Ferber and the Family Bed

/ 3 January 2009

Today I caught this status update from a friend on Facebook: “survived the first night of Ferberizing. (wife) didn’t die, (baby) didn’t die, (wife) didn’t kill me. (baby) slept on her own from 11:00 to 6:30.” That reminded me of my own experience. I have such a bad memory and have worn down so many rough edges in my rearview mirror that this is probably a good long way from the reality of events, but maybe Mary will chime in with a comment of her own to remind me of the truth of our family bed. Read on for the story.


My parents “ferberized” me long before ferber. My five younger sibs too. I grew up thinking that was right and proper, and I’m still not judgmental about it. I feel like I turned out alright, after all! Each family has to make it’s own decisions and set its own priorities. The variables are way too many to judge.

My partner, Mary, however, was horrified by the idea of letting kids cry themselves to sleep. What is the point, she thought, when I am here and available? There will be plenty to cry about later in life. Our first child, our son AC, was also suffering the effects of a stroke he had at birth. His susceptibility to seizures was an added incentive for keeping him close at hand.

He never left our bed. When he cried, Mary would roll over and nurse or I’d pick him up and walk around or have him rest on my chest like the cat does now. After a few years, when nursing was done, he stayed with us and our bed just grew bigger, adding a mattress next to ours (we all slept on the floor).

When his brother joined us almost five years later, it was natural to keep NC in what had become our family bed. NC did not have the same challenges as AC, but it was just easy at this point to have kids in our bedroom. We would read books out loud together, listen to each others breath as we fell asleep, nurse each other (in a couple senses of the word), reach out our arms to calm one another.

NC was a much more restless sleeper than AC. He’d often end up across our legs during the night. Eventually it became clear he could use the space. When he was about four and AC about nine we finally broke up the bed. Each of the kids had a room at that point. We bought them a bunkbed to share, that lasted about five minutes. They quickly each had a bed in their own rooms.

NC, now ten, still likes falling asleep with one of us in bed with him. He does fine if we are too busy for that, but he really loves having one of us there. Sometimes he still crawls into our bed in the morning. In fact, from time to time as we read a book together or watch a show on a laptop together, we all squeeze onto the queen size bed that Mary and I share. Its a tight fit, but I love it and the reminder it gives me of our years together on the floor of the family bedroom.

Clearly this is not a feasible plan for many. I resisted mightily at the beginning. It seemed too coddling, too much of a sacrifice of Mary’s and my privacy. I still can’t quite recall when I gave up my objection and realized I loved our nights together. AC as a baby still cried a lot, this didn’t solve all of that. I’d often carry him outside to watch traffic on Belmont Street to calm him down. But I think the family bed did help bring some security and calm to our nights nonetheless. We always knew how AC was doing, often without having to fully wake up. He was right there with us. For us, to my utter surprise, it worked.

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