are “faced with these dilemmas, to think of our own role, perhaps an unconscious one which may be contributing to the situation. Perhaps in this case your son can sense your wish to repair the past by allowing him into your bed.” Ingham picked up on the fact that your husband was/is lax. That must have been hard for you. “Perhaps there is an opportunity here to join with your husband to form a united front in this situation?” We also wondered if maybe a halfway house would be for your son to have a little bed in you and your husband’s room for a while? Ingham also suggested you check that nothing else is going on for him, maybe with school?

I’d also like you to invest a little in what makes you feel good outside of being a mother. What might that be?

There’s nothing wrong with letting your child sleep with you (in some cultures the family all sleep together in one room), but there’s also little point you becoming stressed because you feel you are doing something you “should” do. You’re in charge here, and as someone once told me: a mother who is always available never really is. I believe an effective mother must also care for herself; martyrs don’t make good mums (I am not saying you are a martyr!).

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Yes, your son would have had to learn to share you when his sister came along, but he also gained a sibling; learning to share another’s attentions is a useful life skill.

My number one piece of advice to parents is get enough sleep, however that’s achieved, and don’t make bedtime a battle ground. Because sleep is vital to healthy functioning. And all children grow out of wanting to sleep with their parents, I promise.

Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa, please send your problem to [email protected]. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

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The latest series of Annalisa’s podcast is available here.

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