My 9-year-old is a dreamer; a thinker. Even as a baby, you could see the wheels turning inside his little head. He thinks about everything: the book he’s reading, the video games he’s obsessed with, the conversation about global warming we had three weeks ago, his friends, school, the state of the world …
Unwinding for sleep has always been difficult for him. He has trouble silencing all the thoughts that spin through his mind. It’s difficult for him to process a day’s worth of life. And so, I make some time each night to lie down with him before bed. I get into the top bunk of his bed, and huddle there with him in the dark, just letting him talk. I want him to spill it all out so he can let go and fall sleep.
Usually, he goes on and on about video games (and I try my best to sound interested!). But sometimes, he’ll relay hopes and fears. As he’s gotten older, a more anxious side of him has emerged. It is nothing major, as far as I can tell: no phobias or irrational fears at this point. But he seems to feel things deeply, and sometimes the intensity of his feelings make him anxious.
These past few weeks have been this way, actually. As the school year was winding down, he was feeling upset about the transition into summer. Third grade was great, and the idea of it being suddenly over shattered him a little.
The other night, after I lay with him for a while, gave him kisses, and tucked him in, his voice cracked: “I feel scared.”
“About what?” I asked.
“I don’t know, “ he said. I could tell he was holding back tears.
I held his hand and waited.
“I don’t want third grade to end. It was such a good year, and I don’t think it will ever be this good again.”
I squeezed his hand. Part of me wished I could make third grade last forever, or that I could take away the heartache of endings like this, but I knew I could do neither.
I told him that what he was feeling was perfectly normal, that he would feel better in the morning. I kissed him again, and left the room.
Ten minutes later, I heard the door to my room squeak open. I wasn’t surprised.
“The feeling wouldn’t go away, Mom.” His voice shook again. “Can I sleep in your room?”
And I told him what I tell him every time he asks to sleep in my room: Of course he can; he can sleep there any time he wants. I told him it’s normal for children to need their parents a little extra sometimes, especially during times of change and transitions.
As I was telling him this, he said, “OK. But I want to be grown up, too. I don’t want to sleep here too much.”
Now I started to well up. You see, we have always had an open-door policy at night for both of our kids. In fact, we co-slept with them when they were babies and toddlers, and slowly eased them into their own sleeping spaces. But any time they’ve needed us, they are welcome to come right back in. I’ve never put up fights about it with them, and I haven’t really worried that I might be setting up a bad habit by letting them sleep with us whenever they ask.
Still, I have wondered if perhaps I was smothering them just a bit. There has always been that little nagging voice in my head — the one that talks about fostering independence in your kids, pushing them out of their comfort zones. Have I spent these years sheltering my kids, not allowing them to work their stuff out alone?
But in that moment, when my son showed me how deeply he considered the choice to come and sleep in my room, I knew that his desire to be self-sufficient at night wasn’t something I needed to push into him: it was happening on its own. I remembered that there had been times recently when he was feeling vulnerable at bedtime but hadn’t decided to come to our room. I was proud of him for those times, but I was equally proud of him for knowing when he really did need that extra comfort.
Sometimes watching my kids grow up feels like witnessing an endless game of tug of war. They are pulled to the side of wanting to be free and mature. But just as suddenly, they are pulled back to the other side, of wanting nothing but to crumble into your arms. And it keeps happening over and over, sometimes all in the span of five minutes.
So, to my son, I want you to know that the desire to be a “big boy” will burn up more and more inside you as the years go by — and that even though I will want to run to you and make the bad feelings go away, I will let you work it out. I know you’ll be just as resilient, bright, and amazing as you always have been.
But I also want you to know that no matter how old you are, I’ll still be your mom. You can cozy up with me at night, or anytime you need. And please, dear son, never be afraid to ask for help when you need it — from me or anyone else. That’s one of the bravest and strongest things a boy can do.More On