Confession: My son is 5. He sleeps in a crib.
He’s never asked for a “big-boy” bed. I’ve never suggested one. His crib, passed from his sister, now 10, to his brother, now 8, has been our 5-year-old’s since a few months after he was born.
My own mother, troubled by my resistance to putting my not-so-little one in a bed, gifted us more than enough money on the occasion of his 5th birthday — now several months ago — to buy two beds.
But my hesitancy has little to do with money. It has nothing to do with any statement I’m trying to make on sleeping arrangements: The other two were out of the crib around their 2nd birthdays.
It’s the same reason I can’t unload our strollers though they haven’t been used in a year. It’s the reason I keep portable cribs in my closet. It’s why I don’t gift hand-me-downs. It’s why even as I write this, there’s a pain in my heart.
It’s because I don’t want them to grow up.
Somehow, social media knows this about me and I’m inundated with posts from mothers who are having similar trouble letting go. And while many of my mom friends are happy to leave the baby days behind, there are a select few that, just like me, will tear up at the thought of babies who are no longer, well, babies.
It wasn’t until I started thinking about this as an article, however, that I realized if I were to write about it, I’d have to explore the obvious question that until now I’d been dismissing: Could I be in fact harming my child by not letting this crib go?
As it turns out — thankfully — at this stage there’s probably little long-term damage done. But as it turns out, my “baby” not asking for a big-boy bed might have nothing to do with not wanting one, and everything to do with the vibe I’m giving.
“If you have been feeling that you aren’t ready for your child to transition to a bigger bed, your child will likely feel that and respond to that as well,” said Kelly Oriard, licensed family therapist and co-founder of Slumberkins, which offers resources to promote well-being for all and foster a bond between parents or caregivers and children.
“While I would not say it is scarring or harming your child, I would say that your hesitance could impact his feelings of confidence in himself to grow, change and develop in healthy and typical ways,” she said. “It is natural for children to want to grow and reach the next step, but they need parents to show confidence and provide the security that it is safe and okay for them to do so.”
“From the perspective of an early childhood expert, generally, there aren’t many long-term, direct emotional effects associated with this case,” said Anisha Angella, an early childhood expert and childhood coach. “We know children grow and develop in different ways.”
However, she added, it’s important to keep in mind that around the age of 5, children will “start to identify what is common or ‘the norm’ within their peer groups and associate their self-esteem with their findings.”
Here are some expert tips for transitioning your child — and you — to the next phase:
1. Acknowledge your feelings. “There is definitely grievance and loss associated with this process,” said Oriard. “If you feel yourself trying to avoid this grievance, I’d encourage you to pause, and sit with it instead.”
2. Allow yourself to feel all the feelings associated with your child growing up. “Some parents might notice their own attachment style getting triggered,” said Oriard. “This could be something to explore deeper or even process with a therapist if your feelings around this loss are feeling intense.”
3. Take it slow. “Transitions are usually the hardest part for both the child and for the parent. Starting a new routine, new experience or subject can be triggering and seem impossible to start,” said Angella. In other words, no need to put the crib on the curb tomorrow—both of us can take our time, but it’s time to get started.
4. Good days are yet to come. “Remember that although you may be losing something, you will also gain things too as your children grow,” said Oriard. “Work to send a message to your child that you are not threatened or hurt by his growth. You can be a supportive cheerleader to him as he takes his next steps to grow, whether that be changing beds or other important steps.”