Dear Dr. Jann,
I married a man with a 5-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son. Our problem right now is that his kids always want to sleep in our bed with us when they come over—every other weekend and one night during the week. We are still in the honeymoon stage and are sometimes not dressed appropriately when they enter our room after a bad dream. It makes me very uncomfortable and is starting to drive a wedge between my husband and me. What’s good ex-etiquette?
Kids put a damper on romance—and this is understood firsthand when both biological parents live together. But people who get involved with people who have children are given an instant family. Prior to moving in together, most don’t anticipate what they should wear to bed or how they should respond when a child snuggles up with them. These questions should be discussed prior to cohabitating. If they are not, then what you’re facing now will result. Often times anger, resentment, and disagreements can surface and can directly impact the child in your care — and your relationship.
If you didn’t have the discussion before, now is the time to address the issues that concern you. Don’t be afraid to express how you feel about the kids coming into your bed. This is all new for you, for dad, and especially for the kids. The kid’s mother may not have a significant other and thinks nothing of cuddling until the kids fall asleep. The difference in the fall-to-sleep ritual from one home to the other could be causing the kids undue stress—and there’s your reason for the bad dreams. Truth is, I can’t think of anything more stressful for a child than their parents splitting up. Plus, if there is added stress at exchanges or the kids feel as if you resent their presence, that’s a breeding ground for a restless night.
Although it’s difficult to coordinate efforts after a break-up, there are some things both homes can do to ensure the children have a good night sleep and therefore do not come into your room in the middle of the night. Consistent bedtime rituals—or at least rituals that are not dramatically different from house to house, will help the kids settle down. Read a book, have quiet talks about their day or even help them imagine fun things they love to do prior to falling asleep. Make sure their sleeping area is a calming place to be, and if they are afraid of the dark, try a night light. Stay away from things you know will scare them, like scary movies—and if there are older siblings in the home, make sure they aren’t making the issue worse because they think scaring the younger ones is funny.
Finally, while you are not their parent, you are now a parent figure, and helping the kids feel safe and secure is part of the responsibility of someone who marries someone with young children. Everyone wants a romantic, sexy relationship—and it is still possible—but it may end up being when the kids are not with their dad. Welcome to the wonderful world of not just coParenting, but parenting, in general.
Last, but not least, after speaking to thousands of parents over the years on the subject of sleeping attire—whether they are together or not–most tell me they sleep in some type of clothing after their children are born. There is always an emergency to consider, from a cup of water to a middle of the night bathroom break. It’s best to be prepared. That’s good ex-etiquette.