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The latest trend in childrearing is the family bed


March 21, 1997
Web posted at: 8:00 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Pat Etheridge

Editor's note: This story is the final report of a week-long series on sleep deprivation's impact on society.

(CNN) -- Gathering in the family bed is by no means a new idea, but it's become something of a hot issue among parents.

The sound of children crying themselves to sleep is enough to keep all but the most stoic parents awake. Now, experts say it's OK for parents to open the door to their bedroom and invite children to sleep with them -- on a regular basis.

The Ikea Furniture Co. is tapping into the trend by offering an extra large bed for entire families to share.


And Tine Thevenin offers a new look at this old idea in her book "The Family Bed."

As a young mother, she felt guilty and confused about letting her children cry themselves to sleep. "I began to wonder, 'what do I do about this problem?' And I began to talk to other parents," Thevenin.

In many cultures, the family bed is and always has been a way of life. Babies are swaddled to their mothers from birth and sleep with or in close proximity to their parents for years.

But in the United States, most children have separate bedrooms starting in infancy.

Bedsharing not for everyone

Noted physician and author Dr. Benjamin Spock, who wrote books that helped generations of families raise their children, years ago popularized the notion that stern bedtime routines are essential in raising children to be independent and well-behaved.

bed shopping

Many pediatricians still urge parents to follow that advice. Many parents insist on their own space and privacy. And there's a strong case to be made that both children and parents sleep better when the kids have their own beds.

Some parents have an open-door policy, where children are allowed into the parents' bed if they ask. But a growing number of parents feel strongly that the best way to nurture children is a return to old-fashioned bed sharing.

Bedtime with the Lilyerds

Consider the Lilyerd family: Faye, Jerry, 6-year-old Aaron and 2-year-old Sara sleep together every night.

"I find that after a really rough day, it's a relief to be able to go to bed," Faye Lilyerd said. "It's a relief to be able to go to bed. We can all lay down, read some stories and either relax and just enjoy each other in that peaceful time."

Jerry Lilyerd agrees. "Why, for such a short period of time, should you make somebody that's small and young sleep by himself?"

"I just love that big bed," the 6-year-old says.

But there are obvious pitfalls to the arrangement. What about sex, for instance?


"That's never really been an issue," Jerry Lilyerd says. "If we want to be private or whatever ... we come downstairs."

"Anyone who doubts whether you can have more children when you have a family bed, go talk to those people who figured it out," Thevenin says. "You'll figure it out."

But figuring out when to wean the children from the practice isn't always a simple matter.

"That's always a worry," says Dr. William Sears. "Will they ever leave our bed? Yes, they do leave your bed."


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