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I have a new employee (3 months) who has divulged that she is a recovering drug addict who has recently regained joint custody of her 8-year old son. She has a history of dating inappropriate men (her words): alcoholics, addicts, abusers. She recently completed divorce procedings, and ended a brief relationship that she had with a "friend" from rehab. About two weeks ago she started dating another recovering addict. She lives in a one-bedroom apartment and when her son is with her they share a bed.

She casually mentioned today that she didn't get much sleep as she had the new boyfriend and her son in bed with her over the weekend. I don't believe she was having sex with the boyfriend during that time, however, I nearly flipped that she would in any way think it was appropriate to have the boyfriend interacting with her son at all, yet; appropriate to spending the night with the boyfriend, yet and have them both in the same bed together with her. I was so appalled that I said without thinking, "Are you kidding me? That is a really BAD idea!" Since it's really none of my business as I am her employer and not her friend, I quickly countered with, "Sorry, not that it's any of my business..." She just answered "That's okay, I value your opinion, and it gives me something to think over."

My inclination is to try to gently educate her about the problems this could cause for her son and herself without getting any more directly involved. Could anyone give me some suggestions about websites or books where this specific type of behavior is addressed that I could recommend to her? It seems like such a "no-brainer," yet she is evidently oblivious to the damage this could cause.

Thanks for your help!


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I don't know any specific websites or books that I can point you to. Try searching under "co-sleeping" or "family bed" for that type of information. I don't think that there is much well-designed scientific research that has investigated the pros and cons of this type of behavior.

However, here is some information that you might pass along-

Typically when children co-sleep, the benefits discussed are meant to apply to infants that are breastfeeding (the children sleep more soundly, are less anxious, etc.) When children get older, however, there are potential benefits to both the child and parent if the child sleeps in his or her own bed. For instance, children who go to sleep in their own beds learn a skill called self-soothing, which is basically a way to calm themselves down from being stressed out or wound up (you can imagine why this would be a useful life skill). They also might sleep more soundly when they are alone than with a parent, if the parent moves around, has a different/later bedtime, snores, or has the t.v. on, etc. Also, parents who have their own beds benefit from having some alone time, both for rest and rejuvenation, as well as intimacy with a partner.

This can be a cultural and societal issue. Some cultures and societies find nothing wrong with a family bed... in fact, they might think forcing a child to sleep alone is cruel and unusual. In America, however, we tend to value independence and self reliance, which also extends to sleeping behavior. Most Americans (like you) would also find engaging in sexual acts while a child was in the same room or bed as unusual and borderline (or outright) abusive. This type of behavior would open a can of worms that the mother needs to be prepared to handle. She would need to be comfortable answering questions about sex in a frank and open manner, as well as explaining why she is choosing to engage in this type of behavior near her son instead of in private. In short, it would be much easier to have sex somewhere else, when the child is in another room, or with a babysitter, etc.

What do others think?

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Thank you for your reply, but I guess I wasn't clear on my main concern: this woman has known the boyfriend for two weeks. I'm not that concerned about my employee sleeping with her son when her son is there. I understand that because of his situation he may feel particularly insecure and feel the need for the closeness of sleeping with mom.

My concern is that she is jumping from one extremely inappropirate relationship to another and her child's well-being is being ignored. She doesn't see that all of her actions affect his mental health, and I feel if she could read something that discusses how these transient relationships affect her and her child, she may be able to stop making such bad choices.

I spoke with her a bit more about this later in the day yesterday (she approached me), and she admitted to me that she feels that she really doesn't know how to parent her son because she's been absent (because of drug use) from him for 5 of his 8 years. She seems to be actively looking for help.



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I found these two books from an Amazon.com search that I'm going to suggest she look for at the library:

Parenting One Day at a Time: Using the Tools of Recovery to Become Better Parents and Raise Better Kids by Alex J. Packer and

Healing the Hurt: Rebuilding Relationships With Your Children: A Self-Help Guide for Parents in Recovery by Rosalie Cruise Jesse


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I'm thinking that if there is one concept that would be good to get her to think about, it would be boundaries - as in psychological boundaries that a family therapist would talk about. See my essay on the subject of Boundaries and Dysfunctional Family Systems for a good basic introduction.

We can think of this woman as having several problematic boundaries at present.

1) the boundary between parent and child is not being maintained. The sleeping arrangement, while perhaps forced by economic necessity, is not providing this pre-teen enough private space. Adult things are not being separated from child things. It's not just the physical sleeping arrangement, but more to the point, the behavior that she is allowing her son to witness (e.g., possibly sleeping with someone she doesn't know well). So - she's possibly enmeshed (not enough of a boundary there) with her son which doesn't afford him privacy or shield him from adult problems.

2) the boundary around the family unit (parent AND child) is also weak or non-existant - becuase she is allowing these people into that boundary way too early and some of these people are going to do damage (possibly be neglectful or abusive). At least, this is a very poor example for the son who doens't learn how to set up and maintain his own boundaries. His attachment gets screwy - both with mom and with the other transient parent-like adults who flit into and out of his life.

What the lady needs to think about is how to set up better shields or boundaries or fences around herself and her son, and around her family and boyfriends.

Possibly she needs to think about other related concepts like Assertiveness (e.g., being able to say "no" to people who push her to do things she doesn't really want to do).

We have a free online self-help book "Psychological Self-Tools" that talks about boundaries and assertivenss somewhat - it's not perfectly what she needs to think about, but it would be worth her time to take a look at it. Chapter 8 on Changing your relationships would be a decent place to read.

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Your employee may also need to get involved in a family therapy relationship with a therapist who can address the larger goals of attachment and boundaries (as Mark suggested), as well as talk about some basic, day to day parenting skills. A licensed family therapist would be a good type of person to seek out for this type of help.

Many people with a lack of basic knowledge on a psychological topic need someone to help them in "real time" rather than just reading it in a book. I assume that she has been involved in some sort of social services program if she didn't have her son for a period of time. She may feel a bit reluctant to ask for help, and worry that she will lose her son again. Remind her that asking for help appropriately (e.g., going back to the social worker and asking for recommendations for low or no cost therapists that can help her with parenting skills and attachment issues) is actually a sign of strength rather than weakness.

In the meantime, in addition to the other suggestions, I would recommend that she take a look at our child development series. It can help her understand basic information about child development (what went on when she wasn't with her son) and parenting skills that are useful for all ages.

Kudos to you for being concerned enough to bring up this topic with her and trying to help her out.

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Thanks for your suggestions.

This woman is an excellent employee thus far, and I'd really like for her to reach her potential with our organization. I worry for her son and for her future with us if she isn't able to set up boundries for herself. With your ideas and some reading material to guide her, I hope she can start making better decisions about her personal life.


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