Parenting Dilemmas: Renee and Jeff

Parenting Dilemmas: Renee and Jeff
Dr. Phil talks to a woman who wants to lose 50 pounds before her wedding.
"My 7-year-old daughter refuses to sleep in her own room, and throws a major tantrum if we try kicking her out of our bed," says Renee. "I'm at the end of my rope."

She and her husband, Jeff, will put their daughter, Blake, to bed in her room, but inevitably, she wakes up in the middle of the night and gets into their bed. "Before you know it, you're awakened with a knee in your back," says Jeff. "It's been about four years since I've slept in my own bed alone with my wife. It's impossible for us to have a good relationship."

When Blake was an infant, she had some medical problems. "We let her sleep in the bed with us so we could keep an eye on her," Jeff explains.
They tried putting her back in her crib when she was 6 months old, but Blake would scream and then throw up. "It became such a hassle that we put her in the bed with us and she's been there ever since," says Renee. "I've been sleeping on the sofa and I'm really tired of it. This problem is impacting our marriage. Our love life is non-existent."

They both agree that Blake should be sleeping in her own bed, but don't know how to make it happen."This is a big controversy about co-sleeping," Dr. Phil tells them, as he introduces experts on both sides of the issue. Dr. Keith Kanner, a psychoanalyst specializing in child development, believes that co-sleeping is never a good idea.



"It really compromises the development of the child," Dr. Kanner says. "And secondly, it causes marital distress. Children go through what we call a normal separation and individuation process starting from 3 months onward. And part of what really helps children become independent, self-confident and competent is by being able to see that they can be independent in their own bed. When parents sleep with their children, starting from infancy into toddlerhood, it supports a sense of over-dependency and actually makes the parent feel like the child can't survive on their own behalf."

When Dr. Phil points out that co-sleeping has been the norm in other cultures for hundreds and hundreds of years, Dr. Kanner explains that Western culture strives for people to become independent and autonomous, a value that is fostered by having children sleep in their own bed.

Dr. Phil also notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics is opposed to co-sleeping for safety reasons like rollover problems or SIDS.Dr. Bob Sears, a pediatrician, weighs in with his view, citing a National Institute of Health finding that half of Americans sleep with their babies at least half the time. "That tells me we are dealing with something that is 'normal' from a parenting standpoint," he says. "As health care providers, I don't like to discourage parents from doing something that feels normal and natural to them."

Dr. Phil clarifies Dr. Sears' position: "What you say is that it can be some really good bonding time, but it needs to be agreeable to both parents, it needs to not be disruptive to the relationship, and the child needs to be showing normal socialization. Under those conditions it's OK, and even then you would think that normally you would transition the child out of the family bed at a fairly early age, right?"

Dr. Sears agrees. In this case, he suggests to Jeff and Renee: "I think it's really important that you guys find some balance in your marriage and you guys find creative ways to move her out of your bed ... Right now you're doing all or nothing. What about some middleground? What about a futon mattress on the floor next to your bed so you can reach down and touch her or put your hand on her if she stirs during the night? I think it's important that you make her feel welcome and loved and comfortable. Tell her you want to be there for her, but you're going to be there for her in a way that some guidelines are set up."
Dr. Kanner adds, "Bad habits are tough to break and it takes a long time and it's a tough process."

Dr. Phil concludes: "Everybody is telling you some very good information here. I strongly believe that, number one, you two have to make a plan that you can both be excited about. I think you need to decide this is not going to continue because it's creating problems in the relationship here. But the idea here is don't send a message that all of a sudden, 'I'm rejecting you.' What you need to do is present this in a way that, 'We're just moving to the next phase. What we've been doing is OK and that's been great, but it is time to move to the next phase.' And she needs to see you guys as a unified front, and it's going to mean some sleepless nights. You have to pick your battles, you have to pick your time, but once you decide to make the transition, I would talk with her about it, I would be prepared to stay up with her ... if necessary, you can go in and sit by her bed and read her a story, you can help her transition so she doesn't feel rejected. It's time to do the next thing. You have to be unified and you have to be firm in your commitment."