Last night was a bit of a difficult bedtime for my little girl – who’s just turned 3. Which is unusual for her, she’s can be pretty strong willed and intense, but she thrives on routine and bedtime is all about routine, so she usually goes through it all without event and she’s pretty tired at the end of the day. Occasionally she’ll just lay quietly and snuggle for up to half an hour or so before she’ll drift off to sleep, but that’s really as difficult at bedtime as she usually gets.
It’s actually my favourite part of the day because even if she’s a whirlwind of emotions and chaos during the day, we do almost always get that peaceful wind down and reconnect.
Yesterday though was a little different.
She has had a bit of a feisty couple of days. More high pitched screams. More foot stomping. More bottom-lip-popping. Bit of attitude. Bit of generally being challenging. But also emotional; she’s been teary and clingy as well. She’s wanted to be held, or have me sit with her, lots of “I need you mummy” and “Do not put me down”. Long cuddles and heaps of kisses.
I’ve been half expecting her to be coming down sick with something – though no symptoms have presented themselves (yet….. touch wood they don’t).
So last night started with bargaining. She didn’t want to go to bed. She didn’t want to go to sleep. She wanted to watch “Ben Elf” (Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom) and became quite shrill when she was told no it’s bedtime.
Then she wanted to know what we were planning to do today – in detail.
Then she wanted to get out of bed to tell her father and brother all the things we were planning to do today – in detail.
Then she needed a bandaid for an old bruise she spontaneously remembered was on her leg.
And another bandaid for the other leg – for some reason.
Then she needed a drink of water.
Then she needed to count the owls on her pillow case.
Then she asked again for “Ben elf”.
Then she needed me to sing to her.
Then she wanted to hold my old phone – switched off – but she insisted she wanted to just hold it.
And then she did actually fall asleep.
It took a whole hour after taking her to bed for her to go to sleep. She’d been up out of bed about 6 times in all and flopped around from side to side, sat up, and wriggled, and talked almost continuously.
And with each new request, protest, or excuse, I had a little voice in my head telling me “Be the adult.” “Just say no.” “Don’t give in.” “She’s manipulating you.” “She’s got you wrapped around her little finger.”
These aren’t my thoughts though – they’re things other people have said to me about my daughter.
And even though it was just her and I in the dark, I started to feel self conscious and embarrassed by these thoughts.
Was I really doing the right thing by her? Isn’t she just going to make herself more tired and so, increasingly less reasonable? Am I actually spoiling her? Why can’t I just MAKE her go to sleep?
But when I handed her that phone to hold and something just clicked in her for – whatever it was – and her whole body relaxed and she fell quickly to sleep after that I thought:
I can totally relate to that.
I’ve had nights where no matter what I do I can’t fall asleep. Where I get up to drink, pee, grab a snack, my brush teeth – pee again – check my phone, flop around in the bed, change my pillow to the other end of the bed and see if I can “find” sleep down there.
I’ve had nights where I’ve even changed (or just stripped off) my pyjamas, because I’ve started to obsess over the prickling of an uncomfortable tag, that I’d never noticed before, but when I can’t fall asleep nothing feels right – and anything that might help is worth a try.
When I was a teenager I used to drag my bed out diagonally across the middle of the room if I couldn’t sleep – and somehow that often would work for me.se.
Which reminds me of the other thing that’s been said to me about my daughter – more than once – is “If she’s like this now, what will she be like when she’s a teenager?!”
She might get up 6 times, flop around her bed and get herself a drink of water – she might pull her bed out into the middle of the room. But she won’t need me to do anything for her. It won’t be the same. Because right now she’s 3 and not 13.
And this isn’t every night. It’s actually really unusual for her. (To be honest though, she wakes during the night, but rarely has trouble going to sleep.)
So, I gave her the benefit of the doubt that she was just having a bad night. As she fell asleep in my arms, relaxed and calm, and I reminded myself that it’s easy to feel confident in your parenting choices when things are going smoothly, but it’s harder when you hit some little bumps. And harder still when everyone has an opinion about how things should be done (or how YOU should do them), but sometimes you have to back yourself, even if things don’t work out perfectly all the time. Because whether you take a gentle or a firmer approach, children – people – will always have a bad day – or night.