The other night, I was at a parenting class and we were doing a written exercise. We were listing things from our own childhoods that we remember and particularly enjoyed that we want to do or keep doing as part of raising our own children. One of the things that I wrote down is ‘being tucked in at night’. I remember always wanting my mom to tuck me in – it wasn’t a lengthy process, but I just wanted her to come pull the covers up, give me that kiss on my forehead and say those simple words, “I love you.” I requested this far longer, I think, than most kids. At some point, during middle school, my mom asked, “aren’t you a little old for this?” It had never occurred to me that I would outgrow being tucked in. I was a little embarrassed, but I think I kept requesting it for another good year. That, then, made me realize why I have such a hard time with bed-time with my children. I so desire for our last parting moments to be gentle and kind so that they can drift off to sleep feeling loved and safe. HOWEVER, I have somehow messed up (understatement, actually, I think FUBAR would be more accurate) this process by giving in to one or many too many things that have led up to a very lengthy bedtime routine that usually has me shouting or in tears. It’s honestly part of the reason I feel like I need so many breaks during the week because most of the other nights are a big emotional drain.
We had one of those nights again. My 3-year old and I have been battling at bed-time, off and on for a while now, but it became worse recently. I know that 3 is the prime age for this, but it doesn’t make it any easier. So, lately, I’ve been recognizing that there needs to be a change – I’ve been trying to establish more ‘routine’ around the process and creating more boundaries. I feel like we are making tiny bits of progress – tonight she actually stayed in her room, which has been a problem lately with her coming out – over and over and over again (I know, so strange for a 3-year old, right?). I read her one book and laid her down – I was trying to put her down a little earlier than usual because her nap was messed up today and she only slept for ~ 10 minutes (cue: overtired). I said my ‘I love you’s’ and we talked about closing our eyes and imagining rainbows (I thought this ingenious of me because it actually got her to close her eyes). We talked about what colors each of ours were. Hers were pink. When I mentioned mine had all the colors of the rainbow, she got a little upset and said she wanted to see all the colors of the rainbow too. When the ‘imagination’ explanation wasn’t going anywhere (ok, not so genius), I took it as a sign to say the good-nights and go. “Like a band-aid” I heard my husbands words reverberate in my head. When she sensed I was going to leave, she grabbed on to my shirt with her tiny fists, like she has so many nights before. I took a deep breath, removed them, perhaps a little too aggressively, and said “it’s night-night time, Eliana, I love you.” And the screaming ensued. I SO often listen for a while then my will breaks and I go in to try to calm her, etc. Something helped me not to do it tonight. I made the mistake of engaging at one point b/c the screaming became so loud, I went and shut her door part way, and told her she could cry it out as much as she needed, but the screaming was too loud. This made her scream louder. One more round of this and then I realized that she was screaming to get me to engage. So Max and I retreated to my room (further away from the screaming) to “talk tractor” (make up a story) and put him to bed.
I stayed focused on him. But still, her cries became pleas. For a while it was “it’s not fair!” I heard her kicking and screaming – she was m-a-d mad. Memories flooded back of me throwing tantrums in my room and no one coming to my side. I remember sometimes thinking they didn’t care. But I kept up my deep breathing. I did yell out (calmly, only yelled because I was a room away) at one point, just to let her know I was there, and I repeated “It’s night-night time, Eliana. Go to bed.” While I told Max his story, I heard her pleading, “someone help me!” She had pulled out the big guns. I started to waver. But in the vain of “needing to do something different” I decided she just needed to work through it, whatever “it” was, on her own. None of the uncountable nights before, had it ever really helped for me to go in. Well, it did if I actually ended up staying – too drained to listen to her screaming cry for one more moment. I KNOW. This is how we got to where we are. But the nice, gentle, loving moment before falling asleep, remember? I WANT that for my children!
Good or bad, right or wrong (and if 100 of you read this, there will probably be 100 different opinions), I never went back in. It was probably a good 50 minutes of her crying/screaming/pleading. She has always had stamina. I tell myself that if I am steadfast, only a couple more nights like this and it will be over. We’ll break through the bed-time battles and we can all go to bed in peace again. And if that doesn’t work, there is always this…..