My 11-year-old son is sleeping in his mother’s bed every night – is this normal?
Dear Dr. Milrod:
I have two children, a son 11, and a daughter in elementary school. My daughter has a developmental disability whereas my son’s child development has been normal. He is a bright boy, athletic, active and happy. He plays computer games and does the usual boy things with his friends from school. At night, my wife puts our children to bed – ours. She has been doing that for as far back as I can remember. This has resulted in no private sex life for us as a couple. While it’s been so long that I’m no longer upset about it and have accepted it as fact, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s normal to have an 11-year-old boy in bed with his mother. He is beginning to sprout hair on his legs and he is tall for his age. I have raised the issue with my wife but she refuses to listen, claiming that it’s natural and healthy for the kids to sleep next to her. Is this really so?
You are correct in assuming that it is neither recommended nor psychologically healthy for your son to sleep in his mother’s bed at the age of 11. While longitudinal research has shown that children up to 6 years of age have had no psychological or developmental consequences from parental co-sleeping, a boy of 11 years is another matter. From a biopsychosocial perspective, he is entering puberty and adolescence. Not only will his secondary sex characteristics such as hair on his legs and face begin to manifest, he is also going to experience an increased frequency of erections, both during waking and sleeping and also nocturnal emissions, i.e. “wet dreams.” From a social perspective, he will begin to establish his independence from his mother while there will be a simultaneous need for increased peer interaction. There will also be an increased need for privacy, in which he can become familiar with his sexual impulses, his preferred way of masturbating and sexual fantasizing. It is highly inappropriate that he experience this with his mother next to him, as it could needlessly stimulate him, confuse him and even make him feel guilty and somewhat “wrong” about doing what is otherwise developmentally healthy. In addition, the possible erotic stimulation of being near his mother could set him on an atypical sexual scripting path that might discourage him from eventually engaging in healthy sexual interaction with his peers, be they of opposite or same-sex orientation.
You will need to discuss this with your wife; after all, it is possible that she is having some abandonment or attachment issues that have influenced her to seek comfort in an affectionate relationship with her children. Even your daughter, regardless of her disability, needs to learn how to sleep in her own bed. For now, the behavior must be stopped and some in-depth communication must occur so that your wife understands the inappropriate and possibly damaging effects of her preference.
Christine Milrod, Ph.D.