Reader Survivor Dad writes,
My wife and I both had cancer starting in 2011. Actually, I've had it twice. We both went through surgery, chemo, and radiation. My wife very nearly died and I was given a 50% chance to live. We have three small kids who are now 7, 9, and 10. One of the coping habits I formed through struggling with cancer was falling asleep while holding my children in bed. It is literally one of the only things that soothes me--still to this day. My ten year old developed the habit of sleeping, on the floor, in our room and does not want to stop and go to his own room.
My question is this: am I hurting my kids by letting them do this? My best friend says it's not good for the kids or my marriage. My wife also does not always appreciate coming to the bedroom with a room full of kids. My parents are also encouraging me to stop doing this.
As this carefully picked image of a bed that looks like impending doom indicates, I think there is indeed a reason for concern here. The issue isn't whether you're sleeping with your kids; plenty of cultures have family beds. It is a mammalian urge, although not shared by as many as you might think, to want to be close to loved ones during sleep.
However, my main concern is that your wife isn't on board with the sleep posse. She wants alone time with her husband, and this is normal. You are driving three cute breathing wedges between you and your wife, and don't forget she needs her own comfort after surviving her own cancer.
Also, how can you have sex with your ten year old on the floor? This isn't a newborn we are talking about. This kid is a couple years away from his own sex life, even it's just with himself. If you are reducing or preventing sex with your wife in order to keep this arrangement going, she will end up resentful and angry. Or, perhaps she rejected you for sex and physical intimacy during the cancer bouts (understandable), which contributed to you getting your physical affection elsewhere when you felt so alone? Either way, I am guessing that the sex life here is an issue that needs to be explored and worked on.
My secondary concern is that you are transmitting anxiety to your kids by needing them near you while you sleep. You suffered through an experience that made you highly cognizant of your own mortality, and you are using your kids as comfort. Whenever this happens, it's too much pressure for kids, and not developmentally appropriate. Read here about people who go through divorce (another huge life stressor) and confide too deeply in their kids (there I talk about only children, but it's the same for all).
Whenever your kids are a comfort for you in any concrete and recurring sense, it is probably time to deeply examine what impact this may have on them. Here, it's making your ten year old son not want his own space, which is fairly culturally atypical for his peer group. It may possibly be because subconsciously he knows that his presence comforts you; it may also be because he has internalized your anxiety and now feels anxious to be on his own; either way, it's not good. Read here about parental anxiety and how I feel that it negatively impacts kids.
I would highly recommend that you have an open discussion with your wife about this topic, and raise many of the points that I have mentioned here. Hear what she thinks. Also, you probably need your own therapist to help you process your horrible experience with cancer, and with your wife's cancer, and to help you deal with your lingering anxieties. A therapist can also help you think of alternative ways to self-soothe.
If you decide to wean yourself off co-sleeping with the gang, the issue of your ten year old not wanting to sleep on his own can be addressed using the tips I give for a mom of a six year old here. Scale up to his level, like bribe him with an Xbox. Just kidding, kind of. Hey man, you made this bed (no pun intended).
Good luck and congratulations on beating cancer; I hope you're around to worry about your kids for many decades to come. Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, I Consider My Kids A Lot Of Things But Soothing Ain't One Of Them.
This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.