Creative Exploration. Parenting with Heart. Looking Within.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
Letting Go and Letting Peace In
"Knowledge is learning something everyday.
Wisdom is letting go of something everyday." ~Zen Proverb
I came across this quote and it spoke to me on so many levels. As I sit here at 9:30pm with my three-year-old pretending to be a fire fighter with my camera stand, power cord, and blocks using his "whisper voice" so he doesn't wake my five-year-old who is sleeping, I can say that when it comes to bedtime routines, this rings true. I now have the knowledge learned from my past mistakes. I also have the wisdom to let go of things that did not work for me or my family (aka my control issues and comparing myself to "others"). It has not been an easy journey, but one that I am so glad I made. I am now working on learning how to treat myself with compassion and let go of the guilt, shame, and disappointment that I feel towards those mistakes.
About a year or two ago I was in a completely different place as a parent. I believed that children needed to nap every day and go to sleep at a 'decent' hour in their own beds without the parent lying there next to them beyond lights out. I had learned this from how I was raised, working in child care centers, and from the couple articles and books on children' sleep that I had came across. However, my oldest son had different needs. He still fell asleep during nap time, but only after much persuading, coaxing, bribing, and threats of privileges being removed. I had five other children in my care and needed for everyone to be asleep so that I could clean up, catch my breath, and be ready for the afternoon/evening routine. I couldn't fathom letting him not nap and was afraid of other kids being jealous, him being too loud or disruptive, or one or both of us not being able to make it until bedtime before 'falling apart'.
Bedtime was an even bigger battle. At age three, I had tried to teach my oldest son how to fall asleep in his own room without me. I mean, that was what all of my friends at the time were doing and they were going on and on about their "me time" at the end of the day. I wanted that, too! However, my oldest son had different needs. After many months of charts, 'talks', and tears, I finally let go of that ideal and realized that he still needed me next to him. I felt I somehow failed as a parent by not being able to convince my son he should do this, so I avoided most discussions with friends on the topic and resolved to wait until he was older to try again.
By the time he was four, I moved my two year old into the same room to put them to sleep at the same time since I was the only parent at home most nights. I was tired, my two year old was tired, but my oldest child who took the long nap was not anywhere ready for sleep. I began the night laying with my youngest one while nursing him to sleep. My oldest one would play loudly, kick, and make noise as I fearfully begged, pleaded, and threatened him to keep quiet. Although I now know that he was calling for attention and connection and was not tired, I was only focused on the behavior and was desperate to make it STOP! I was so resistant to the reality of what his needs were, that I couldn't see past the behavior and it made for many tearful, frustrating, exasperated nights for both of us. It wasn't until I finally got my youngest to sleep that I could crawl over to his bed and lay next to him as he snuggled up and fell asleep, both of us exhausted from our conflict.
After several months of this, it had escalated to a point where I couldn't control my anger surrounding bedtime any longer. I would yell, shut myself in the garage for a few moments to take deep breaths, took away all computer, bike riding, and TV time for the following day, and I even spanked him once. As a child who was regularly spanked, grounded, threatened, and yelled at, I knew I didn't want to raise my children that way. That was the last straw that made me face the fact head on that there had to be a better way. I began researching everything I could get my hands on and it lead me on a personal journey towards owning my own emotions, triggers, and need for control. If I have learned one thing, it is that so often conflict or struggling isn't about how to get the child to do A, B, or C, but how to handle your own emotions, thoughts, and actions when your child is expressing their needs.
It was actually a moment at bedtime that opened my eyes to the fact that this power struggle wasn't about him trying to control me or his behavior, but his need for connection and love. He was making his usual noise in his bed next to where I was laying with my younger son. Exasperated, I asked him, "You want me to lay next to you, don't you?" "Uh-huh...," he agreed. I asked, "Do you want to just come over here and lay with us?" He earnestly said, "Yes!" and gathered up his pillow, blanket, and sleep buddies and snuggled in the twin sized bed with my youngest on the outside, me in the middle, and him sandwiched next to the wall. And you know what happened? He fell fast asleep and that is where he has peacefully slept without fighting the bedtime routine since.
A little after my oldest turned four and a half, I made a significant switch in the structure of our day as well. I reduced the number of children I care for down to a total of four. I started letting him stay awake during the day and he does art projects, plays with cars, or does computer games in my room to not disturb the nappers. He shows signs of being tired and sometimes asks to go to bed before eight o'clock. There has not been one harsh word surrounding sleep since that day between us and we end our night with him snuggled to my back, arm linked in mine, with the words "I love you, Good Night, Sweet Dreams" whispered in his ears.
As for my now three year old? He still naps some days, but other days he doesn't nap at all. For the days he doesn't nap, he falls asleep as quickly as my oldest son. On the days he does, he lays next to us, then gets up and plays a little if I can tell he is not tired at all. Tonight he fell asleep at 10:15pm next to me in my bed as I sang him "Amazing Grace".
If I were to live the first four years of my oldest son's life over again, I would focus less on controlling behavior and more on forming connection. I would see "misbehavior" as a call for love, rather than something that needed to be stopped. I would snuggle more and scold less. I would notice my feelings and use them as signposts to identify which old wounds needed to be healed before I created the same ones in my children. I am still very much on the path of incorporating these practices into my life and continually learn better ways to approach parenting. By learning new ways, I am gaining the knowledge I need to navigate the ups and downs of life with children with love and connection. By letting go of those methods and attributes based on fear and control, we all sleep more peacefully each night.