I rarely am asked this question when traveling. This past weekend my husband and I took our 15 month old and our 10 and 8 year old nephews to Cherai Beach, near Cochin here in India. We clearly needed a large room to accommodate two adults and three children, so we opted for a “suite” at a beach side hotel. I noticed something for the first time when we made the reservation. No one from the hotel asked us if we need a crib, extra bed, or a cot. Then I started thinking back to hotels we’ve stayed at in India, the U.S., and all over the world and I notice a pattern, which I find interesting.
Not one hotel we have ever stayed at in India with our baby, which has been close to a couple dozen in various northern and southern parts, has ever offered to put a crib in our room for our baby when we’ve made a reservation or when we checked in. After telling the hotel this weekend our children’s ages, they just responded by saying the room is plenty big for our family, complete with an ocean view and one king sized bed. End of conversation. That’s because here in India, where over a billion of the world’s population lives, it’s normal to sleep with babies, and big kids too.
I’m not talking about village people, or those that live in one room huts where families all sleep on a dirt floor. I’m talking about a country where even wealthy people traveling to five star resorts share their bed with their kids. That’s just what people do in most of the world, whether good or bad. I try to avoid judgment because after having my own child I’ve tossed so many ideas about parenting to the wind and I realize that everyone just has to do what works best for them. Before I had a baby of my own, I’ll admit I thought it would be quite an intrusion into my marriage to have my child in bed with us and had two cribs purchased for her, but she hasn’t slept anywhere but in our bed with us since she was born.
So then I try to recall hotels we’ve stayed elsewhere throughout South America, Africa, Middle East, and the U.S. I can see a pattern of where Western influences have infiltrated the privacy of hotel rooms. I am more frequently asked if I need a crib in hotels where there has been greater Western influence. At one B&B in South Africa the (white) owner emailed me to ask if we needed a cot in the room. When I told her it wasn’t necessary, she told me that babies are not allowed to sleep in her beds with parents because if they wet the bed she’ll lose her four star rating. I found that a bit violating, to be honest, and the excuse to be pretty lame. My baby wears diapers in bed. Does she ask every couple that stays with her not to have sex on the bed, or to please use a condom so as not to soil her bed and lose her rating, as well? We’ve stayed at dozens of four and five star hotels across the world and slept with our baby in bed with us, no questions asked of hotel management. As an owner of a private business she, of course, has every right to make up any policy that she chooses, but seriously?
I’ll admit, it’s annoying when my 15 month old wakes me because she kicks me in the face, or I catch myself almost falling out of bed because she’s laying horizontally between my husband and I. But since the day she was born I have slept better knowing my baby is safe beside me able to comfort her and make her feel safe, too. It just feels right to me, and I try to rely on my instincts as a mother, because there’s got to be some reason we have instincts in the first place. Plus, my husband and I agree that the favorite part of our day is waking up with our daughter and enjoying quiet time together as a family before starting our busy day. Before she even opens her eyes she often smiles and whispers, “Dah-dy,” and proceeds to roll all over us, giggling quietly.
In most of the world this is the status quo, because human kind has thrived on keeping its progeny safe by instinct, which has included keeping our babies and children close to us. In the very beginning leaving our child in another part of the cave would have left it vulnerable to predators or weather that could have taken its life. We’ve obviously evolved from that, but in different ways throughout the world. In Western societies where industrialization has regimented parents’ schedules and rewarded routine, cribs and separating babies younger from parents has been of greater convenience to parents and their efficiency.
In other parts of the world where routine and regime are not as highly valued, cribs and separating babies from parents are a completely foreign idea, because there hasn’t been any need to do so. It goes against instinct to sleep apart from a vulnerable baby. It has nothing to do with cribs suddenly making sleep more safe to babies that have been thriving for centuries, but more to do with the emergence of parents’ needs in a modern culture and what we value in our culture. Cribs evolved out of convenience for working parents, not out of a need to keep babies safe.
Personally for me, I’ve found cribs to be a great inconvenience, primarily because I get less sleep having to fully wake rather than simply rouse when my baby needs feeding. It’s also a great inconvenience for travel because it adds unnecessary weight, luggage, and cramps my usually already cramped space in hotel rooms across the world.
Co-sleeping, bed sharing, family bed- call it what you will. Most of the world doesn’t label it all, because there’s no discussion on doing “it” or not- for most of the world- it’s just called sleep.