Q: My wife and I have been married for 2 years. It is the second marriage for both of us. She has an 11 year old son and 14 year old daughter from a previous marriage. We have shared custody of the children along with her first husband; he has primary custody during the school year. We live in a different state from her first husband. The children travel occasionally during the school year to stay with us, and spend the summers with us. I have a good relationship with both of the children. When the children are in our home, the son frequently expresses strong reactions against sleeping in his own bed. He would prefer to sleep in our bed with his mother and me or on the floor next to us. While I allowed this in the past, I have made it clear this was no longer acceptable. Recently, we traveled to visit my sister and her family. While there, my wife relayed that her son had expressed that he was distressed about the sleeping arrangements. He was afraid of the dark, there was a doorway visible, etc. As a solution my wife decided her son would sleep with her in bed and I would take his place in the other room. I assented to avoid any public disputes, but found I was more and more disturbed by this as time went on. While I am sympathetic to her son’s comfort, (and a bit skeptical about his anxiety) I feel that he has reached an age where it is no longer appropriate for him to sleep in bed with his mother. I am frankly alarmed by it and feel continuing this will have a negative affect on his proper development in terms of maturity, independence and forming healthy relationships. I do not feel that my wife shares this concern or any level of alarm at this situation. It is my humble opinion that it is a very bad idea for a healthy 11 year old boy to sleep in bed with his mother. I feel that a healthy 11 year old boy should be somewhat revolted by the idea, and further the mother should be concerned about his development if this should continue. In my mind, there are big boundaries issues. Am I being alarmist? Is it OK for an 11 year old boy to sleep in bed with his mother? Is it OK for a mother to sleep in bed with her 11 year old son? At what age is it no longer appropriate? Further, there is my issue. I feel I am being marginalized in front of the children. I feel this recent event is undermining my authority as an adult and decision maker in the marriage relationship and family. By me being kicked out of bed with my wife’ I feel a strong message is being sent to her son that he can manipulate both his mother and me to get his desired results in this situation. My wife and her son understand that it is not acceptable for them to sleep together in our home, but to them this is only because it is something I object to. While in someone else’s home they feel they have a loophole to exploit. To me this is not healthy. I am soliciting a professional opinion to help me organize my thoughts on this and offer some perspective. Thank you in advance for your comments.
A: This may be an unpopular answer for some child advocates but I completely agree with you. I do think an 11 year old child, regardless of gender, needs to be sleeping in their own bed. If they are not due to anxiety issues, then these need to be addressed. Family therapy and possibly some individual therapy for the child are warranted. Many children go through phases of separation anxiety, being afraid of the dark, etc. – especially in cases of divorce and shared parenting situations. However, there are many treatments and approaches to help the problem. I suggest that you strongly encourage your wife to consider family therapy. It may be even more helpful if you research good therapists in your area and set an appointment up to show your investment in the family. You may want to attend the first session (or first few) with just you and your wife and then have the son join you. There may be some parenting books out there to help you navigate these issues as well but I’d guess that having a profession working directly with you will be most effective. If you don’t address the issue it may eventually affect the quality of your marriage, if it hasn’t already. Good luck and stick to your guns but be as supportive and understanding as you can in the process.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Dec 2006
Counts, H. (2006). Wife allows 11 year old son to sleep in bed with her.. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 9, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2006/12/12/wife-allows-11-year-old-son-to-sleep-in-bed-with-her/