Bunk Beds and Life Lessons


My kids don’t sleep. In fact, I’ve had fewer than seven uninterrupted nights of sleep since the birth of my first child nearly five years ago. It sounds exaggerated, but its true. I’ve only been away from them for two nights, and they’ve both slept through the night only a few times. I typically get woken up by at least one of them every night and I only have two kids! When my oldest son became enamored with bunk beds, I thought that if he had a bed he loved, maybe he would sleep in it all night long. It’s amazing what a sleep-deprived desperate mama will convince herself of!

Earning the bed

My almost five-year-old was ready to move from his toddler bed to a twin bed. We were working hard on behavior though, and we needed a big prize to motivate him. I made a chart with 30 squares, and told him every time I caught him in a pattern of good behavior or doing something extra-great (such as the time he offered his brother one of his stickers when little brother was sad), I would write it down. When he filled the chart, he would have officially earned his bunk bed. It took about a month, but when he filled those squares we went over all the good things he had done to earn his bunk bed. He was so proud of himself for earning something he wanted!

Finding the perfect bunk bed

I’m not unaccustomed to building my furniture out of a box. As a huge book nerd who moves a lot, I’ve built more bookcases from Target than I can count. I found a bunk bed online with the best reviews, researched it extensively (because I’m that person), and ordered it. It arrived in a tall but disturbingly slim box. 

From the time it arrived, to choosing twin mattresses, to healing from the plague of illnesses my children brought home that demolished our immune systems, my poor kid had been waiting nearly a week after it arrived for us to build his bunk bed. Even though my husband had to work, I decided I’d tackle this too-skinny box and see how far I could get.

Building a better bed

I’ve built a variety of furniture in my time, from night stands to bookcases, to a futon and a swing set that came with so many pieces they had to use multiple alphabet letters to cover them all. I wasn’t too intimidated by this box, slim though it was, and set out with my methodical organization by sorting.

I was able to build both beds and the ladder while waiting for my husband to return from work, when I needed a second person to lift the top bunk. Then he helped with the ladder, and voilà…we had a bunk bed!

Our kids were ecstatic. They quickly conquered climbing the ladder and were downright excited to go to bed that night. We went through their bedtime routine and tucked them in. Then we sat down on the couch and I panicked.

Hello, doubt!

Oh my gosh. I built that. I built the whole thing! (“I helped!,” my husband interjected.) What if the top bunk collapses? What if the whole thing falls apart and my kids get hurt? It would be entirely my fault.

Isn’t that a metaphor for parenting? We try and create safe spaces for our kids, following instructions and our intuition depending on the situation, and we hope they use the tools with which we provide them in the right way. Then we worry we didn’t do enough, even when we’ve done all we could. The bunk bed we built is still standing and sturdy, nearly a month later. Our kiddos have used it in the right way, not jumping on or off of it. They understand it’s a privilege and they need to be responsible with it, and that’s a great lesson for them to learn.

Goodbye, sleep

But it didn’t solve all of my problems. My kiddos still wake me up nearly every night, at least one of them and at least once. Although their bed is more appropriately sized, and they love it, an uncomfortable bed wasn’t the issue. I’m still working on figuring out what that is. I’m about to try some tactics shared in this San Francisco Moms Blog post!

In the meantime, I’ve certainly learned a lesson: a behavioral problem likely can’t be solved with a material solution.

Have you ever built something for your kids and then worried about your building skills? Or thought one thing could solve all your problems?

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Hey, y’all! I’m an adventurous wanderer who put down roots here in East Tennessee back in 2014. My little family moved here from the wilds of suburban Alaska in 2014. We love exploring Knoxville and the surrounding areas, especially the Smoky Mountains. I’m a freelance writer and teacher who loves looking at the mountains when my nose isn’t in a book. I’m a mom to two bookish kids, a wildly clingy dog, two cats, and a fish I’d be in trouble for not mentioning. Since becoming a mom, I’ve been able to add Lincoln Log architect, LEGO contractor, and mediator to my resume. I’ve always been a bit of a jack of all trades, as I’ve been a tutor, teacher, circus instructor, bookseller, amateur baker and, of course, writer. I remind myself of this as I tell my kid not to sit on my other kid’s head while stopping the dog from chasing the cat and the other cat from jumping on top of the fish tank. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and am currently pursing my Master of Fine Arts while keeping all these creatures who live in my house alive. I survive on coffee, writing fiction, reading, Disney, and snuggles. You can read more of my work at www.pawprintsinthesink.com.


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