I’ve brought my very nearly 4 year old daughter back into bed with me this week. She has been generally unsettled, waking frequently, having bad dreams, very emotional during the day. So I figured lets just have her back in bed with me again all night so I’m already there for all the bad dream moments.
She has been sleeping in a big bed with her brother for the past year now, so it’s prompting all sorts of old memories having her back in with us. Some lovely (oh delicious warm soft sweet baby smell). Some less lovely (foot up nose at 3am).
And today somebody asked me if I worried that because I’d done this, it would now be really hard to get her out of my bed again, and I’ve ‘given in’ and ‘gone backwards’.
The answer to which is of course I worry about that! Because I worry about everything! My subconscious is always busy with random irrational panics about what I’m doing wrong as a mother.
Such as the time I woke in the middle of the night when my daughter was 14 months old frantically worrying that maybe she hadn’t grown any teeth yet because I hadn’t fed her any meat…
My rational brain will sometimes come to my rescue though, and at the moment, this is what my rational brain (along with my not insignificant knowledge and experience of small children) is reminding my subconscious worries:
You don’t foster independence by pushing your child away from you into independence. You foster it by making them feel as loved and safe and secure as possible in their relationship with you. The child who knows their parent’s arms will always open ready for a hug when they ask, is the child who will be happiest to venture away from that parent to discover their own independence.
Imagine for a moment that both you and your friend are surgeons. Getting quite proficient now, a few years of experience under your belts. And then you both had a couple of surgeries where things didn’t work out the way you expected. Where you felt out of your depth. And suddenly your confidence levels feel a little shaky.
So you go to your supervisors and you ask for some extra support.
Your own supervisor says, “Of course!” and then takes time to help you work out what went wrong in your previous surgeries, helps you think through what you want to do differently in the future, and then shadows you for your next few surgeries, until you feel confident again to proceed on your own.
Meanwhile your friend’s supervisor replies, “No. We went through all this with your previous stage of training. You should be able to carry on alone now. You shouldn’t need any extra support.”
Which supervisor would you rather have? And more importantly, if you were the patient, which surgeon would you like to have operating on you?
Because I am quite sure that I want you!
I’m pretty sure that I’m safer with you than your friend now, and I’m pretty sure that you are feeling more confident and more competent than she is. I know that if you find yourself in trouble again, you are more likely to ask for help, and more likely to get it.
And that is very good news for me!
Life doesn’t move in a straight line from A to B. It has twists and turns and ditches and hills (ahem, mountains), and weird little roundabouts and all sorts of opportunities to dive off on tangents. And our children’s journey from fully dependent newborn babies, to proficient and independent adult is no different.
Our children will go through all sorts of life changes, developmental stages and emotional upsets and there will be times when they need the kind of support we might have given to them when they were much younger than they are now. And it is perfectly ok to give that support.
Because every child has an inbuilt drive to grow up. It is an overpowering force within them to carry on developing. We see them every day struggling to grasp new skills. Walking, talking, zipping up their own coat, putting their shoes on “BY MYSELF!”, making their own sandwich. It can be painful (and messy) to watch at times, but they are determined to get there. They are on that pathway to adulthood, and they want to be independent when they get there!
And I, as a parent, want my children to grow up into confident, competent adults who are not afraid to ask for support when they need it. Who have the resilience needed that when they make a mistake, they can get back up, work out what went wrong, and try it differently next time.
I want them to get the experience that you got as a surgeon. Because I think they’ll have much more fun as adults if they do, and the people around them will have much more fun too.
And so this week my daughter is back in my bed. And I don’t yet know how long it will be for. I ask her each evening where she’d like to sleep, and for now she wants to be with me. I’m pretty sure that at some point this stage of unsettledness will be over, and she will want to be back with her brother, sharing their morning games and giggles, and making up stories for each other.
In the meantime I’m going to bury my nose in that that soft baby hair as much as I can!
By Alexandra Harris, CalmFamily Hampshire