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Family Bed: Bad for your Marriage?

QUESTION: My wife and I are expecting our first baby next month. I am feeling frustrated with an argument about whether to have our baby sleep with us in the first month. My wife is all for it, but I am worried about setting a precedent that will reduce our privacy. I don't want to get off on the wrong foot. What is the right thing for a newborn and for us?

ANSWER: While there are no hard and fast answers, it is a common practice in most areas of the world, including the United States, to sleep with, or very close to, your newborn in the first days or weeks of life. Perhaps you are also concerned about the changes that parenthood brings to any relationship, including reduced privacy.

Take a step back to share your feelings about these changes with your wife. Fears of losing intimacy, sexual and emotional sharing time is a very real adjustment new parents face. You may be worried that you will be "left out" of the maternal-child bond -- or kicked out of (or forced to share) your own bed.

These are natural feelings to have, and new fathers fare well when they can talk about these changes with each other. Consider joining a father's group in the first few months of your child's life, so that you are not alone with the complexity of your struggles to adapt to the changes a child inevitably brings to your relationship. Review your relationship with your father and his role in the family too.

You may find that your emotional charge around your newborn's sleeping place is related to a belief that fathers must take a peripheral role in family life once children are born, which was common in traditional marriages in the past. This, however, is your family and you are the leaders. Discuss the kind of father you want to be and consider developing a primary nurturing relationship to your child, which will keep you involved in the emotional decision-making in the family, rather than peripheral. There will be changes to your relationship, but this does not have to mean that you become disconnected from your wife in bed or otherwise.

Now for your question about whether your newborn should sleep with you or not. No matter what others do, you and your wife must establish a parenting team. This includes coming to agreements about how to resolve your current argument. Ask your wife about her feelings about keeping your child close in this way. Listen to her concerns. If jealously comes up, discuss these feelings, it will help her to know what is coming up for you, too. Consider whether a compromise is possible. Perhaps she will be successful in allaying your fears that this will go on forever, or you may persuade her to keep a bassinet next to your bed, instead of having your newborn in your bed. Stay connected through dialogue about this issue. Patience and a "wait and see" attitude may also help ease your frustration. After all, you have not even met this new person yet. You may find you are better able to make this decision together once he or she arrives on the scene.

HOW you discuss this conflict is as important as WHAT you finally decide together. Work to emotionally connect and share feelings about not only child-rearing, but your relationship. Your marriage is the foundation for your child's growth. Strengthening your bond now, will allow you to better adjust to the changes this new little being will bring, no matter where he or she sleeps!

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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