Q: I'm the stepmom of a wonderful 7-year-old boy who sleeps in his own bed at our house but sleeps in his mother's bed when he's with her. It's been that way since his parents' divorce five years ago. How do I convince him that he should be sleeping in his own room when he is at his mother's house? Mom has no interest in making him do so, and my husband doesn't want to make waves. What do we do?
A: First, it's not your place to convince your stepson of anything. It's his mother and father's place to gently direct him to his own bedroom -- and a perfect example of why it's important for parents to be on the same page when they co-parent after divorce. Such radical differences are confusing to a child and backfire on the parent who allows the behavior: When Mom eventually remarries -- and most people do -- it automatically puts the child and the new partner in competition with each other. Her new partner may feel as if the child is invading his territory, and -- aside from the psychological complications about which professionals warn -- when faced with the new sleeping arrangements, many kids simply think, "Now you like him better than me." Feelings of insecurity sprout from both fronts, and there you are, right in the middle. Once there, it's very difficult to get out.
Your husband's fear of not wanting to make waves is common, especially in non-custodial dads who feel guilty they can't live with their children. But letting guilt interfere with parenting is a surefire way to push the child to play Mom against Dad. It's just not good for the kids. So, if Mom doesn't see the importance of making a change, then establish rules at your own house and be open about why you have chosen them -- without bad-mouthing Mom in the process.
Your stepson is at the age when he could make the transition by himself. At 7 or 8 there will be sleepovers with friends, and in the natural order of things, he'll almost certainly end up sleeping in his own room.
Mom can make her son's transition to his own bed easier by getting on the same page with Dad and you in terms of rules associated with bedtime. Make the boy's room comforting so it's fun to stay in bed -- with toys of his choice, cuddly quilts, glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. Establish a go-to-bed ritual. Read a story (for younger kids), or make up a handshake or kiss ritual.