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How To Explain Co-Sleeping to Family and Friends (and Keep the Peace)

January 29, 2012

As my partner and I prepare for the arrival of our first child (due in July), it’s becoming more and more apparent that our preparation requires a little preparation of others, namely my partner’s Chilean family. While there are a few very small pockets of families who practice a natural parenting style (i.e. attachment parenting (AP), gentle parenting, etc.) where we live in Santiago, Chile, like much of North America, AP and related practices are far from the status quo.

Currently, in light of the crib and bassinet offers being rained upon us, we’re putting together a game plan for talking about our co-sleeping (sometimes referred to as bed-sharing) plans. We’ve asked ourselves whether we should simply and graciously decline offers for nursery furniture saying we’re all set, or take the opportunity to share our beliefs and intentions to the fullest – extolling the values of co-sleeping. Probably, we’ll fall somewhere in the middle.

Here is the game plan. Have some of these approaches worked for you? Did any bomb? Others you’ve tried with success? Please share your advice and insights below, thank you!

Five Principles For Talking About Co-Sleeping/Bedsharing with Others

1. Keep it short and simple.
Have you ever noticed how the more you try to explain something that is important to you to someone doubting you even slightly, the more difficult it seems to become to make your point and to “get” them to understand? Well, I think it can be doubly applicable in the co-sleeping topic department and judging by the mommy wars I’ve seen online over bed-sharing, treading lightly in the detail department seems like sound advice. Of course, if my sister-in-law on the other line is genuinely interested and engaged in the topic, I’ll share away. But in most cases I’ll be applying the K.I.S.S. method. Also, I think my job as a parent is to love and support my child and family the best way I know how, not to “get” others to understand.

2. Reflect their best interests at heart.
No one arguing against your parenting ideas or choices is ever doing it specifically to hurt you or your child, but rather the opposite, I think. Everyone wants to know and understand what’s best, get a tight little grip on it and share it with the world, especially with a family member that may be making a big mistake in their eyes (admittedly, I fall into this boat often enough, to). And what is first and foremost on people’s minds when you are discussing co-sleeping? Safety. Second to that seems to be quality of sleep. I plan to address these two concerns with the K.I.S.S. method (examples below).

3. Offer personal and professional examples.
Since this will be our first child, I can’t share directly from my own co-sleeping experience, but a can point to other families I know for whom co-sleeping has worked very well and the children of which I’ve had great personal experience with. Noting that plenty of doctors recommend co-sleeping is on my list, too. Of course, sharing online resources, like some of the benefits of co-sleeping articles here on Boba is certainly an ace up my sleeve, too!

4. Appreciate and include.
As per no. 2 above, I know our family wants the best for us. In fact, I think people have good hearts and even the most seemingly horrid unsolicited advice is well-intentioned. So, I appreciate as best I can and say so in lots of situations, even when I disagree. I think (dear heaven, let me not be too naive about this) that discussing co-sleeping with my in-laws and our friends can be an opportunity for me to express appreciation by at the very least just thanking them for caring so much.

5. Express flexibility.
No matter how many thousands of examples of our preferred life/parenting/working methods exist out there, we never know how things will work until we try. Never. Ever. I also plan on extended breastfeeding. But who knows? I don't expect it and will do everything I can, but sometimes, on very rare occasions, breastfeeding is truly physically impossible. What then? Though I’m a little hard-pressed to think of reasons why co-sleeping might become an unavailable choice for my family (perhaps I’ll be suddenly required to take tranquilizers?), anything is possible. So, if our family by chance persists in challenging the idea, I’ll remember that it’s a goal and we’re going to see how it works for us, and just say that openly. It is after all about what works for our family, not about applying rigid ideas and expectations in a vacuum. And no need to make a big fight out of it with people we love.

A few simple, direct phrases I’m suggesting to myself and my partner (with links to helpful articles that I realize may also come in handing with the fam if K.I.S.S is not foolproof)…

“Co-sleeping is known to reduce SIDS.” (Safety concern, check.)

“We’re following medical advice on bed-sharing/sleeping together safely." (Doctor example, check.)

“I won’t have to get out of bed to nurse at night, so we’ll all sleep better.” (Sleep concern, check.)

“Co-sleeping works for a lot of my close friends and they have awesome kids, and are happy parents.” (Personal example, check.)

“Thank you. I really love that our family is so important to you.” (Appreciation, check.)

“You know, this is something we want to try and if it works for our family, great! If it doesn’t, your advice will really come in handy!” (Flexibility, check.)

expectant mother image for Boba Blog
In a perfect world, this simplicity will keep things clean, “easy” and peaceful. But who knows until you try, right? I’m in the process of memorizing no. 5 above in regards to this strategy itself and just practicing learning as I go (the parenting training has begun).

Your advice is welcome - consider it solicited!