“Okay” – as a feeling – hasn’t often been my goal in the matter of mothering. No, I typically chose “Best Mom of the Year” or, failing that, “Perfect Mom for My Kids.”
*This blog is a re-post of an article I originally wrote for Create Balance. View the original post here.
I remember the moment like it was last night. My now 4YO son (who was around 2 at the time) was going through what the parenting industry calls a “sleep regression.” In his case, this meant waking up in the night and wanting to crawl in bed with us. This would be after his hour long bedtime routine, which usually included lots of snuggling, cajoling, and hoping that he’d go to sleep – at some point – in his own bed.
Wayne has never liked going to sleep on his own. As a baby, we often laid beside him (read: held him down) just so he would stop moving. As soon as he could walk, we set up a baby monitor and locked both doors to his room. Since he had a floor bed, he was able to get in and out of bed safely on his own. Many nights he cried at the door, but—eventually—as all kids do he’d give up, play with some toys, and finally fall asleep.
On this particular night, suffering from sleep deprivation myself no doubt, those early sleep woes were far from my consciousness. The challenge to convince him to sleep paled in comparison to the need for him to stay in dreamland once there. Having read all the parenting manuals I could get my hands on with the first child, I knew the ins & outs of sleep regression, so I did what any desperate parent does: I googled.
My search went something like: “2YO, sleep regression, family bed, rewards, attachment parenting. You can imagine the wide variety of advice, opinions, and personal stories I got back on that whopper! Other parents, alone, make up for so much of what I found online; from parents who’d “given up” and let their children sleep with them until the child chose to stop to parents who remained devout to the “back in your bed” camp: no matter the hour, no matter the child.
These aren’t the only two camps, but they’re the ones that shout amongst the cacophony as being RIGHT. How, I thought, can they both be right? How do we know which is right for us? What’s right for Wayne? What does Wayne want?
Adding to my confusion was the fact that sleep talk is inherently negative and often one-sided. (I’ve yet to see a two year old blog about his or her own regression, anyway.) Because I’m a mom, I understand the emotions surrounding sleep. Even the negative thoughts stem from a positive place; from day one, we’re taught that our job is to turn these tiny creatures into humans. We’re responsible for their safety, their health, their manners. What a lofty purpose! we think. And we’re right.
Over time, though, the responsibility to second guess another person’s every move becomes pressure to do everything right. We pick a philosophy we can stand by, often foregoing what our own instincts or heart are telling us, and we stand there: tall, proud, strong, and exhausted. Negativity is bound to rear its head in that equation.
Back on the evening in question, I went to tuck Wayne in AGAIN. I climbed back in bed and stared at my husband, soaking up his calm demeanor and saintly patience—and dug deep within me for some wisdom to get us through this moment. I knew it was “just a phase,” but that little nugget, which had gotten me through some truly tough times with our older son, was not cutting it.
And then I heard it, a voice so small and quiet, only the most wondering of moms could have heard: Parent the child you have.
The parenting manual junkie in me began to search for the source of this advice, perhaps so I could look it up online and make sure it was true!? To this day, though, I can’t tell you where I read it. Somewhere along my 9 years of a love/hate relationship with parenting advice, I had hung onto it, despite not being ready or open to it at the time of reading.
I was ready now. Hearing/Remembering Parent the Child You Have felt akin to someone handed me the world’s most succinct parenting book. That’s it, that’s all you have to remember. Parent Wayne. My entire body relaxed, the anxiety I typically experience in relation to not having control curiously absent. Guilt, too, had gone its merry way. All I really felt was…relief.
“Wayne is just who he is,” I said to my husband. “This isn’t a phase; it’s our child. He just doesn’t like sleeping alone.” My husband, who I love for his practicality and saintly patience (and a host of other reasons!), agreed immediately. We both felt at peace with this conclusion.
Here’s what I know about Wayne:
● We call Wayne “the mayor” because he’s so extroverted and friendly. He loves people and food and locations where there are both and—as a baby—he’d walk around the grocery store with the hugest smile on his face and the mayor became his moniker.
● Wane expresses himself through affection; before he could talk, he’d approach other children and say “hi” by way of a hug. If Wayne is in the same room as you, he’s on top of you. I caution you not to sit next to him at the dinner table unless you like sharing a seat (and your food!).
● Wayne is the most stubborn person I’ve ever met, myself included. And if you’ve ever met me—you know what a feat this is. Born with the spirit of a cat, Wayne needs to come up with the idea, or Wayne ain’t coming along.
● Wayne knows what he wants, wants what he likes, and likes what he knows.
● When Wayne wakes up at night, he wants a body near him.
After my epiphany, nothing about my situation changed. Wayne continued to crawl into our bed when he needed to; some nights, we let him stay and others we moved him back—depending on our mood or what we needed to be prepared for the next day. What was radically different, though, was how I felt about the choice. Whether he slept through the night OR we put him back OR I woke up with his warm little body cozied up right next to mine, everything felt right. Everybody was okay. I really felt okay.
“Okay” – as a feeling – hasn’t often been my goal in the matter of mothering. No, I typically chose “Best Mom of the Year” or, failing that, “Perfect Mom for My Kids.” More than just an appeal to my perfectionist tendencies, those titles also gave my inner control-freak license to let loose—until the part of me who gets frustrated at the inevitable failure that comes with perfectionism would arrive and coax us all to bed. Not exactly what I thought I was signing up for when I chose to have a baby all those years ago!
Post-epiphany, though, “okay” has felt and does feel perfect. In my moment of awareness, I gave myself permission to not know the answer, to decide in the moment, to make a wrong decision on occasion, and on the nights when we’re really sleepy, to postpone any reflection until after coffee the next morning.
In giving myself permission to be human, I gave myself the gift of mindful mothering – being present in the moment without judgement, fear, insecurity, or guilt. Living in a state of “okay” also allowed me to appreciate my child in a new way. Wayne’s craving to connect is a core desire of his, which relates to one of his greatest gifts: to make those around him feel special. Wayne doesn’t just hear you; he listens. He feels for you and hugs you and smiles with his whole body just when you need it most.
While I accept the responsibility of guiding Wayne to navigate the murky waters between pursuing his desires while remaining aware of the needs of others, I’m happy to have said goodbye to the pressure to make those choices for him. Rather than shape him into who he should be, my Mama Intention now is to help Wayne be himself--a goal just as lofty yet clearer, more manageable, and infinitely more rewarding.