This is specifically about kids sleeping in your bed, but I’m sure it can be applied to other situations.
“Just cherish this time. It won’t last forever.” This is RARELY, if ever, a workable solution. At best, it is a mantra to be used as a coping mechanism. Too often it is an admonishment, verging on shaming. Whenever a parent has difficulty with his/her children, at the edge of frustration and at wit’s end, and reaches out to the fellow parenting community, the response that comes back is to stop complaining and be grateful.
Here is some background about our sleeping situation. When my boys were babies, it was of utmost importance to me that they learn to fall asleep in their own beds. I knew many people who wound up in an unintentional family bed situation, which is stressful for the parents as well as for the kids who don’t have the skills to fall asleep on their own. To this end, I spent many nights on the floor of the kids’ room. We wound up putting a small sofa in that room so I could be near the kids to comfort them while allowing them to remain in their beds. I fought that battle every night, all while people told me that I should let the kids sleep in my bed and cherish that time. There was nothing wrong with me. I was not a cold hearted person who did not want to snuggle. I believed (and still do) that it was the best for them to develop that skill. All their lives, they could come to our bed in the night if they woke, but the initial go-to-sleep had to be in their own beds.
Then it all changed. Enter widowhood, single mother-hood, and parenting two kids who have experienced a trauma.
They now sleep in my bed every night. I resisted at first, encouraging them to fall asleep in their own beds, even promising to wake them and bring them to my bed later in the night. At this point, however, I have given in. They go straight to my bed. Both of them. Every. Single. Night.
I cannot get a decent night’s sleep. I wake twisted and sweaty, with an elbow in my face, a knee in my gut, a dog on my pillow and cats chasing my feet. No matter how many blankets I put on my bed, I still must battle throughout the night for the right to cover my toes. I have to sleep in the middle of the bed to prevent a war between the littles. This means that anything requiring access to the side table, such as turning the lamp off, checking the alarm and/or clock, etc. requires acrobatics while I hover over a sleeping child, both tangled in the blankets, to reach my glass of water without waking anyone.
Nighttime is already rough for the widow. I can no longer go to bed nestled in the crook of Trey’s arm. I can’t put my arm around his chest, listen to him breathe, let the day’s stresses release in the safety of his touch. I also do not have the consolation prize of getting an entire bed to myself. I don’t get to cozy into bed, burrito myself up in the blankets and read until I fall asleep. Instead, I get extended Mommy duties. Mommy duties that last all night and into the morning to start the next day again.
I have accepted all of this. I know the kids need me. I’m the grown up. I will not stamp my feet and insist on keeping my own bed sacred.
Sharing my bed is no longer enough, however. Now after bed time the kids come downstairs repeatedly, taking turns to ask when I am coming to bed.
They do not just want to be in my bed. They want me to come to bed when they do.
I can’t. I just can’t. I know this could help them sleep and it would help them feel safe and secure, but I just can’t go to bed when they do. I have things I need to do in the evenings. I review my daily to-do list and mentally split it into tasks that need to be done after the kids go to bed. I absolutely need that time in the evenings. I sought answers in the interwebs, and wound up on several mom-blogs. What advice did I get?
“Cherish this time! It’s so valuable! Your children are your most important priority, so make that time for them! This is your chance for dedicated one-on-one time with your child!”
Suck it. That doesn’t help. I actually need time in the evenings. I actually have things I need to do. My kids are my priority, but that doesn’t mean nothing else exists.
One of the blogs was promising. She began the article by talking about one of her kid’s repeated requests for her to stay with him at night. She listed her reasons for not joining their children at bedtime as being things like needing to tend the other kids, needing time to eat dinner with her husband, needing to finish up some work before the next day. These all are legitimate concerns. Finally a mom who understands and hopefully has a solution that helps her kids but also allows her the time she needs. Instead, her article then went on to outline her epiphany that this is the best time in our lives and that when your child asks you to come to bed with him, you should make the time to prioritize that over your other tasks.
Seriously? Is she suggesting that one should not have dinner with their spouse, tend to the siblings, or complete work that needs to be done by the next day? Keep in mind that the reason the work is unfinished is probably in part due to putting it off in favor of family time earlier in the day. Also keep in mind that I wish I had spent more time making my husband I priority instead of always pushing him to second fiddle. None of these things are important?
It sounds so simple — cherish this time together and remember it won’t last forever. Cherish your time now, while you can.
Cherish the now. Hmmm…. Let’s have a quick peek at what my ‘now’ looks like.
Now, I am struggling to be a single mom after the death of my husband three months ago. Our whole dynamic is different, and I’m setting the structure under which our abbreviated family will work in the future.
Now, I have twin seven year old boys. If it is after bed time and I am speaking with one boy, the other soon wails, “Why does HE get to stay up and talk to you while I have to be in BED?” I therefore do not get this prized one-on-one time that I am supposed to be appreciating.
Now, I remember all those nights I slept on their bedroom floor, because I felt like it is important for a child to be able to fall asleep in his own bed. I feel like I am losing everything I fought for in those early years.
Now, I cannot read in bed to fall asleep because it disturbs the sleep of my two little men.
Now, right now, at eleven at night, my to-do list includes making lunches for tomorrow, sorting socks, cleaning the toilets, registering my business with the SBA, researching code requirements for three work projects, and writing letters to my husband’s doctors asking for forgiveness on his final bills. Yes, I can wait until tomorrow to do all of these things, but tomorrow has its own to-do list. Plus work. Eventually something has to give. I have to be able to make time to take care of our lives.
Yes, it would be wonderful to cherish this evening routine with them. To read a story and then all snuggle up and go to sleep together at 8:30.
But here’s the reality. I do need to make lunches and snacks for the next day. I need to make sure there are library books in backpacks and food in the dog’s dish. I need to wash the dishes, fold socks and, yes, get caught up on work. It is easy to say that none of this is as important as time with your kids, but this has to be done sometime. If the kids’ request was 1-2 nights a week it would be an easier matter, but is every single night. When am I supposed to take care of these things? Part of making your kids a priority is making sure that their life is running smoothly.
Not to mention, God help me for saying this, but I do need time to myself. As moms, and especially as single moms, we are always told to take care of ourselves. I am always being told that I need to make time to ‘veg out’ or to go to a salon, or see a movie or even to drop the kids off with family for a weekend. I don’t want to drop my kids off for a weekend. I do want some time after they go to bed to unwind, to watch Supernatural, to paint my nails. When I protest that I don’t have that small getaway, I am met with the argument that I should be grateful for my kids while they are young and take advantage of all the time I can so I don’t miss it. What are you talking about? When am I supposed to ‘take care of myself’ if I am on active Mom duty 24-7 including while I sleep? My fellow moms are accusing me of not taking advantage of time I could spend with my kids? Really?
It hurts. It really hurts to get this from the other moms. There is nothing wrong with me. I believe that. I do cherish my time together with my kids. I quit my job and found a more flexible working situation so I could spend more time with them. Who are you to suggest that I am not cherishing our time? That I am not taking full advantage? I take them everywhere and love every minute of it. I love them, and I love their snuggles and I love being with them.
But Jesus. I need two hours to myself at night. I need it 4-5 nights a week. I’m just asking for a couple of hours. I promise I won’t take it for granted. I’ll pick up the floors and run the dishwasher. I will get tomorrow’s backpacks ready and tomorrow’s work staged. I will, sometimes, watch something that the kids can’t watch or may do a ‘spa evening’ with face mask and nail polish.
Or maybe I’ll spend the entire time crying, remembering my husband as I curl up in his spot on the sofa.
Or maybe I will stare at the wall and be empty for a while.
These are things I need to do. I need them for my sanity and to keep our lives from falling apart. I need the ‘after bedtime’ time. The suggestion to ignore everything else, the implication that I somehow do not care enough or am not ‘cherishing’ enough if I need this time to myself is belittling and damaging.
Let me take a moment to apologize to the mom blogger on whose post I wrote a lengthy and not-entirely-positive comment. I will not post a link to her site here, as I am not being super complimentary. Overall, however, it is a good blog and if you are out there and are reading this, I hope that I was not disrespectful or harsh. If you do want a nod to your site, let me know. Also, that comment and this post have come about as a result of seeing several blogs with the same issue. I finally decided to say something.
By the way — the solution I have found is to go to bed with my kids, and hope they fall asleep first so I can get up and finish my evening.