Dear Dr. Jann: I am the future stepmom of a wonderful 10-year-old boy who very happily sleeps in his own bed in his own room while he is at our house. My question is, how do I convince him that he should be sleeping in his own room when he is at his mother’s house? I am very concerned about this because his mother’s bed has been the place he sleeps since his father left the house before the child was a year old!
Dr. Jann says: Actually, it’s not your place to convince him of anything, it’s his mother and father’s place to gently direct him to his own bedroom — and a perfect example of why it’s imperative that parents be on the same page when they coParent after divorce.
Such radical differences — his own room at dad’s, sleeping in mom’s bed at mom’s — is very confusing to a child and actually backfires on the parent that allows the sleep in my bed behavior. How? Because when that parent eventually finds someone new and they sleep over — and most people do — it automatically puts the child and the new partner in competition with each other. Your new partner may feel as if the child is invading his territory, and the child simply thinks, “Now you like him better than me…” Feelings of insecurity sprout from both fronts and there you are, right in the middle — literally.
Many divorced parents who allow their children to sleep with them describe it as “comforting,” a time when they can relax, watch a little TV, and gently fall off to sleep with their child by their side. With so many parents working these days, sometimes the only time they have to be close to their kids is before falling asleep, and since they aren’t in a relationship, what’s the big deal?
There are plenty of times all parents allow their children to sleep with them. Perhaps the child is ill or frightened and it’s easier for mom and dad to stay close, but when parents are divorced and new partners are introduced, it makes bonus bonding more difficult on both the new partner and the child if changes are made right in the middle of the bonding process.
There are a few things parents can do to make their children’s transition to their own bed easier. Start by getting on the same page in terms of rules associated with bedtime. Make the child’s room comforting and fun to stay in bed — toys of his choice, cuddly quilts, glow in the dark stars on the ceiling.
Finally, establish a go-to-bed ritual — and it doesn’t have to be the same at each home. Read a story (for younger kids), make up a handshake or kiss ritual. Your child will learn your ritual with him or her and look forward to it when he is at your home.