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My long-time wife separated from me about 9 months ago. I find it difficult to talk to her because I have strong emotions towards her, many of them probably not very healthy, but we've managed to talk civilly to each other and organize our kids' lifes so far. We're looking after them about 50% each.

Recently it has come to my attention that my daughter and sons (about 10, 12 and 13) seem to sleep in moms bed (one by one, not all of them at the same time). I don't know how often this happens, but it seems to be a regular thing, though likely not every night. I didn't want to use the kids to spy or upset them by questioning them, so I wasn't able to get more information. I'd like to avoid getting the kids involved - I think this should be something my ex wife and I discuss between us.

All of my kids stopped sleeping in our bed ages ago. They all have their own beds in other rooms and usually slept in them alone, though sometimes with a sibling. They never sleep in my bed the nights they're with me, nor have they given me the impression that they'd like to. This return to sleeping in moms bed worries me. I'm not worried about anything sexual, but I think it's not healthy for a tween's or teens' development, and I'm worried about the possible causes of this behaviour.

I can understand that right after the separation, the kids might have needed a bit of reassurance and closeness. But it's been 9 months, and if this has become a pattern, I'd like it to stop.

I tried to talk about my worries with my ex. I'd like to find out how often the kids sleep in her bed, and for how long this has been going on, but she said she didn't want to talk to me about it because a) she didn't question my way of looking after the kids and I shouldn't question hers, so b) she didn't see the point of a conversation and c) she thought a conversation just between the two of us was the wrong approach, and when I asked what the right approach would be because it was important to me that we talked about this, she went silent and hasn't replied since.

I have a bad feeling about all of this, but I'm not trusting my own judgement, so I need a reality check:

  1. Am I overreacting about the development/emotional issues of sleeping in moms bed, or should I be worried about my kids?
  2. Is my ex wife's reluctance to have a conversation with me even more grounds for worry? (it got me to think it might be her emotional needs that get fulfilled when the kids sleep in her bed and she doesn't want to face this, but I'm not sure if I'm just thinking this because I have issues with my ex wife...)
  3. How would you proceed?
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    Co-parenting while in an antagonistic relationship is very difficult. There are therapists that specialize in the family dynamics of co-parenting. Even if you think your wife would not participate in such counseling, you can ask (offer to cover the costs yourself.) Most research about co-sleeping focuses on infants/young children, or with older children, the quality of sleep. If you're seriously concerned about how her parenting is affecting your kids and your ex won't speak to you about her parenting, bring it up with your lawyer and see if co-parenting counseling can be mandated. Mar 4, 2022 at 1:58
  • Have you talked to your kids about this instead of your ex? It could be as simple as "mom was sad so I spent the night in her bed to make her feel better"...
    – Ron Beyer
    Mar 4, 2022 at 2:58
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    @RonBeyer: That's part of what I'm worried about. It's okay if it just happened once or twice, but I got the feeling that this has been going on regularly for 9 months and if it's the kids thinking that they have to console mom in her lonely bed, then I think that's a role that kids shouldn't have to take on. I didn't mention it in my post, but she also told them she would have to find a new job and that this would be very difficult for her, which worried them needlessly. I'm worried about her using the kids to help her deal with her own problems, but I'm not sure how objective I am.
    – WorriedNow
    Mar 4, 2022 at 15:32
  • @anongoodnurse - thanks for the mandated co-parenting counseling suggestion. I would hate to have to go that way, but I'll keep it in the back of my mind in case we can't have a conversation that puts my worries to rest.
    – WorriedNow
    Mar 4, 2022 at 15:42
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    Your concerns about her possible emotional dependence on your tweens are valid. Who decided on the 50-50 split and how was that arrived at? If it was mediated involving social workers, and that mediation is still available, you can try that as a less threatening option to "recommend" co-parenting counseling. Mar 4, 2022 at 17:27

2 Answers 2

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When in doubt about something related to co-parenting, it might be helpful to review the Rights of the Child or the equivalent guidelines where you live. Here are the rights that are inserted in every custody order where I live (New York State, US):

  1. The right not to be asked, implicitly or explicitly to "choose sides" between their parents or their extended families.
  2. The right not to be told the details of the legal proceedings going on between their parents.
  3. The right not to be told "bad things" about the other parent's personality or character or to be told anything bad about the other parent's family.
  4. The right not to be "cross-examined" by one parent after spending time with the other parent.
  5. The right not to be asked to be a messenger from one parent to the other.
  6. The right not to be asked by one parent to tell the other parent untruths.
  7. The right not to be used as a confidant regarding adult matters.
  8. The right to express feelings, whatever those feelings may be
  9. The right to choose not to express certain feelings.
  10. The right to be protected from parental "warfare."
  11. The right not to be made to feel guilty for loving both parents.
  12. The right to age-appropriate privacy when talking with the other parent on the telephone.

There's some room for interpretation, but still it might be helpful as you're figuring what you think is okay to discuss with your children, and maybe how, also.

Where I live, one can request free mediation services focused on differences that come up in co-parenting. I don't know if that's available where you live. It's two hours (or four if a second session is desired by the parties to the mediation), so a lot quicker than something like family counseling.

Mediation is voluntary, so if your separated spouse says some variation of "no thank you," then that's that, there's no mediation.

Another possible path is family therapy. Your separated spouse doesn't have to participate. You can share your concerns and doubts with the therapist. The therapist is unlikely to share comments with you, but it can be helpful in the therapist's work with the children to have the benefit of the information or conjecture you've shared. Also, more obviously, the therapist can help you figure out what your opinion is, and can help you consider possible courses of action.

If I imagine myself in your shoes, I might put a pre-teen sized sleeping bag at the foot of your bed, and offer it to each of your children invdividually, e.g. "Here's a rolled up sleeping bag at the foot of my bed. If you ever want to feel closer to me or one of your siblings during the night, you're welcome to grab it during the night and sleep at the foot of someone's bed during the night."

This worked better for my kids when the other person's bed was on the floor, carpet, or low platform. I never used this with a higher up bed so I don't know how well it would work with a higher set-up.

I got this idea from a book by William and Martha Sears. Sorry, I don't remember which one.

It's possible this might stimulate a conversation about sleeping arrangements with you. If so, that might be a time to listen with a poker face. Your kids might open up, and think about things on their own, if you mainly listen.

I think I would have a hard time figuring out how I feel about the sleeping arrangements at their other house without more information from the children. The ideas I outlined above might get them started talking more with you.

The tricky thing is that they might not open up more with this approach.

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A major change in family configuration will take time for your kids to adjust to the new normal, and while I'm not an expert and can't say how long, I know from my own experience and that of my children that 9 months is not enough time.

Children feel very deeply about any change in their living situation. They have a lot of questions, and they sometimes mistakenly blame themselves.

While it's good to be aware of how things are going with your kids and your ex, where you have the most influance and can support your kids the most is in working to strengthen your relationship with them.

Then, should anything start bothering them, you'll see the change, and if there's a need, you can take action to keep them safe.

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    I agree. By strengthen the realtionship the children will start to show or tell, if they feel uncomfortable or burdened with the sleeping behavior. If the children see the OP trying to judge fair about the mother, they would dare to speak more/deeper about worries they have with mum. Maybe also a person beside mum and dad, like an nearly grown up cousin would be helpful. I was this cousin once, guarding the "secrets" of the children, but also trusted by both parents to take action if notice danger/risk/pain... Apr 29, 2022 at 8:33

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