Friday 24 February 2017

Dear Mary: Seven-year-old sharing a bed with his mum

Mary O'Conor

Illustration: Tom Halliday.
Illustration: Tom Halliday.

Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.

Question: My seven year old grandson has been sharing a bed with his Mum since he was a baby.  Is this a cause for concern?  Your opinion would be greatly appreciated.

Mary replies: There are two schools of thought on the appropriateness or otherwise of non-infants sharing a bed with one or both parents. There are those who think it is perfectly fine and those who object strongly to the idea. The very fact that the term 'co-sleeping' has been coined shows that it happens very frequently.

You are concerned enough to have written to me and I have some thoughts in response.

I have to ask who is benefiting most from this arrangement - the parent or the child? If the mother started off by breastfeeding him and at night did so in her bed, then perhaps they both got used to it and she didn't make the transition of putting him into his own bed when he was weaned.

If she tried moving him into his own room and he kept coming back during the night, which is what a lot of children do, then just to get a night's sleep she may have allowed him in.

It is amazing how important one's sleep becomes when it is interrupted, as any new parent will confirm.

There is no mention of the child's father in your letter. Perhaps they are separated or she is a single mother, or a young widow. If the father is, in fact, also sharing the bed, then his wishes have to be taken into consideration, and if he is also happy for it to continue then you will have to allow them to deal with it in their own way.

If, however, she is alone and using her son as a comfort in her aloneness, then this is more for her benefit than the child's and he should be moved to his own room.

There is nothing necessarily perverse or wrong in what is going on, although if it were a seven year old daughter who was sharing her bed since birth with her father then in this age of awareness a lot of people would question the propriety of that.

You don't say if it is your daughter or your daughter-in-law, and this, of course, has a large bearing on anything you say or don't say to her.

You can discuss it openly with your daughter as you have known her all her life and you probably have a close bond, but if it is your son's child then you will have to be much more circumspect.

There is a natural order of a child separating from his parents, and being in his own room is one of the very early steps.

I feel that at the age of seven this step should have already been reached, although some people will disagree with me.

In any event, as soon as he begins to reach puberty he will no doubt want his own space, but right now that seems too far in the future.

His mother constantly insults my family

Question: I've been in a serious relationship with my boyfriend for a few years now, and his mother has always been a source of tension. We're both young and from the same socio-economic background in terms of family income and education level - but his family claim otherwise at every opportunity.

For example, his mother works part-time in a retail pharmacy and claims to be a pharmacist. I know for a fact this isn't true, and yet on several occasions his parents have tried to convince me that his mother went to an unheard of college for several years to be a pharmacist.

When I asked my boyfriend where she studied he claims he doesn't know. Over the years his parents have made snide remarks about my parents' jobs and where I'm from.

I know I shouldn't care because they're obviously insecure but I would love to shut this lie down once and for all. How do I do this indirectly? My boyfriend gets very defensive about this issue. Recently, his mother made a derogatory remark about my family, and I would like to remind them subtly but definitively that I don't buy their lies. I wouldn't get away with such elaborate lies, so why should they?

In the bigger picture, my boyfriend point blank refuses to question anything his parents - especially his mother - say or do. Even with all his siblings he takes the parents' side every time without question. I recently brought up a derogatory remark they directed towards me, and he completely lost his cool and got aggressive without even questioning his parents whatsoever. It's becoming really annoying that these issues keep resurfacing without resolve, and I'm finding it really unattractive that he is such a mammy's boy. I've tried being really nice to his mother and to no avail. I'm sick of her snide remarks and snobby attitude.

What should I do?

Mary replies: You have to be very careful in what you do or say. If what you say is true and his mother is not as qualified as she says she is then all her family knows that and so do you. There is absolutely no point in taking her on and trying to get her to admit the truth because she will not, and you will only create more animosity. On the other hand she has absolutely no right to denigrate your family in any way so next time she says anything even remotely critical or snide regarding your parents or their jobs you should take her on. Say very firmly that you were raised to respect everybody no matter where they came from, the colour of their skin or their religious beliefs, and that you are very sorry that she doesn't appear to share your family's values. That should stop her in her tracks without you losing any dignity.

I think this would also very subtly tell her that you will no longer put up with criticism of your family. She has been trying to appear superior to you and by you saying something along the line I suggest you will actually take control of the situation between you rather than always feeling frustrated.

It is a separate issue that you have a problem with your boyfriend's response to all this and his attitude generally towards his mother. Yes, he should back you up but it is quite a minefield when one starts criticising family members and particularly a mother, no matter how valid the criticism may be. Is this the only thing that you are unhappy about in the relationship or are there other aspects of his personality that you dislike? You should know him pretty well at this stage, and if everything else in the relationship is good then you will just have to put up with him not standing up to his mother. Hopefully you won't have to cross paths with her too often. If you end up being with him permanently you will have to reach some sort of compromise as to how often you will spend time with her. It is not an easy situation for you and you have my sympathy.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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