Dare to Ask: Is it OK for boy to sleep with Mom?
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
My ex-wife continues to sleep with our 10-year-old son when he stays at her
house. This is not a sexual thing. Is this unusual?
Joe, 51, Florida
I would be worried. Ten-year-old boys are coming into their sexual maturity
soon, and they don't need to wake up with their mom lying next to them.
Sheri, 41, San Francisco
Your ex-wife is forming a closer bond. The mother has the power to impact her
child for life. Your ex-wife feels it's not wrong to sleep with her 10-year-old
son as long as the tie produces a healthy relationship. I concur.
L.C., Greenville, Miss.
She's way over-attached, and it might not be overtly sexual, but there's a
serious "ick" factor, which will only get ickier as your son gets closer to
A., female, Missouri
If you're sure it's not in a sexual way, and the child is developing in a
"normal" manner (he's not acting out sexually, he's developing appropriate
boundaries, etc.), and she's not exposing him to her sexual activity, I'd say
you're overreacting. There are cultures where the communal bed is kept for the
entire life of a child.
Shelly, 49, New Alexandria, Pa.
As with most issues, there are two sides to this mattress. Developmental
psychologist Aletha Solter, founder of The Aware Parenting Institute and author
of Helping Young Children Flourish, tucks in on the softer side, so to speak.
"It is normal for children to want closeness and reassurance at night
whenever there is stress in their lives, because stress increases a child's
attachment needs. Divorce of the parents can be a very stressful experience for
children," she said by e-mail.
"Many children feel that their family has fallen apart, and they often blame
themselves or fear that their parents will stop loving them. If [the] son is
unable to sleep alone because of chronic anxiety, it might be a good idea for
him to see a competent psychotherapist."
Not to throw rocks in that bed, but Kevin Kennedy, senior child psychologist
with Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston, says, uh-uh.
Occasional visits to the parents' bed at scary times are OK, but overall (in
U.S. culture at least), "It's not a good idea in terms of promoting autonomy.
Kids should gain independence and ability to do things by themselves, like
In divorces, where the child may seek increased closeness, Kennedy suggests
running errands or completing projects together more often.
"Sometimes divorced parents respond in terms of their own need of
companionship. It's [sleeping together] done under the guise of sensitivity to
the child, but the parents are really meeting their own needs."
And as a child gets older, things can get trickier.
"It's treacherous territory when kids are 10 or 11, in pre- adolescence,
where erotic aspects can be a factor," he said. "I advise parents to never do
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
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