When Children Crawl in at Night

I generally like Ann Landers' advice, but was surprised at her response to a recently-divorced woman whose children crawled into bed with her at night. Whatever you have to do, Ann said, get them out of your bed, or you're in serious trouble.

Part of what she was worried about (and I could relate to this) was that the woman might end up using the child to stave off her own loneliness, as a comforter for herself. It's certainly inappropriate for a grown person to attach her need for peer companionship to somebody so young, somebody who should never have to carry such a burden.

But, what if this mom is thinking not about her own loneliness, but about the welfare of a child who's just been traumatized by divorce? If that's the case, it seems like quite a different story. Why are we so determined to isolate our children at night? What's wrong with them wanting reminders of love and closeness during the lonely, and often scary, hours of the night? Why do so many people think that anything less than total isolation of small children in the dark is an open invitation to some dangerous perversion or destruction of character?

I wonder if Ann was worried about sex. This could be a tricky area, since love and closeness get so closely attached to sex that it's easy to equate them or get them confused with each other. I guess for parents who aren't clear about the distinction, or who see sex as the only way of getting close, segregating their children at night makes a lot of sense as a way of protecting them from abuse. But closeness need have nothing to do with sex. I'm sure I'm not the only one who loves snuggling with my children and would never dream of being sexual with them.

The one objective difficulty that I see to welcoming children in bed at night (aside from the smallness of the bed, for which there are simple solutions), is that mom and dad lose time just to themselves. Having a chance to snuggle together and privacy for a sexual relationship certainly requires a little more planning under these circumstances. We don't want to give up closeness with each other for the sake of closeness with the children. But I see more room for both than the experts would lead us to believe.

How many parents have children who crawl in with them--because they're scared, because they're lonely, because they're hungry for human contact--and then feel guilty about allowing such a terrible thing?

What if it's all right? What if it's not a sign of debilitating dependence on the part of the child, of weakness or potential perversion on ours? What if it's simply small human beings naturally hungry for the reassurance and human contact that parents naturally love to provide?

I think of Eskimos in their igloos, snuggled up together for warmth, of the Japanese spreading out their futons together on the floor. I think of siblings sharing beds for who knows how many generations in the past. I wonder if our current (western, affluent) emphasis on privacy and independence above all things is not progress after all, but unnatural isolation. I wonder if it will turn out to be just a brief aberration in history, a blip on the screen of time. In the meantime, I say, let them crawl in at night.