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Uhhhh…….what? It’s a sin to allow kids two and up to sleep with parents? July 25, 2016

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, catachesis, Domestic Church, family, General Catholic, huh?, Interior Life, Saints, sanctity, Tradition, Virtue.

Does anyone have any idea what Church law or Doctrine St. John Vianney is referencing below?

You should never have your children sleeping with you from the time they are two years old.  If you do, you are committing a sin.  The Church did not make this law without reason.  You are bound to observe it………

…….Still, my dear brethren, there are fathers and mothers who are so little instructed in their religion or who are so indifferent to their duties that they will have sleeping with them children from fifteen to eighteen years of age, and often brothers and sisters together……..

……But I will return to the subject and repeat to you that all the time that you allow your children to sleep with you after they have reached two years of age, you are offending God…..

Now, on the recommendations of solid priests, I agree with the following:

  • Children above a very young age, perhaps a bit older than two, should not sleep together if possible
  • Brothers and sisters especially above 3 or 4 or 5 (depending on the children) should not sleep together
  • Yes it would be rather ridiculous to have a 15 or 18 year old sleep in the parent’s bed.  That is disordered, certainly, and could prove disastrous.
  • It is probably desirable not to have children sleep with the parents at all if it can be avoided, but when mom is exhausted and the baby wants to eat all night sometimes it just sort of happens by osmosis.  Whether there should be a “cutoff age” I think depends very much upon the child.

But what I do not comprehend is where this becomes a sin, or upon what basis.  There has been a tendency at times among certain moral rigorists to hearken back to obscure Old Testament Scripture, find some obtuse or inappropriately understood statement, and from that attempt to impose a hard law on the faithful.  However, there are few if any occasions that I can think of where the Church itself – beyond some small school or moral theologians – actually accepted these very specific “regulations” as Doctrine and imposed them on the entire Church as a matter of conscience, bound to be accepted upon pain of sin.

Would it be a sin, for instance, if the four year old frightened by a thunderstorm wants to crawl into bed with mom and dad?  My wife and I have hit upon the expedient of letting them build a little bed out of sheets and blankets on the floor next to our bed, but, sometimes, the child is just too frightened/excited for that to work.  So, is it sinful only as a normal practice, or in every case? Do you just throw the kid out and tell them to toughen up, buttercup?  That seems not only unreasonable, but uncharitable.

I was a bit offended when I read the introduction to the book The Sermons of the Cure’ of Ars that asserted that some lingering Jansenism may have crept into the Cure’s sermons, but having read the book, I’m not entirely certain that assertion was wrong.  There are a number of times the holy Cure’ claims that certain actions – dancing, for instance – are always sinful, when, plainly, they are not.

Of course, St. John Vianney was serving souls in a very different time and place.  He had taken over the care of souls who had been long abandoned to fend for themselves, more or less, and received no solid moral guidance for decades.  In that case, some toughness or rigorism may have been called for.

It’s a bit strange to say, but while with some Saints, especially the Doctors of the Church, one can take pretty much every thing they say as golden, with some other Saints, some caution may be advised, based on the particular time and place in which they carried out their apostolate and any extremities that may have been called for in that environment.  Something to keep in mind.


1. Chad - July 25, 2016

I recently came across the same advice in the lenten mission pasted below. The reasoning is that children, not knowing better, will explore actions of a sexual nature without any knowledge of it being wrong. By the time parents find out, its an ingrained habit and will have long term repercussions. Will every child fall into it? No. But enough will

Tantumblogo - July 25, 2016

Regarding parents sleeping with kids, or kids together?

Chad - July 25, 2016

He mentioned both, though I paid more attention to the kids. My impression was that, while a kid cannot be as physical with parents as with siblings of same/opposite sex, they can still develope unnatural attachments. He also mentioned one story where a mother had smothered a nursing baby in her sleep.

From a personal take, it seems unfitting to allow children to intrude into the most sacred place of the married vocation. An occasional allowance is one thing, similar to the laity being able to occasionally approach a sanctuary alter for various duties. But in both cases, doing so lightly or without cause due to duty on any kind of regular basis, would be worrisome.

2. Baseballmom - July 25, 2016

Thank you for this. I too wondered about some of his sermons/advice to parents. Some of it very good, some made no sense to me at all. Just because one is a saint it does not follow that everything they said or wrote is to be followed. Being declared a saint means that a soul is declared, by the Church, to be in Heaven, correct?

Tantumblogo - July 25, 2016

Absolutely. You’re right on.

Yeah, there’s a good deal more in the book that is troubling. There is more than a whiff of Jansenism. He was extremely rigorous in many areas. If parents did not constantly monitor their children working in the fields it was a mortal sin and would be damned, etc. All dancing is sinful.

Good reasons to be careful.

DM - July 25, 2016

I’m going to have to agree with the Saint about dancing, if not the strict arbitrary age of children in the parents’ bed. If things were bad enough 200 years ago for him to completely prohibit it, I think he would be more than justified in saying so today. I’m honestly quite surprised at some of the traditional parishes that allow and even promote dancing. I’m sure in these few cases they intend well and isn’t as bad as say in a nightclub, but I’m sorry, the occasion of sin that it represents in our culture today is just far too great to justify allowing it, in my opinion.

Yes, some of what they said may seem extreme to us today, but the accusations of Jansenism that are constantly made today, both by modernists and even many orthodox Catholics against great Saints and churchmen like St. John Vianney really tick me off. People today certainly do not know better than them about moral issues, and it strikes me as just a subtle way of trying to justify sin or at least occasions of sin, as opposed to the supposed “Jansenism” scarecrow they like to use to refer to moral or doctrinal purity.

Brian Springer - July 25, 2016

Aren’t occasions of sin relative to the subject though? They don’t have to be sinful in of themselves, they just need to be sinful to the person.

Two people can go to the same dance, one emerges unharmed, the other with sins against purity on his soul. The dance is an occasion of sin for one but not the other. Which means that dancing cannot be considered sinful in of itself. A priest can say, based on anecdotal evidence, that because so many people have admitted to using dances sinfully, that it is best that dancing is not indulged in the first place, but to claim that it is completely forbidden is not true.

Tantumblogo - July 25, 2016

YES! That’s my point from the post. There is a very substantial difference between acts that have the potential to result in sin, and the acts themselves being sinful. We need to be careful to distinguish between what is disordered or imprudent, and what is actually sinful. It may be imprudent or disordered for families to have certain sleeping arrangements, but saying the arrangements are sinful I think goes too far.

Regarding the dancing, I tend to agree with you, Brian, that provided the music is acceptable, there is close supervision by morally upright chaperones (or the people involved are morally upright, or striving to be), and the type of dancing is not lewd or lascivious, I think dancing can be a fun and wholesome activity. Should we ban dancing from wedding receptions?

3. Brian Springer - July 25, 2016

I wouldn’t call Vianney a Jansenist (or claim he leans that way). He’s very rigorist, but for good reason .

I just had a conversation with a friend on this very passage, and I think that it is best to follow his advice. I was unaware that he chose the age of two, however, as the dileanating point.

I guess my advice is to ask a well informed priest. That way, you can balance respect for the saint, while also practicing obedience to your own pastor on how to implement this in your life. Though you might just be obeying the prejudices of your priest. I don’t know, but that sounds like a nice compromise.

Tantumblogo - July 25, 2016

This issue just came up in a talk at our parish. I think a max age for having a kid in bed more like 3 or 4 was posited. A fair number of kids are still nursing at 2. I don’t know if mine have gone that long, but probably close.

It did inspire us to tell the twins they could not sleep together anymore, though I have zero suspicion of anything less than innocent, it was the right thing to do.

Still, I think we need to be careful to distinguish between that which may be prudent, and that which is actually sinful. I think that goes too far in the situation described, with no basis in Church Doctrine.

4. Michelle - July 25, 2016

More than one priest has told me that if we could hear what they hear in the confessional, we would agree with the saint. Not the occasional little kid that crawls in out of fear, but the fact that many people can trace a sinful habit back to a family sleeping practice that began at a young age. And I personally know a couple that had a kid out of wedlock because they weren’t being supervised at a family gathering held in a large park. (Akin to the field example) The saint has a reason for saying what he did, even if we want to be aghast. The reality is that sin is everywhere, we’re all guilty of sin, and the devil never rests. Not ever. Many priests are quiet out of fear of offending. But I’ve known many good kids from many good families that kept very quiet about a destructive mortal sin. Evil loves to appear good and trustworthy. This is the biggest reason why my kids never go on sleepovers.

Brian Springer - July 25, 2016

Well said. It’s like you read my mind. We don’t know what he’s heard in confession. He could be addressing a widespread problem concerning the souls of his congregation that we, unless we are a priest, could never know.

Tantumblogo - July 25, 2016

Which is all fine, as matters of prudence, but on what law or doctrine does it become a sin to deviate from this judgment? If you can answer that, I’m all ears. We need to be careful – and it’s a very common phenomenon among trads/very eager souls – to turn prudential judgments into matters of precept/law.

5. Joseph D'Hippolito - July 25, 2016

This is why discernment is important. People have a tendency to take somebody’s word as Gospel merely because of that somebody’s perceived authority. The only party who deserves that benefit of the doubt is God Himself because He is the only Party Who is perfectly righteous, holy and wise, without blemish.

Being a saint doesn’t mean being impeccable, let alone infallible. Not using the brain God gave you and the Spirit He provides is nothing but a cop out.

6. Kathleen - July 25, 2016

I think that when it comes to St. Jean Vianney (and perhaps other saints) it is critical that we keep in mind the period and location in which they were preaching.

If we do that we can gather what is valuable from it.

In the case of St. Jean Vianney he was preaching right after the demonic French revolution in a poor and morally corrupted village.

It is likely in the small poor homes, with poor if any formation, when he came there it is very likely there were problems with children in the marriage bed.

Not starting from a bad place. Starting from simply being poor and crowded.

But it likely was not too unlikely that children might be exposed to things they should see for instance when parents thought they were asleep. Etc.

St. Jean Vianney had MAJOR clean up on his hands when he started. He didn’t take on the severe penances he did for no reason.

Another example is his point blank prohibition of dancing. There likely was stuff going on at those gatherings that was seriously problematic.

So what I have always tried to do with things like that is try to determine what the goal was, which is generally protecting purity as the treasure it is.

And to take away the fact that the area of activity is one that requires great care.

And very, very cautious decision making if it is not avoided entirely.

7. tg - July 25, 2016

I guess I committed a lot of mortal sins because my grandchildren sleep with me when they stay overnight and so did my kids when they were small. All above the age of 2. In the Mexican culture, kids sleep with their parents. I remember my sister and brother being over the age of 2 and sleeping with my parents. Our house was very small and I slept with my sister until I left the house. My brothers also slept together. We had no choice. Saints can be wrong. Even Thomas Aquinas made a mistake in not believing in the Immaculate Conception. Maybe St. John Vianney wanted to make sure no child abuse ever took place so he said what he said. All I know is that my conscience is clear.

Michelle - July 25, 2016

We do need to be very careful. I have a good friend who grew up with lots of siblings in a small house and then had difficulty sleeping alone when she got older. She finally had to rent a room in a house full of other people to provide some ambient noise. It can be a huge formation issue – imagine not being able to pursue a religious vocation because you can’t sleep well alone. She later left a good religious order for that very reason. I don’t know whether she had a true vocation or not, but I do know she said it was an impediment. She was very attached to her family and to having them around.
I also know some people who admitted to me that they didn’t have more children for lack of opportunity due to sleeping arrangements. Yes, this is all anecdotal, but imagine being a priest and hearing confessions where family members sleeping in the same bed contributed to any number of issues later in adulthood. I have never had a traditional priest, familiar with the moral teaching of the Church, tell me that St. John Vianney was Jansenist or too rigorist on this rule.
I read the book you’re quoting in 2009, and like you, was quite taken aback by it. I started asking a lot of questions, started bringing it up with a lot of priests, etc, etc. It was very helpful to understand better why rules exist, even if we think we’re above them or they don’t apply to our time / situation. Good Catholics need to know the teaching of the Church and then know the guidelines for making the best decisions following that teaching.
I think age two can be an arbitrary line as all my children have had different needs and temperaments, but it is a good starting point. However, I feel confident that by following the advice of the saint, I am doing more to protect the innocence of my children. I also know we have to be more detached from everything in order to follow God more. There is a time and a place, out of charity, to bend the rule. But it is good to know the rule, know what is at stake, and live accordingly. God always rewards our sacrifices.

Michelle - July 25, 2016

Sorry – this wasn’t meant as a reply to TG – not sure why it showed up that way.

Tantumblogo - July 25, 2016

Perhaps you are speaking ironically, but I do not believe you committed a sin. It might be a practice you examine with regard to the future, but it’s not a sin. 99% of the time or thereabouts, these things are totally innocent. But priests can relate horror stories they’ve heard of things like this devolving into terrible sins. So, out of prudence, we, for instance, have told our kids they are not allowed to sleep together, even though nothing bad has ever resulted from occasions of their doing so in the past. As far as we know, and pray God.

8. KM - July 25, 2016

While many folks are proved go a lot of anecdotal evidence for or against on this topic, it seems like no one really knows if this is an actual Church teaching. Obviously, use common sense. But has it really been set down in stone? Please, someone direct us to where it can be found, if it really is Church teaching.

On the bright side, St. John Vianney didn’t throw the baby out with the bath water and say no babies in bed at all!

KM - July 25, 2016

Sorry. Blasted auto correct killed the beginning of my comment…
It should read “While many folks have provided a lot of anecdotal evidence…”.

9. Brian Springer - July 25, 2016

I don’t think there is a definitive source on this issue, so I suppose the answer we can all take from this is that we should exercise prudential judgment. The anecdotal evidence, however, seems to favor Vianney’s stance. Though, as it has been said, it isn’t set in stone.

10. Margaret Costello - July 25, 2016

I get the whole idea of not having children in the parents bed above a certain age due to marital relations messing them up a bit. Of course, having a child in bed during a random thunderstorm or illness is fine if everyone is just sleeping.

I don’t know about the sisters not being allowed to sleep with sisters and brothers not being allowed to sleep with brothers. Brothers sleeping with sisters, ok I get that. But I slept with my sister at our shorehouse for years. Why do they think we would go all pervy? Ewww.

I think some context would be good here…and some common sense:+) God bless~

Tantumblogo - July 25, 2016

Simply out of deference to prudence, even though I agree the risk is very small, we directed one of our twin daughters to stop getting into bed with her sister. Her doing so was perfectly innocent but they are at an age where that was probably no longer appropriate.

Having said that, my wife shared a bed with her younger sister through high school. When you have a very large number of kids, sometimes it’s very difficult to do otherwise.

I agree that some things are being mixed in here, relations that happen at family gatherings between totally unrelated people, and people who are close blood relatives, where there tends to be a very strong natural impediment to such acts.

11. Faith of Our Fathers - July 25, 2016

Sorry Tantum but I really strongly have to disagree with you here not on the terms of morality but on the terms of Economics. There are 5 of us 4 brothers and 1 sister and we all used to bath together. You see we stayed in what is known in Scotland as a – But and Ben -one bedroom and a kitchen where everything took place . Of course we would have wished for better and a few years later we got a better house but we had an outside toilet and things were really tough financially. So I know you talk from a moral point of view and I completely agree with you ,but sometimes other things have to be taken in to consideration. As regards throwing out the Baby with the Bath Water we couldn’t even afford to throw out the Bath Water . By the time it got to the youngest it was probably more soup than water. Sometimes when we talk back to those times others will say don’t remember. There all Fur Coat and No Knickers now in other words they’ve forgot their old backsides.

Tantumblogo - July 25, 2016

See my latest comment. I comprehend some people may have a very hard time finding enough beds/space for a lot of kids. We have the somewhat silly situation now of 5 girls in one room, and one boy having a room all to himself. But that’s the prudent thing to do for us, not that anything remotely untoward has ever happened. The girls have thankfully been very understanding.

Please do not think I am speaking critically of those who live at variance to this because of necessity.

Baseballmom - July 26, 2016

Sure can relate to that… Seven boys in two rooms and the princess had her own room…. Although, when a new baby brother showed up his crib was always in her room… She got used to the couch….

12. Chris - July 25, 2016

Our case was certainly far removed from most of the examples of greatest concern. Yet, some anxiety was involved. As I recall, our son was about 5. I think I would be close to accurate to say he was having night terrors. A great deal of time would be invested kneeling down by his bed, several times through a night. My wife was fairly rigid in her thinking, but with at least half of the time being contributed by my fatigued mind and body, I finally insisted that there would be another way in our home. I placed a pad of blankets on our bedroom floor. He slept fine that first night. At some point, we included the younger brother and had them both gradually transitioned back to their own bedrooms. I think my wife’s position on the matter may have been as much due the Dr. Spak book as anything else. Of course, the book was helpful to me in other matters.

Tantumblogo - July 25, 2016

Well I’m certainly gratified at the healthy discussion and myriad opinions this post has generated! I never quite know, sometimes posts I think will be explosive go over without a comment, and others I think are fairly bland generate much reaction.

But I had a feeling folks would sound off on this, as it cuts so close to home. I’ve enjoyed the responses and have been edified by them. Thank you all.

13. Tim - July 26, 2016

When we travel and stay in a hotel my son and I take one bed and my wife and daughter take the other. Are we on the road to perdition? Should I take one hotel room bed with my wife and put my son and daughter in the other? I think not. I’m sure there are situations that can be sinful but others are not. I knew a couple (Catholic) who had their kids in their bed with them until they were in grade school age….sinful? Possibly. ….I leave that to God. Weird? ……definitely.

Baseballmom - July 26, 2016

Sounds like they read that book titled “The Family Bed.” It was all the rage back in the early 80’s as I recall…. Had friends who swore by it…. I thought it was a bit over the top.

14. hiker567 - July 26, 2016

In 1770s Vienna, the waltz was introduced, and it shocked Catholic society. It is hard to exaggerate what a moral and sexual sewer our time is, and how pure a place like 1760s Vienna could be in comparison. Maybe swing or salsa dancing is appropriate, but in my opinion, the waltz and tango should always be banned. Makes one wonder what St. John Vianney would say about the internet.


15. skeinster - July 26, 2016

This brings up something that is a perrenial problem among us Trads. In our understandable fear of being lax or negligent and our praiseworthy efforts to rescue tradition, we tend to overdo, by sometimes giving prudential decisions the weight of dogma.And then expecting everyone else to reach the same decision.

I’ve often wished, and even requested, that we could have some homilies on the heirarchy of authority, b/c sometimes we appear to put everything- Scripture, Tradition, the writings of the Saints, legends, popular devotions- on the same level. Even when Saints contradict each other, or are fuzzy on doctrine, or over-react themselves.

A very good discussion.

Tantumblogo - July 26, 2016

Great to have you back skeinster! You’ve been missed!

I think you and I are in agreement. Thank you for putting the matter more clearly or concisely than I could.

Michelle - July 26, 2016

I agree with skeinster – I’ve asked my parish priest several times to preach a series on decision making. This can be a huge problem among traditional Catholics. Fr. Themann did a great talk on prudence versus doctrine that was a huge help to my husband and me several years back.

skeinster - July 26, 2016

Thank you! I will look that up.

This is a subject that is very pertinent to my situation. As the only Catholic in my family, I make many, many prudential decisions. And then second guess myself. And third guess myself…

skeinster - July 26, 2016

oops, that was for DM.
Glad to have a minute to comment.
The summer has been tough on my anxiety-prone kid.

DM - July 27, 2016

Correction it was Fr. Goddard. It was written in context of the scandal around the canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II.


DM - July 26, 2016

Fr. de Malleray wrote a great article on the hierarchy of authority in the Church and what holds how much weight, etc. He published it in the British FSSP’s Dowry online magazine about a year ago or so if I remember. If you can dig it up was an illuminating and great resource on this topic.

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