My favorite part of the day is understandably some parents’ least favorite.
I know we all love after they’ve fallen asleep (trust me, I understand- I pour myself a glass of wine as reward each night), but in our house we even love the time right before.
Sure, my kid is rambunctious and literally makes me feel defeated as a parent when I try to get him ready for bed, but it’s what happens after that gives me the strength to face those battles.
This is how our bedtime “routine” goes:
Child bathes if I remember to make time. And if I forget, I wipe him down with a washcloth or hose him down outside because, quite frankly, my kid can be gross by the end of the day and I’m not the kind of mom that always remembers to build bath into our schedule. But that’s ok, he’s a kid, he’s not supposed to be clean and I’m proud of my dirty little boy at the end the day.
Ok, back to the routine. Most everything after that is a struggle. Getting out of the bath is a struggle, brushing teeth is a struggle, getting into pajamas- of course, a struggle. Seriously, getting him in p.j.s is like wrestling a cat. Getting him to calm down in bed, obviously also a struggle. I realized pretty early on that we were not made for this part of the day.
The next part of our routine started when he was a baby.
After my son was born I started working again when he was two months old. It was a terrifying but necessary move for me. I was a single mom and needed to provide for him. There was no room for discussion or guilt, this was just the way it had to be. At that time I had a growing fear that my baby would forget I was his mother when I’d return home at the end of the day. Once I stopped nursing I was certain there was nothing that distinguished me from his grandma or aunts or any other woman in his life.
I was just another person who loved him.
It didn’t take too long for me to realize this wasn’t true, but at the time I decided it was important to build special routines into our day that would deepen our bond and set our relationship apart from others. I don’t mention my fear to make it seem that these decisions were based in fear, but I mention them because I know that we all face fears like this and it’s our thoughtful responses to these fears that can be used for good. I decided building healthy attachment with my son was particularly important for our single, working mom family.
And in our case, what I decided to do became our best part of the day.
What I did went against what the parenting books said and even what my son’s pediatrician said (despite the fact I’ll listen to her on everything else), but it went along with what my new mother heart knew to be good and right for us.
I decided that I would stay with my son as he falls asleep.
It all started in a comfy chair in my parents’ basement when he was a newborn and I was in grad school- books piled high on my side, little Leo cozied in on my lap, giving him sweet kisses on his forehead as I nuzzled my nose up to his cheeks. I loved the way he smelled. I held him close. He held my hand. Ah, the way his tiny body curled right up against mine.
“He will never learn to fall asleep by himself,” is mostly what I heard.
I told them that it was my choice and I accept any ways in which this may one day blow up in my face. I assured them that I thought it was worth it.
It’s not true what they said about him never learning to fall asleep on his own. He can. He napped on his own quite early and he can fall asleep if I need to leave the room or I am not home. He showed me when he was ready to do that on his own. I’ve decided that taking time from my schedule to stay with him as he falls asleep, even when it takes for-flippin’-ever, is worth it for us.
What started out as a concern that he wouldn’t know me as his mother turned into a daily routine that is by far the sweetest part of our day. I believe it is our redeeming grace for all our mishaps of the day. It’s our reminder that right here, snuggled up in that tiny twin sized bed, is our safe place and he can count on me showing up when he needs me.
After all the struggle of the day is done, after all my parenting guilt and my four year old’s silly shenanigans have subsided, we both fall into a place that fills us with grace and comfort and quiet whispers of our day. We ask questions. We always end up asking for forgiveness. It’s when the words, “I’m sorry” are the most genuine and meaningful.
We talk about our highs. We talk about our lows. We read. We talk to God. We talk and hug and give kisses on our foreheads. We giggle. We tell stories. He scolds me for “breathing” on him. He makes me smell his feet. It’s cute, I swear. (One day I’ll miss it, right?) I try not to eat his toes up because they look so delicious and sweet.
He holds my hand just like he has since the day he first learned to grasp.
While I understand why many parents have chosen not to lay with their children when they fall asleep, and I know many are unable to, I am grateful I can. Sure, it means that there are days that the dishes pile up or I don’t get as much alone time as I wish because he doesn’t fall asleep right away which can be frustrating. But it’s worth it to me and I know it’s meaningful to him. We end our day on a positive note, which is exactly what we need when our days don’t always go perfectly.
I didn’t listen to what everyone else told me about bedtime, because I knew this time of day would be the only time of day that we would regularly have together. It’s a sacred time in our family and one day we won’t have it. One day I’ll have other children to put to sleep and one day he won’t want me there.
But today, today this time is ours and I won’t dare let it slip by.