Ex-Ulster rugby star Ryan Constable and wife say sharing 18ft bed with four children gives them best start in life
Should parents share their bed with their brood? Belfast yoga instructor Kim Constable believes it's such a good idea she fashioned an 18ft bed big enough for herself, her husband, fomer Ulster rugby star Ryan, and their four children, aged from five to 11. Karen Ireland finds out more.
It's certainly a bedtime story with a difference. When it's lights out at Kim Constable's home in east Belfast home, she, husband Ryan and their four children are all tucked up together - albeit in a vast bed that stretches the length of the spacious bedroom.
'Co-sleeping', as its known, attracts much heated debate - so much so that Kim (37) has ended up espousing its benefits on national daytime TV programmes This Morning and Loose Women.
Certainly, as she explains the benefits of six-in-a-bed to me, she makes for a persuasive advocate.
Kim, married to sports manger Ryan Constable (45) who looks after many sporting stars including Ulster and Irish rugby players, says that she happily shares her bed with children, Corey (11), Kai (9), Maya (6) and Jack (5).
"It all started when Corey was a baby and he started sleeping in beside Ryan and I to help keep him settled at night," she explains.
"Then, as more children came along, they wanted to sleep in with us, too. When the older ones moved out and a younger one moved in, they would come back and say that's not fair - we want to be in the big bed with you all, too.
"In the end we had a king size bed, a super king and a single all joined together to make one huge 18ft bed which was big enough for everyone. We were lucky as when we moved house we had bought all our bedroom furniture from the same manufacturer so it fitted together well."
Kim says the main advantage of co-sleeping was a practical one - she could be there for any of her children if they needed her during the night and wasn't running from room to room settling them down.
"Some people tend to think you stop being a parent at 8pm at night when your children go to bed, and that they should just settle on their own in a dark room and sleep all night through, but the reality is they don't always do that," she says.
"I am there for my children 24 hours a day and night. Whether they have a bad dream or want a drink of water, I will be there for them during the night just like I am during the day.
"Before the big bed was created I spent my nights bed running about from room to room trying to get all the children to sleep."
Of course, co-sleeping has its critics, but Kim has a raft of scientific facts to support her conviction that the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks.
"Science and research has shown that early dependence actually creates early independence," she argues.
"Children who are forced to grow up and be independent before they are ready can actually end up growing into scared individuals who essentially want to jump back into the safety of the womb all of their lives."
Warming to her theme, she adds: "Our children are happy, independent, self-sufficient characters who just happen to like sharing a bed. When they are ready they ask for their own room and bed as has happened with Kai recently, so we have moved one of the beds out into the spare room for him."
Laughing, however, she adds: "At the minute he prefers sleeping on a mattress on the floor in our bedroom. So he hasn't properly moved out just yet. It's a process."
As with most things in the Constable household, there is no set routine for bedtimes, rather it's an evolving regime.
"We let the kids decide when they are ready to go to bed and most nights that will be between 10pm and 11pm. We will all go and get our PJs on and clean our teeth and all that happens together as a family. Then we all snuggle down together and talk or read a story," says Kim.
"I will always go to bed with the younger ones and Kai and Corey tend to stay up later. Sometimes if the younger ones have had a really busy day they will come to me about 9pm and say they are tired, and that is okay, too. We will have an early night.
"Corey is a real night owl so he will go to bed anytime between midnight and 3am. And sometimes if I get up early in the morning to do some work, I will find him on the computer at 5am. He'll have got engrossed in something and forgotten about the time. He will then go to bed and maybe not get up until about 1pm.
"Again I don't force anything onto my children, I let them set their own pace. As they are home schooled Corey doesn't have to be up for a certain time."
When asked to describe a typical day in the household, hardly surprisingly, Kim explains there is no such thing.
"Every day is different. Most mornings we have activities so that could involve anything from Chinese lessons to swimming and tennis. Then in the afternoon we do 'life' together which could be a trip to the park, ice skating, a run up to Portrush or to Bangor for an outing.
"The way I see it is this - what benefits a child more? Sitting in a classroom being quiet and listening about the First World War or getting out and about and learning about life?
"You can learn how to be quiet in a Post Office queue or in the doctor's waiting room."
Without the children leaving to go to school each day or even to their own beds at night, I ask Kim how she manages to find 'me time'?
"Well, I run a yoga business so fitness is very important to me. I work out about eight hours a week and that's my time," she says. "The kids are self-sufficient so if I say I need to go into my office for a couple of hours to do some work and have some time to myself, they will happily amuse themselves for that time and Corey will be in charge and keep an eye on them all."
And what about 'couple time'?
"Well I always say that if it is important enough to you then you will find time to do it and if it isn't then you will find an excuse," says Kim.
"Ryan and I often sleep together in the spare room, at least for part of the night, before someone will end up in the middle of us or I will go and get into the big bed. And we are very honest with the children and will just say mummy and daddy are going for 'a snuggle' now and we will be in with you in a while.
"We do make time for each other and once a week we will go out for dinner or meet each other for lunch so we can catch up with each other.
"We also book weekends or nights away so we can spend quality time together."
And on the rest of the time being with her children 24/7?
"To be honest people ask me all the time how I can spend so much time with my kids and not be pulling my hair out. Most say they can't wait until their children are at school," says Kim.
"I don't see it like that at all. I love spending time with my children. They are my best friends and you don't ever get tired of spending time with your best friend, do you?
"They are great company and every day we have a new adventure. They are learning all the time and I, in turn, am learning from them. In a restaurant my five-year-old can take my bank card and pay the bill and has the confidence and knowledge to do this. They are learning new life skills all the time."
With such a hectic life of home schooling her children, running a growing business and trying to spend time together with her equally busy husband, it is little wonder people are always asking Kim how she ever manages to get things done?
"The answer to that is simple," she says. "I just don't stop from I get up in the morning until I go to bed at night time. I never just sit down and I don't watch any television. People are always asking me did I watch this programme or that show but I never watch TV, I just don't have time."
Smiling, she adds: "And when you are on the go up to 18 hours a day, there is a lot you can get done."