Q: I’m wondering exactly how to handle this situ-
ation, and I thought you might be able to help. My husband dies unexpectedly in a car accident three years ago. I have a daughter who is now 4. Since it’s been just her and me, we often sleep together. It was a difficult transition for both of us when her daddy died. I’ve recently met someone I really like — which I thought would never happen, but it did. I’d like him to sleep over, but it’s difficult to get my daughter out of my bed. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Don’t we all like to snuggle with our kids at night — and just about every parent in the world will tell you that their child occasionally sneaks in their bed during a thunderstorm or after a bad dream, but the key word is “occasionally.” Those who subscribe to the “family bed” philosophy might disagree; however, things are different when you don’t live with your child’s other parent.
If a parent dies or you break-up, the natural order of things is to grieve, but hopefully, you will find someone again who will become a partner and your soft place to fall. The problem is, if you’re sleeping with your child and kick them out of the bed because your new guy is coming over, you’ve put your child in direct competition with your new love. I can’t tell you how many children have confided that “Mommy loves (you fill in the blank) more than me. When asked to explain, it’s very simple, “Mommy said I can’t sleep with her anymore because (again, you fill in the blank) is sleeping here. She likes him more than me.”
In the world of good ex-etiquette it’s always best to anticipate things like this so kids can’t correlate a change in something they love with the introduction of someone new. If it’s obvious you’ve stopped doing anything with your child because of the introduction of a new partner, you’ve sabotaged your relationship with him as well as your child’s relationship with him. This may mean you must go slower than you would like, but it’s what you have to do. “Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 1 is, “Put the children first.” It’s particularly important in your case since your child’s father has passed. Your new partner may be the father figure she grows up with. The last thing you want to do is undermine that relationship before it starts.
So, from a practical standpoint, the goal is to gently wean her from your bed. Make sure her room is inviting. If you can afford it, try redecorating — paint the room her favorite color — new quilt, stars on the ceiling, whatever it takes to make it feel special so she’ll want to sleep in there. Establish a good night ritual to help her wind down and comfortably slip off to sleep. If she comes into your bed at night, gently walk her back reinforcing that her room is a safe place. If you stay consistent, she’ll get accustomed to sleeping in her own room and then take a look at your new relationship. That’s good ex-etiquette.