Before I had children, I knew I wouldn’t bed share. I was absolutely certain of that. I knew I would have my kids in a bedtime routine and that they would sleep in their own crib/cot/bed right from the start. I knew that I would apply the techniques of “Supernanny” or someone equally as self-righteous and that upon following the instructions I would have little robot children who would do exactly as expected. After having children, I know this is mental.
Now, I’m not saying for a second that the arrival of little people has given me some sort of intellectual gain. (In fact, for me personally, I think part of my brain actually dissolved during pregnancy.) Nor am I saying that everyone thinks like I did before parenthood. What I am saying is that I had literally no idea what I was talking about.
I had spent years studying child development and child psychology. I had read the insights of incredible scientists, behaviorists and sociologists. I even remembered who said what and how to spell their names. (All this before the brain melting incident in pregnancy unfortunately.) And I really felt I understood why the little humans behaved the way they did and, moreover, I could use this understanding to help shape their behaviour. I believed when I had children I would be able to use this knowledge to shape my little ones into delightfully predictable and wonderfully happy pet humans.
I was wrong. I don’t understand them. I cannot make them do what I’d like them to. I’ve no idea how to reason with them. They are 100% their own people. They have their own will, and do you know what? I’m very glad they do.
Now, I don’t enjoy sleep deprivation. I’m not into waiting under a sleeping baby for an hour and half with a full bladder and a dead arm. I’ve got better things to do than wait out a 7 year old’s third tantrum of the day over not being allowed to play Minecraft. I am not a fan of spending hours cooking dinner, only to watch it get pushed around and not eaten, or just thrown on the floor.
But I love watching my children explore their lives. I like them working to their routine when possible. I adore long cuddles and sweaty, pillow creased faces next to mine. I live for helping my very own Minecrafter deal with his emotions in a healthy way. I feel blessed to be able to hold him and tell him I love him no matter how angry he’s feeling or upset he feels. The not eating what I’ve cooked bit, well, I bloody hate that. But what’s one negative in a world of positivity?!
If we expect our children to do one thing, they will nearly always do the opposite. But, I am surprised every single day by the level of intelligence and common sense displayed by my favourite Xbox Addict. He can reduce me to a very embarrassed and remorseful mess with just one look of his little face and the exclamation of “But, mummy, that’s actually not very fair on dad, is it?” Or a “Stop snapping at each other, you guys.” He’s got an exceptional grasp on fairness and equality. And he applies this at all times. (Unless he’s about to lose a board game.) He’s a top negotiator and likes to push the boundaries with the old, “All the other children are allowed!” But he also likes to sit down and discuss the “whys” of our rules.
He also appears in our room in the middle of the night, like most children would, all wibbly and worried about the bad dream he had. Or because he needs a drink (and his arms can’t reach the tap in the night the way they can all day long). Or because he thought he heard something. Or the best one we had, because he thought it was 9.30am, not pm. That one led to a whole night of upset. He’s a very grown up young man in the day, but at night, he’s our little boy. In need of a cuddle, a reassuring word or two, and really…a space in our bed.
But nearly 11 months ago, the Milk Man found his way into our double bed. And I’m fairly sure he’s intending to be there for some months (years??) to come. And as much as I never intended that to be the case, I wouldn’t change that for the world. But I’ve also got to the stage where I don’t understand why I’m fighting having both our boys in our bed, should the need arise. But until now, I have.
I think there is some sort of misunderstanding in the UK that kids who sleep in their parents beds are babied, or spoilt. Or that they won’t be independent. That they have an unhealthy dependence on their parents…now…I’m fairly certain that children should be entirely dependant on their parents for a good 16 years of their lives. I don’t think that this has to mean that they cannot do anything for themselves. Far from it. I believe that they should be depending on their parents to support their independence. But in the middle of the cold dark night, who really feels completely happy when they are alone and a bit worried or scared? I hate sleeping alone. So why should I expect my sons to do it all the time. For the most part, the eldest is quite happy in his bed, but why not welcome him in if he needs us?
My Nannie (the granny type…there was no hired help where I grew up!) used to say of her approach to child rearing “Push them away with a gentle hand”. I could not agree more. Use that gentle hand to guide them, to support them and to reach out to them when they need you. Use it to pull back the covers and let them in. Use it to gesture to them to come in when they wake up in the morning and want you to give them a smile and a cuddle. Use it to stroke their hair when they’re ill. To play with the over priced and confusing Pokemon cards. To throw in the air when you’re exasperated with them. Use it to teach them to do their own washing, to tidy their rooms. Use it to shake their hand at graduation, on their wedding day, when they get a promotion.
Use it to go online and buy a bigger bed. Because you love your boys, but you also like to be able to sleep…