As one does when raising a child, my husband and I recently imposed a new house rule that neither of us would stay in the room with our almost two year old at bedtime until he fell asleep. I was losing the will to live as the period between ‘time to get in bed’ and ‘he’s asleep, I can sneak out now’ was going on 45 minutes most nights. I’d be bored, hungry, and losing precious kid-free time before I myself needed to get to sleep.
I’d read early-on in my son’s life that it was important that he learn to self-soothe and that I needed to put him to bed sleepy, not asleep. So I did as I was told, and it worked off and on, but I had that brand of child that really wasn’t happy to be left on his own at bedtime. But as he moved into a toddler bed, we pushed through and after several nights of repeatedly getting out of bed and opening the bedroom door, we were able to say ‘goodnight’ and that was the end of it really. He’d whimper a little but soon fall silent most nights.
Lately, however, my son has been asking that I stay with him after the lights are out. It’s a sweet request, and a genuine desire to end his day with me close by.
At first, I thought, no, this is going to ruin all that hard work you put in to getting him to sleep without us being there. I also thought, I just want to be downstairs eating dinner and wasting a couple hours of my life on social media.
Then I remembered something I saw recently (probably in the above black hole that is social media) that we only get 18 summers with our children. And this keeps flitting in and out of my daily thoughts. I look at my small boy, so big yet still so very little. We are on summer number 2, with 16 left.
And I’ve realised that, parental advise and best practice aside, on certain things, we have to grow up with our children together at our own pace. I don’t feel completely ready to say goodnight, shut the door, and wait to see my son in the morning. And I don’t think he’s totally ready to let go of my hand until he’s asleep.
Other parents still treasure that afternoon nap together on the sofa, when children aren’t meant to nap anymore; or the quiet cuddle with milk before bed, when they shouldn’t need milk with mummy to fall asleep; or carrying their toddler around on their hip because he asked to be held, when he should just walk on his own two legs (me again).
We, as parents, often feel the need to meet ‘transitions of independence’, as I’m calling it, set by Western parenting standards, even if neither parent or child are completely ready. I’m not advocating for four-year olds still in nappies or six-year olds still bottle feeding.
I’m allowing myself, and maybe someone else, to hang on to those moments of closeness between a parent and a child, with the view that 18 summers is a very short amount of time in the span of a life.