The Tale of Two Bedtimes: How Changing My Mindset was Key (and could be for you too).
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
I don't think I ever made it past the first page of that book but I remember the opening line distinctly.
I was the pre-child friend who'd say "I'll never let my kid sleep with me" or "I'll never lay with my kid until they fall asleep." They can cry. Until I heard them cry.
I laugh at the assumptions I'd made at how I thought you can "control" bedtime. But I've heard the same from so many other parents where the struggle for survival (and getting any sleep) becomes greater than the carefully crafted sleep plan to get your kid to self soothe and fall asleep and stay asleep.
Don't get me wrong. This isn't every child. But this was mine and this is the story of when I finally tried to take back "control".
I've always had challenges with my 7 year old over sleep. Going to sleep. Staying in his own bed. Laying with him until he fell asleep. From a ghost catching party at age 2, to a camping cot in my room today.
It was a struggle I created. I got pregnant with my second when he was 7 months old. I was exhausted. And desperate for sleep. Most nights I would rock him to sleep. When he'd wake up in the night, I'd bring him in bed with me.
I "sleep trained" when he was a year old in anticipation of a new baby. I followed the recommendations in the book even though it went against everything my heart told me to do. And it didn't last.
Fast forward 6 years and he's never woken up in his own bed. In many ways, I've been just fine with this set up. To be honest I kind of like waking up to cuddles in the morning. But when both boys started coming in, I was getting no sleep.
We put kids camping cots in our room. They were working great. Until my son decided he would just start there if he was going to end up there anyway.
And the battles began. I kind of checked out of bedtime. Didn't want to deal. It was so much easier to just let him go.
But underneath, I was irritated. I wanted my room at night. To read. Or journal. Just to have my space.
I tried to take back my space. It started with having just one night. To go to bed in his own bed. We talked about it. We planned it. And the first night was 2.5 hours of pure disaster.
He was crying. I was crying. I just wanted him to "go the f$%$ to sleep" (cue Samual Jackson~ if you haven't listened to the audio of him narrating the book by that name, seriously do yourself a parenting favor:-)
I was angry. And resentful. Frustrated. Irritated.
I wanted this one damn night to myself. To relax. To have cuddle time with my husband. All that emotion spilled into my son's bedtime.
In that emotional space, I had no bandwidth left for his needs. I couldn't see past my own. I was reacting from my emotional brain and no calm rational thinking ever occurrs there.
Bedtime can already be a time of disconnection to a child and I was creating a whole mountain of it.
I believe that finding peace in parenting is 100% attainable for every parent. Peace is a mindset. But it gets lost in our agenda. Our expectations. Our beliefs in how a situation should go. All of which have nothing to do with our child's behavior.
When we're unable to see past ourselves and our story, we're not consciously attending to our child and his needs. We're reacting to the situation. Or behavior. Our perception of what's happening through the lens of our story.
My story was kids don't voice their needs. You pack away your needs to keep everyone else happy. And that story was spewing all over bedtime. I was continuing to create and subconsciously encourage the very behaviors that were robbing me of my sanity.
This story wasn't allowing me to be the mom he needed me to be at bedtime. To gently guide. To influence. To love him and make him feel safe.
When I took a step back to breath and reflect, I realized I was never going to succeed in "fixing" his behavior because it had nothing to do with him. I needed to release my story. My expectations. My agenda. This wasn't giving in but instead meeting him where he was and setting boundaries in this space.
It starts with owning your emotions. Recognizing that you have the power to choose your emotions in any moment. When we yell and demand. When our anger or frustration take over, we're reacting from the story within us. We are assuaging our guilt by placing the blame onto our child. They are wrong. Their behavior is bad. I need to "fix" them.
When we remain conscious and aware. When we're responding to our current reality simply "as is". We let go of our expectations and agenda. We support our child in the way they need in that moment.
When we're focusing on supporting and loving our child, we're naturally building connection. Connection's what a child needs to want to cooperate. To separate. To grow wings but feel secure in their roots.
Does it take more energy? In the beginning it may feel that way. But in the long run you may find it takes less. When the night doesn't end in tears and yelling and frustration that drains our energy. When it is filled instead with love that boosts our energy. Because as our child feels loved and supported he'll like be able to settle easier (which makes the whole experience smoother).
The next Saturday I was prepared. For it to take 2 hours. I did my best to meet my child where he was in each moment and support him there. And it took 2 hours. But I didn't feel drained or exhausted or frustrated. The next week was easier and less time.
We've talked about bedtime and what he needs. What I learned was more than anything he wanted one night in mommy's bed going to sleep at the same time. Now every Friday I'm in bed at 8:30 (which at first I resisted and resented but now I'm the one pushing him to go to bed:-) and every other night he goes to bed in his bed. Giving him one night full of connection fills his tank and sustains him for the week.
When I decided to change my mindset. When I became the mom he needed at bedtime. When I was able to let go of my agenda and expectations, we co-created a bedtime routine that works (most nights anyway, I mean he's still 7!)
Today this is about bedtime but really it's your mindset. Being the parent you want to be. Guiding the behaviors you want to see in your child starts with you. Here's 10 tips for practicing a peaceful parenting mindset in your home by Dr. Laura Markham.
Are you being the parent your child needs to learn cooperation? and listening? and gratitude? Are you supporting them in learning how to clean up after themselves? to put things away? to take care of their body?
When you lay your head down at night and hear all those voices about how tomorrow will be better. You won't yell as much. You'll have more patience. You won't get so angry. Instead of willing it to be instead ask yourself what can you let go of to create the space within yourself that this becomes possible.