One Mom's Controversial Approach to Getting Her Kid to Sleep

Laura Kemp and her son. Photo: Courtesy of Laura Kemp

Laura Kemp and her son. Photo: Courtesy of Laura Kemp

A British parenting author has kicked off a major debate after admitting to a contentious ritual: sharing her bed, nightly, with her 6-year-old son — while daddy sleeps in the guest room. “My beautiful, king-sized bed and the arms of my loved one await me every night as I climb the stairs at 10pm,” writes Laura Kemp at the start of her first-person essay, published Wednesday in the Daily Mail. “I quietly put on my pajamas and slip under the duvet next to him, before planting a kiss on his forehead and drifting off to sleep.” Kemp — a confessional writer whose other topics have including despising her breasts and sometimes hating motherhood — then reveals, “the person sharing my bed for the past 18 months is not my husband Jamie, but my six-year-old son Paddy.” 

The story has drawn over 1,000 comments, many of them critical, calling Kemp “selfish,” “idiotic,” “weird,” and “clingy.” One warns: “Start saving now for the kid’s therapy bills.” Others, though, are supportive, with one man noting that his wife shares their bed with all three of their kids, asking, “Just because it does not suit you, that’s not to say it’s wrong, does it?” Some Twitter users also noted their support. “Good for you. I miss when my little ones used to climb in for snuggles,” tweeted one mom. “Wish I could turn the clock back … ”

The arrangement, Kemp explains, began after Paddy had a bad stomach virus and got used to sleeping in his parents’ bed for both emotional comfort and convenience during nighttime medicine dispensing. When Kemp encouraged him to start sleeping in his own bed after he recovered, Paddy found his way back to their room every night, and his parents allowed him to stay. But eventually, it felt crowded with all three jammed together, so Jamie gave mom and son their space. “While the two of us snuggle up happily every night,” she writes, “my husband of five years has been downgraded to the small double bed in the spare room along the hall, with only the clothes drier for company.” 

Kemp quickly admits that, even though most friends think she’s crazy, her husband (a loud snorer, by the way) is supportive of the arrangement, which they’ll continue until Paddy is ready to sleep on his own. And her sex life with Jamie hasn’t suffered, she notes. 

“I do not choose to sleep with my child every night because I am some New-Age, clingy mother who feels it is best for his development,” writes Kemp, author of the novels “Mums Like Us” and “Mums on Strike.” “I do it because it upsets him too much to be away from me and — if I’m really honest — I adore it, too.”

Despite the barrage of negative comments, many of which accuse Kemp of being suckered by her son, Kemp stands by the couple's decision. “It's a very divisive issue, like the public breastfeeding one,” Kemp tells Yahoo Shine through a direct message on Twitter. “Mail reader comments are attacking me for doing something different from them. I couldn't care less! I love my son and husband and it works for us!”

That, in essence, is what experts told Yahoo Shine when they were asked to weigh in on the situation. 

“If everyone in the family is happy with the arrangement, then they should not feel the pressure to change,” Elizabeth Pantley, parenting expert and author of “The No-Cry Sleep Solution,” tells Yahoo Shine in an email. She adds that Kemp’s family is far from alone in its situation. 

“The ‘musical beds’ routine, with families splitting up at sleep time, is very, very common,” she notes, despite our culture-at-large being wary of the idea. “Our independent-focused society leads many people to believe that it’s rare or unusual. But here’s the bottom line — lots and lots of families co-sleep. According to some sleep polls, over half of parents follow some sort of co-sleeping arrangement in their home.” When families in Kemp’s situation decide they want to make a change, she adds, there are plenty of ways to do it by employing gradual, peaceful bedtime routines.

Psychologist and parenting expert Laura Markham tells Yahoo Shine that Kemp’s sleeping arrangement doesn’t sound like a problem “at this point” and says she suspects that “as soon as the boy feels a little peer pressure to sleep in his own bed, he will want to do so.” However, she says, “I would argue that the boy's fear of sleeping in his own bed can be overcome. I help parents do this all the time. But this is not just about the child. It sounds like the mom has other reasons.”