Parenting doesn’t stop at bedtime.
When a child asks for things or voices a need, it is not something to grumble about, as if you are on parent overtime. It is THE time.
It is the time they need you the most emotionally. It’s the time they are lying in bed, mind reeling, and all sorts of emotions begin to settle in. It can be scary, especially if they can’t name the emotions they are feeling. It can be scary because they may not even know why they’re feeling this way.
They may be warm in their beds, having had their bedtime routine, and yet something doesn’t feel right to them.
Instead of saying, “Mom, I feel anxious,” the yells from down the hall for a drink of water come. It may be, “Can I have one more hug?” or “I have to go potty.”
This isn’t avoidance of resting their bodies. It is an outcry of a need they have no words to describe.
A call for a drink could mean, “I feel scared. I’d like your presence.”
One more hug could mean, “I feel anxious. I could use human contact to help me feel grounded.”
I have to go potty could mean, “My body is having a hard time relaxing and could use a stretch to decompress.”
We have recently been through major changes in our home.
We have moved, and everything my daughter has ever known has been turned upside down and told good-bye. We talked and discussed, listened and cried throughout the weeks prior to moving, knowing this would be hard.
Our first week in the new place was anything but settled. We had towers of boxes around us. We had so many changes it was difficult to maneuver our days with any sort of routine.
My daughter struggled to fall asleep and one evening at bedtime she asked for what seemed like the hundredth hug from one very exhausted mama. I checked my own emotional thermometer and took a breath to remain calm. I went in and gave her a hug. And just like that, she was sobbing, as she often does to release emotion. As I regularly do when she’s crying, I sat there with her, saying nothing, and just stayed present for her until she was ready to share and communicate.
After ten minutes of her releasing a flood of emotions, she was able to articulate that she thought she was scared. As we discussed it further she came to realize on her own that she wasn’t really scared, but anxious.
Anxious she wouldn’t be able to find her favorite shirt.
Anxious her favorite necklace was lost forever.
Anxious the cat got lost among the walls of brown boxes.
This list went on.
In this moment of pure exhaustion, I had to remember that this wasn’t about her trying to not go to bed. She had a need she didn’t know how to address. The need was expressed by her asking for seemingly mundane requests just so I could physically be there to lean on.
Parenting is hard. It would probably be easier if we could simply say goodnight, give hugs and kisses, and close the door until morning. But the reality is that parenting doesn’t stop just because the lights turn off. For us, it was this time of day that the night terrors crept in, the need for connection finally settled onto an unsettled heart, and the need for my presence was the most vital.
In fact, I sometimes believe nighttime is when the rubber meets the road. It’s when I have to dig deep, push through my exhaustion, find my own calm and realize this is the most opportune time to be my children’s comfort and their safe place.