I’ve spent approximately 7 billion hours of my life lying in the dark next to a fidgety, sleepless child, praying to the gods that my child will finally go the eff to sleep.
When the going gets tough, I’ve been known to hide under the blanket with my phone on the dimmest setting, scrolling through Facebook and hoping against hope that my half-asleep child doesn’t notice what I’m doing and call me out on screen time after lights out.
Other nights, it’s not quite that miserable. Actually, sometimes it’s downright beautiful.
Lying there as my kids drift between wakefulness and dreaming can be as magical and intimate as I imagined parenting would be before I actually had kids and realized how draining and relentless it actually is.
Sometimes, in the dark, my kids will nestle against me, and I’ll get a whiff of their sweet hair, feel their warm cheeks against my neck, or their little hearts beating wildly in their chests — and I’ll want to sob with gratitude.
As they’re drifting off, they’ll pour out their hearts to me, opening up about stuff they keep under lock-and-key during their waking hours.
I’d heard all the arguments about why lying down with your kids until they fall asleep is a bad habit. It’s kind of the No. 1 habit you’re supposed to break when your kids are babies.
Except, what if you just never do that? What if you rock or nurse your baby every night? Then, as they get older, what if it evolves into holding hands or patting their back until they’re out?
And then, even after they’ve outgrown all that, what if they ask that you to just lie there, soothing them with your presence until they’re fast asleep?
You might ask: How will they ever learn to self-soothe? How will they learn to fall asleep without you? Aren’t you going to create dependent sissies who never learn how to function in the world without you?
The answer to the last question is an unequivocal nope. Numerous studies have shown that the more attached kids are, the more secure and independent they actually become. It makes sense if you think about it: Giving kids security makes them feel confident and able to function with ease in the world.
I don’t think that means that every single family must lie down with their kid at bedtime every night. There are many ways to raise secure kids, and this is absolutely not a prerequisite. But I also know that there is no reason not to if that is what works for your family, and that just because you allow your children to have that habit doesn’t mean they won’t be adaptable when you aren’t there or that they will never learn to fall asleep alone.
I lie down with my kids because they want me to, because it is something we’ve always done, and because even though I often begrudge those extra 10 to 20 minutes of waiting, it’s really only a handful of minutes in my day, but they mean the world to my kids.
I lie down with them because between school, work, meals, homework, and other commitments, it’s rare for us to have moments of silence and closeness as lovely and deep as the ones just before sleep.
I lie down with them because, dammit, even I don’t like falling asleep alone. If my husband is out or away, it takes me forever to fall asleep, and I’m 38 years old. I feel like, at just 4 and 9, my kids are allowed to have that extra security that even grown-ups crave.
I lie down with them because there have been plenty of nights in the past few years that my older child did not need me there at all — times that he literally shoved me out of his room so he could fall asleep on his own. But I lie down with him the nights that he is stressed, restless, or just needs me and doesn’t know why.
I lie down with him then because I know that the days of him needing me that much are numbered.
I lie down with my boys because I know that boys are usually taught to be tougher than this, to bottle up their needs and wants, and I think that’s a dangerous way for boys (and men) to function.
I lie down with them because they ask me to and I’m willing.
Yes, sometimes at the end of my long days as a mom, lying there in the dark is the last place I want to be. Yes, sometimes I’m agitated, hungry, touched out. Sometimes I find myself tightly gritting my teeth just so I won’t let out my screams of frustration.
But I also know that these minutes that my kids drift off in the safety of my arms or my presence are exactly the ones that hold the most weight for my kids — and for me. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
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