Is it OK for 9-y-o to sleep with mom when dad's away?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  August 10, 2011 06:00 AM

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I have a 9 year old son who is very big into snuggling. He has been that way since he was a baby. When my husband goes out of town on business trips (every other month or so), he insists on sleeping with me every night. Some nights he still crawls into bed with us. He still likes to snuggle before he goes to bed. He's also very affectionate. He can't hug you enough. I've always been very affectionate so I'm sure he's learned it from me. My question is this: at what age is it not ok for him to snuggle with me and sleep with me while my husband is away? It doesn't feel wrong to me but I don't want to do something that he is too old for.

From: Kate, Wayland, MA


Dear Kate,

In many cultures, sleeping together even at this age is not all that unusual. In our culture, it is, and the typical boy knows that. So this is not so much about being affectionate -- that's wonderful, and I say: count yourself among the lucky few, it could end any day -- it's about reading signals, both cultural ones and yours.

Specifically, I'm wondering whether your son somehow thinks it's his "job" to sleep in your bed when dad's gone. When your husband leaves, does he playfully tell your son, "You take good care of mom, now. You're the man of the house when I'm gone"? Do you off-handedly mention -- maybe not even to him, but on the phone to a friend? -- that you don't sleep well when your husband's away?

What's more, the typical 9-year-old most likely doesn't want to be snuggling with mom except now and then while you're watching TV together. This is usually tied to pre-puberty, so it could happen anytime.

So all of this further makes me wonder if there is something about his sleeping arrangements that frighten him and maybe thinks might be "babyish" to outright admit to. Or maybe hugging is his way of getting your undivided attention? I'm just throwing out ideas.

If you think maybe you've inadvertently sent signals that you need him in your bed, it's time to say, "You know, I'd like to sleep by myself when dad goes away this time." Don't put it on him. If he feels burdened, he will be relieved. If not, he could just be that rare kid who loves to snuggle, just like you say. If he protests, if this continues into puberty, or if you're just plain worried, consult your pediatrician.

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25 comments so far...
  1. Barbara, I think you're reading way too much into this.

    My 11 year old son is still snuggly, and still asks to sleep in my bed when my husband is traveling. He doesn't want to protect me, he just wants to be close. He also asks to sleep with Dad when I'm away.

    He is perfectly normal in all ways, he's just a very affectionate kid who likes to be close to his parents. It sounds like the LW's kid is the same way, from her description. Embrace it!

    Posted by akmom August 10, 11 06:49 AM
  1. I feel like someone or something has made this mom feel like she should be worried about this. Maybe the husband? As she tells it, neither she nor the child seem to have any problem with it, and both she and the child are very physically affectionate people in general. I'm with akmom, I think that's great. I know that it was difficult for me to learn to be cuddly, because that's not how I was raised. But as an an adult, I felt lonely. Touch is so important - it says so much more than words.

    Being comfortable with non-sexual physical affection makes you a wonderful friend, sibling, husband and parent. How many women complain about men who don't want to cuddle?

    As Barbara notes, in other cultures this wouldn't be unusual, therefore, I don't see why the LW should be worried about doing some sort of damage to her son. She doesn't report that he is in any other ways socially unaware or insecure. She's raising a sweet boy that has the confidence to be open and affectionate.

    Posted by Q August 10, 11 09:24 AM
  1. I would add that I am aware of a number of my son's friends who are equally affectionate and cuddly in the privacy of their own homes, so I don't think it's all *that* rare for boys to stay affectionate, at least in private.

    Posted by akmom August 10, 11 09:32 AM
  1. I think Barbara went out on a limb here. Also, do dads really talk to their sons like that? This isn't the 1950's, lol.

    Posted by geocool August 10, 11 09:39 AM
  1. Agreed - my 8-year-old son is affectionate in this way, and I'm enjoying it while it lasts. He's reluctant to show affection in public already, will only do it at home! It's only a matter of time before he outgrows this.

    Posted by M August 10, 11 11:37 AM
  1. My 12 1/2 year old son sleeps with me when my husband is away. He still likes to snuggle. There is no need to rush our children into not being children. Once they are grown up, they will be grown ups forever!

    Posted by Liz August 10, 11 12:55 PM
  1. LW, if you think enough is enough, then it's up to you to be the parent and set the limits, as opposed to waiting for your son to do so.

    I wonder what made this letter writer concerned. It doesn't sound he just started doing this, obviously this is behavior that they have encouraged in some way since he was little, so it's a habit for him.

    I think it's irrelevant that it's supported in other cultures, by the way. If she feels weird about it, she feels weird about it. And obviously she does or she wouldn't write in.

    Posted by pamela August 10, 11 01:04 PM
  1. Like the previous posters, I don't think there is anything unusual about it, particularly if he is already a snuggly a kid to begin with. My son is about to turn 9 and loves to cuddle up with my husband and me. He even loves to hug his brother. Like the letter writer's son, he has been like that since he was a baby; his brother is not quite as affectionate. If he tries to do it more than once in a week, we will make him go back to his bed, but once in a while it's nice. He also is more likely to assume he can sleep in my bed when my husband is away, maybe because he thinks I'm less likely to tell him to go back to his own bed (because one of the reasons I usually give him is that there isn't enough room for all of us), but there is no way he thinks he's protecting me! When he sees me at school, or when he's around friends, he's not very affectionate, which is to be expected, but otherwise, he can cuddle with me all he wants - I'm sure it won't last forever!

    Posted by mom2boys August 10, 11 02:04 PM
  1. I think Barbara is being way too critical. Would she still have a problem if it was a 9 year old girl? Maybe her son just sees it as bonding time with his mom. I know when i was little i loved chatting with my sister as we fell asleep, it could be the same thing for this boy. I dont think the mom is doing a thing wrong, in fact, good for her to raise an affectionate child.

    Posted by Anne August 10, 11 03:55 PM
  1. I'm actually going to disagree here and say that I don't think this is a good idea. Not beacuse the child is too old to snuggle, but because I think it sends a bad message. When dad's away, son gets this special time with mom, so son may begin to resent dad when he is home and taking son's place in mom's bed.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Posted by Sara August 10, 11 04:23 PM
  1. I also have a snuggly 12 year old son - I'm divorced from his dad, so there's no such thing as 'when dad's away'. Every so often, when my son is upset or concerned about something, he asks to sleep with me. I've finally had to say no, not because I think there is any issue with this but because he kicks in his sleep and I end up having to go sleep in his bed! Just like yours, my son is a very affectionate kid - he loves to hug and snuggle while reading or relaxing. But in public, of course, he keeps his distance - no hugging goodbye, no pats on the head. All perfectly normal.

    Though I understand Sara's point, the fact is that this boy also crawls into bed when dad is there. I suspect that he feels a bit insecure without the whole family home - perhaps worried a bit about dad on his travels. That small amount of anxiety is probably what makes him seek out his mom.

    Enjoy your sweet boy. He'll gradually get out of the habit as he gets older.

    Posted by CC August 10, 11 07:48 PM
  1. Enjoy it. The day will come when he will want nothing to do with you.

    Posted by Beachmum August 10, 11 09:00 PM
  1. Both of my sons (12 and 9) sleep with my husband when I travel for business. On the flip side, they both sleep with me when my husband travels! I think folks are looking too far into this by suggesting that they child feels they have to represent the absent parent. As mentioned by another poster, children grow up fast enough!

    Posted by elizabeth August 10, 11 10:06 PM
  1. Our 10 year old daughter slept in our bed till she was 7 and will now sleep with me when my husband is away. She is the most confident, secure and well-adjusted child I know, and many people have also told me so. The bonding time with a child (girl or boy) is so valuable for both parent and child. BTW -- I also have a 17 year old son who loves to cuddle and is very affectionate and caring, and he's an all-star athlete at school. Nurture these traits and you will have a solid relationship with your children throughout their lives.

    Posted by cuddlemom August 11, 11 06:45 AM
  1. "If he protests, if this continues into puberty, or if you're just plain worried, consult your pediatrician. "

    I didn't know that being snuggly was symptomatic of some sort of problem!! Is that the implication? I am sorry but I don't agree there is a problem here.We love when our kids are love-bugs but then turn around and tell them that it isn't ok. I think it is great that you have an affectionate child. That just very well may be an endearing quality about him even as an adult if it carries over. Chances are he is going to outgrow sleeping in mom's and dad's bed soon. I see nothing wrong with it. If you are uncomfortable though, then it is up to you as the parent to stop it Personally, I think you should enjoy it while it lasts.

    Posted by JD August 11, 11 06:54 AM
  1. My 11 yr old son also likes to cuddle and likes someone around when he falls asleep. I used to fall asleep with him in his bed but my husband was worried about him developing an Oedipal complex. I wasn't worried about it at all but my husband has been very influenced by his mother who is a child psychologist. I don't ascribe very much to her "insights" as she is not objective regarding her family plus I consider her methods outdated, IMHO. But I do just sit with him while he falls asleep now as a compromise. I would say that as long as your son continues to have a great relationship with his father then it's not an issue. They do grow up fast and there will be a point where they will not be as cuddly so enjoy it while you can.

    Posted by kat August 11, 11 07:17 AM
  1. I think the one thing we all need to grasp hold of is just this simple idea. When there are children near or around in other spots where they can hear and they do hear well is that as adults it would be a good idea to keep the topic of how one feels about things i.e. being alone at home when the spouse is away. Children need to feel that their parents are the protectors of them. This is why as adults with children we need to keep our emotions in check always. So in regards to the 9 year old boy, I think it would be better if his mother made him feel that both are okay and safe, so hence forth the child won't feel the need to crawl into bed with his mother.

    Posted by Carol J Sheehan August 11, 11 12:54 PM
  1. Two of my three kids snuggle often and the third snuggles on occasion. It breaks my heart to know they are going to grow out of it.

    Posted by ieatrocks August 11, 11 03:20 PM
  1. Kate from Wayland, I think you just have a snuggly son, just like I do. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it and I say keep snuggling and enjoy it while you can.

    Posted by Susan C. from Wayland too August 11, 11 04:17 PM
  1. Two of my three kids snuggle often and the third snuggles on occasion. It breaks my heart to know they are going to grow out of it.

    Posted by ieatrocks August 11, 11 05:06 PM
  1. The blog commentators (and maybe you, too, Kate and Barbara) seem to be getting all mixed up about the perfectly normal human/primate/mammalian love of physical contact with social, religious, and scientific concepts that prohibit or discourage sexual contact between consanguineous sexually mature beings.

    What's so weird about teaching our children that science (and most religions) rightly argue that humanoids need to reproduce with those outside the family group -- thereby increasing genetic (and possibly cultural) diversity?

    Mostly humans have throughout history slept together; close to each other to keep warm and to protect each other from predators. In hunter-gatherer societies women often nurse their children to age three or more. What's weird about that?

    Posted by Mary Ellen McCartthy August 11, 11 05:34 PM
  1. I agree with almost everyone above. I have two sons, 8 and 10, and both are very loving and snuggly with us and with each other. They love to be able to sleep with us on occasion, and especially when one of us is away. I refuse to let society take their affectionate natures and squelch them. I hope they are always this tactile!

    Posted by Sam Scott August 11, 11 09:37 PM
  1. My two boys (13 & 16) became even more snuggly after the divorce last September. Their father was very cold, but now that he is gone we really enjoy sharing the bed and snuggling, it's human nature.

    Posted by Sharon T August 12, 11 02:12 AM
  1. My nine year old son is very cuddly and affectionate. He too, likes to sleep in bed with me or my husband sometimes. I see nothing at all wrong with this. (after all he's 9 - not 19!)

    I know at some point he will outgrow it, so I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts! :)

    I wouldn't worry about it at all...he sounds like an awesome sweet kid - if you discourage it, you will only hurt his feelings...look at all these responses - much more common than you think!

    Posted by Maddie August 12, 11 09:30 AM
  1. I'm opposed to children sleeping with their parents. Kids need to be independent because its part of their character development and sense of self sufficiency. If kids are afraid of monsters, etc in their bedroom then they need to face up to it and learn to overcome it. Boys over 12 should especially not sleep with their mothers. Most of the writers here are females and dont understand that boys at 12 start having erections and wet dreams in their sleep. Its not right to be in bed with their mothers when that starts to happen. Boys need their privacy to grow up normally as teenagers when these things happen.

    Posted by Steve August 12, 11 02:56 PM
 
25 comments so far...
  1. Barbara, I think you're reading way too much into this.

    My 11 year old son is still snuggly, and still asks to sleep in my bed when my husband is traveling. He doesn't want to protect me, he just wants to be close. He also asks to sleep with Dad when I'm away.

    He is perfectly normal in all ways, he's just a very affectionate kid who likes to be close to his parents. It sounds like the LW's kid is the same way, from her description. Embrace it!

    Posted by akmom August 10, 11 06:49 AM
  1. I feel like someone or something has made this mom feel like she should be worried about this. Maybe the husband? As she tells it, neither she nor the child seem to have any problem with it, and both she and the child are very physically affectionate people in general. I'm with akmom, I think that's great. I know that it was difficult for me to learn to be cuddly, because that's not how I was raised. But as an an adult, I felt lonely. Touch is so important - it says so much more than words.

    Being comfortable with non-sexual physical affection makes you a wonderful friend, sibling, husband and parent. How many women complain about men who don't want to cuddle?

    As Barbara notes, in other cultures this wouldn't be unusual, therefore, I don't see why the LW should be worried about doing some sort of damage to her son. She doesn't report that he is in any other ways socially unaware or insecure. She's raising a sweet boy that has the confidence to be open and affectionate.

    Posted by Q August 10, 11 09:24 AM
  1. I would add that I am aware of a number of my son's friends who are equally affectionate and cuddly in the privacy of their own homes, so I don't think it's all *that* rare for boys to stay affectionate, at least in private.

    Posted by akmom August 10, 11 09:32 AM
  1. I think Barbara went out on a limb here. Also, do dads really talk to their sons like that? This isn't the 1950's, lol.

    Posted by geocool August 10, 11 09:39 AM
  1. Agreed - my 8-year-old son is affectionate in this way, and I'm enjoying it while it lasts. He's reluctant to show affection in public already, will only do it at home! It's only a matter of time before he outgrows this.

    Posted by M August 10, 11 11:37 AM
  1. My 12 1/2 year old son sleeps with me when my husband is away. He still likes to snuggle. There is no need to rush our children into not being children. Once they are grown up, they will be grown ups forever!

    Posted by Liz August 10, 11 12:55 PM
  1. LW, if you think enough is enough, then it's up to you to be the parent and set the limits, as opposed to waiting for your son to do so.

    I wonder what made this letter writer concerned. It doesn't sound he just started doing this, obviously this is behavior that they have encouraged in some way since he was little, so it's a habit for him.

    I think it's irrelevant that it's supported in other cultures, by the way. If she feels weird about it, she feels weird about it. And obviously she does or she wouldn't write in.

    Posted by pamela August 10, 11 01:04 PM
  1. Like the previous posters, I don't think there is anything unusual about it, particularly if he is already a snuggly a kid to begin with. My son is about to turn 9 and loves to cuddle up with my husband and me. He even loves to hug his brother. Like the letter writer's son, he has been like that since he was a baby; his brother is not quite as affectionate. If he tries to do it more than once in a week, we will make him go back to his bed, but once in a while it's nice. He also is more likely to assume he can sleep in my bed when my husband is away, maybe because he thinks I'm less likely to tell him to go back to his own bed (because one of the reasons I usually give him is that there isn't enough room for all of us), but there is no way he thinks he's protecting me! When he sees me at school, or when he's around friends, he's not very affectionate, which is to be expected, but otherwise, he can cuddle with me all he wants - I'm sure it won't last forever!

    Posted by mom2boys August 10, 11 02:04 PM
  1. I think Barbara is being way too critical. Would she still have a problem if it was a 9 year old girl? Maybe her son just sees it as bonding time with his mom. I know when i was little i loved chatting with my sister as we fell asleep, it could be the same thing for this boy. I dont think the mom is doing a thing wrong, in fact, good for her to raise an affectionate child.

    Posted by Anne August 10, 11 03:55 PM
  1. I'm actually going to disagree here and say that I don't think this is a good idea. Not beacuse the child is too old to snuggle, but because I think it sends a bad message. When dad's away, son gets this special time with mom, so son may begin to resent dad when he is home and taking son's place in mom's bed.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Posted by Sara August 10, 11 04:23 PM
  1. I also have a snuggly 12 year old son - I'm divorced from his dad, so there's no such thing as 'when dad's away'. Every so often, when my son is upset or concerned about something, he asks to sleep with me. I've finally had to say no, not because I think there is any issue with this but because he kicks in his sleep and I end up having to go sleep in his bed! Just like yours, my son is a very affectionate kid - he loves to hug and snuggle while reading or relaxing. But in public, of course, he keeps his distance - no hugging goodbye, no pats on the head. All perfectly normal.

    Though I understand Sara's point, the fact is that this boy also crawls into bed when dad is there. I suspect that he feels a bit insecure without the whole family home - perhaps worried a bit about dad on his travels. That small amount of anxiety is probably what makes him seek out his mom.

    Enjoy your sweet boy. He'll gradually get out of the habit as he gets older.

    Posted by CC August 10, 11 07:48 PM
  1. Enjoy it. The day will come when he will want nothing to do with you.

    Posted by Beachmum August 10, 11 09:00 PM
  1. Both of my sons (12 and 9) sleep with my husband when I travel for business. On the flip side, they both sleep with me when my husband travels! I think folks are looking too far into this by suggesting that they child feels they have to represent the absent parent. As mentioned by another poster, children grow up fast enough!

    Posted by elizabeth August 10, 11 10:06 PM
  1. Our 10 year old daughter slept in our bed till she was 7 and will now sleep with me when my husband is away. She is the most confident, secure and well-adjusted child I know, and many people have also told me so. The bonding time with a child (girl or boy) is so valuable for both parent and child. BTW -- I also have a 17 year old son who loves to cuddle and is very affectionate and caring, and he's an all-star athlete at school. Nurture these traits and you will have a solid relationship with your children throughout their lives.

    Posted by cuddlemom August 11, 11 06:45 AM
  1. "If he protests, if this continues into puberty, or if you're just plain worried, consult your pediatrician. "

    I didn't know that being snuggly was symptomatic of some sort of problem!! Is that the implication? I am sorry but I don't agree there is a problem here.We love when our kids are love-bugs but then turn around and tell them that it isn't ok. I think it is great that you have an affectionate child. That just very well may be an endearing quality about him even as an adult if it carries over. Chances are he is going to outgrow sleeping in mom's and dad's bed soon. I see nothing wrong with it. If you are uncomfortable though, then it is up to you as the parent to stop it Personally, I think you should enjoy it while it lasts.

    Posted by JD August 11, 11 06:54 AM
  1. My 11 yr old son also likes to cuddle and likes someone around when he falls asleep. I used to fall asleep with him in his bed but my husband was worried about him developing an Oedipal complex. I wasn't worried about it at all but my husband has been very influenced by his mother who is a child psychologist. I don't ascribe very much to her "insights" as she is not objective regarding her family plus I consider her methods outdated, IMHO. But I do just sit with him while he falls asleep now as a compromise. I would say that as long as your son continues to have a great relationship with his father then it's not an issue. They do grow up fast and there will be a point where they will not be as cuddly so enjoy it while you can.

    Posted by kat August 11, 11 07:17 AM
  1. I think the one thing we all need to grasp hold of is just this simple idea. When there are children near or around in other spots where they can hear and they do hear well is that as adults it would be a good idea to keep the topic of how one feels about things i.e. being alone at home when the spouse is away. Children need to feel that their parents are the protectors of them. This is why as adults with children we need to keep our emotions in check always. So in regards to the 9 year old boy, I think it would be better if his mother made him feel that both are okay and safe, so hence forth the child won't feel the need to crawl into bed with his mother.

    Posted by Carol J Sheehan August 11, 11 12:54 PM
  1. Two of my three kids snuggle often and the third snuggles on occasion. It breaks my heart to know they are going to grow out of it.

    Posted by ieatrocks August 11, 11 03:20 PM
  1. Kate from Wayland, I think you just have a snuggly son, just like I do. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it and I say keep snuggling and enjoy it while you can.

    Posted by Susan C. from Wayland too August 11, 11 04:17 PM
  1. Two of my three kids snuggle often and the third snuggles on occasion. It breaks my heart to know they are going to grow out of it.

    Posted by ieatrocks August 11, 11 05:06 PM
  1. The blog commentators (and maybe you, too, Kate and Barbara) seem to be getting all mixed up about the perfectly normal human/primate/mammalian love of physical contact with social, religious, and scientific concepts that prohibit or discourage sexual contact between consanguineous sexually mature beings.

    What's so weird about teaching our children that science (and most religions) rightly argue that humanoids need to reproduce with those outside the family group -- thereby increasing genetic (and possibly cultural) diversity?

    Mostly humans have throughout history slept together; close to each other to keep warm and to protect each other from predators. In hunter-gatherer societies women often nurse their children to age three or more. What's weird about that?

    Posted by Mary Ellen McCartthy August 11, 11 05:34 PM
  1. I agree with almost everyone above. I have two sons, 8 and 10, and both are very loving and snuggly with us and with each other. They love to be able to sleep with us on occasion, and especially when one of us is away. I refuse to let society take their affectionate natures and squelch them. I hope they are always this tactile!

    Posted by Sam Scott August 11, 11 09:37 PM
  1. My two boys (13 & 16) became even more snuggly after the divorce last September. Their father was very cold, but now that he is gone we really enjoy sharing the bed and snuggling, it's human nature.

    Posted by Sharon T August 12, 11 02:12 AM
  1. My nine year old son is very cuddly and affectionate. He too, likes to sleep in bed with me or my husband sometimes. I see nothing at all wrong with this. (after all he's 9 - not 19!)

    I know at some point he will outgrow it, so I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts! :)

    I wouldn't worry about it at all...he sounds like an awesome sweet kid - if you discourage it, you will only hurt his feelings...look at all these responses - much more common than you think!

    Posted by Maddie August 12, 11 09:30 AM
  1. I'm opposed to children sleeping with their parents. Kids need to be independent because its part of their character development and sense of self sufficiency. If kids are afraid of monsters, etc in their bedroom then they need to face up to it and learn to overcome it. Boys over 12 should especially not sleep with their mothers. Most of the writers here are females and dont understand that boys at 12 start having erections and wet dreams in their sleep. Its not right to be in bed with their mothers when that starts to happen. Boys need their privacy to grow up normally as teenagers when these things happen.

    Posted by Steve August 12, 11 02:56 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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