Not that long ago, Henry used to fall asleep to the soothing, gentle sounds of lullaby versions of AC/DC songs. His mom and I would stand in the crack of the doorway and watch our little 2-year-old man curl up under his blankie and drift off to kiddie versions of “Back in Black” and “Thunderstruck” and “Highway to Hell.”
Then we’d pat ourselves on the back and tell each other what a great job we were doing, how there is no better satisfaction than the one you can get from getting a little kid to bed hassle-free, night after night. We had established a bedtime routine for our children and it was working like a charm.
But it doesn’t work anymore. Oh, hell no. Henry’s older sister still hits the hay without much fuss and his baby brother is pretty dependable, but Hank the Tank, a kid who steals my heart every day with his energy and his wildly cool imagination, this dude is killing me now when it’s time for bed. And by killing me, I don’t mean figuratively, people. I mean the dude is KILLING ME. Like with ultra-original torture.
The thing is though, and this is clutch here: I blame myself.
I have to. I have to own it completely and I know it because the fact of the matter is that Henry is 3 and his life and his hours of living it are still more or less dictated by my god-like superpowers over him. Yet, I have messed things up way more than I care to admit and every night now is a battle of wits, a veritable showdown at dusk that lingers on for hours in a cycle of frustration and desperation.
Now, I know that it’s easy for lots of parents whose kids DO go to be without too much drama to sit there and say, “Well, you need to be firm! You’re doing it wrong! You suck at being a dad!” But believe me, you’re out of line if you find yourself thinking that stuff. I’ve been lectured hard by a bunch of family members and I understand where they’re coming from, but my problem isn’t discipline, I don’t think. My problem is …
Okay, screw it. My problem is discipline. There, I said it. Are you happy now? My problem is discipline, man! Or the lack of it, I guess.
But at least let me defend myself with my weak twig of defense. See, here’s what happened, here’s my lame excuse for raising a fantastic toddler with a heart of gold who also happens to turn into a friggin’ night owl with Vegas hours every evening without fail.
It all started when my estranged wife (we’re separated) and I decided that we wanted separate bedrooms a few years ago. I don’t know for a fact that that was a sign that things were going south in our marriage because a lot of married people thrive with separate sleeping quarters. That’s another story, though. The thing is, with me, I — right away — began letting my oldest daughter crash in my room. She was 3 at the time and she wanted to snuggle with dad some nights and so I didn’t think much of it. I figured it was cute and she wasn’t bugging me; I could read my novel at night no problem as she lay there across the bed and slept that deep sleep of a tired little girl.
That went on for a while, some nights crashing in my room, other nights sleeping in her own bed. Then, she started to want to stay more nights. Then — you guessed it — every night. I didn’t really draw the line at that point mainly because I didn’t want to be bothered with drawing the line. I was lazy, I guess. I wanted to get my kids in bed so their mom and me could watch some TV and have our late dinner, so we could get our little domesticated reward at the end of a long day of work and parenting and all.
I’d let my daughter fall asleep on my bed and then when I was tired, I went up there and passed out myself. No biggie, I thought. Sleep is sleep.
It didn’t take long before Henry was old enough to change it all, though. After a time, my son took note of the fact that there was a damn sleepover happening in dad’s room and he wanted in. By the time he was 3, a little less than a year ago, I granted him admission to the party. My wife was pregnant with our third child and so there was a crib set up in one room, a crib which I stole the mattress from nightly so that Henry could flop down on it on the floor and join the family freaking camping trip unfolding in my room.
Of course, from the get go, there was trouble. One kid alone in a room when they’re tired was easy. Two of them, brother and sister, was not. They’d fight and jump around and play games and get each other all worked up and before long I was running up to my room a bunch of times and trying to referee the chaos.
“Go to bed!” I’d holler. “Otherwise, you’re both going back into your own room!”
What a stupid STUPID thing that was for me to say. I didn’t realize it then because I just wanted to rush back downstairs and continue binge watching Breaking Bad episodes on the Blu-Ray, but what I was doing was a monumental screw-up. I began threatening them with the sanctity of their very own bedroom, a room colorful and decorated and home to a seriously nice new bunk bed that we had gotten for them to sleep in. Ugh. I was too blinded by my own yearning for convenience to know it then, but I was in the midst of creating a real bedtime monster named Henry.
The other thing is, I never followed through on my threats anyway. I could have insisted that enough was enough and that the kids needed to sleep in their own beds, even if just on the nights when they were really misbehaving and not getting to sleep. But I never did. Not once did I follow through on my threats to haul them out of my room. And well, young kids are not blind to the fact that if you threaten them with hollow crap, they can start to ignore your words with no price to pay whatsoever.
That’s what went down. I threatened and didn’t act. It seems so foolish to me now, but then again, what do I know? I am a fool, obviously. That’s what the hell I’m sitting here trying to explain to you.
Nowadays, separation gives me an excuse to keep the whole folly going. I STILL let the kids sleep in my room, this time with a baby thrown in the mix for good measure. When their mom and I moved into different homes in different towns, I inherited the king bed. So it was naturally easy for me to continue with my charade. Oh, I have a great set of bunk beds all set up in the other bedroom (I only have two now), but I am going to confess to you here and now that, even though we’ve been living here three months now, no one has slept in those bunks yet. Not even once.
We are all in my room. Every night. Violet, the oldest, and Charlie, the baby, they fall asleep pretty good. But not Henry. He is my Frankenstein, my lazy experiment gone bonkers. He shows up most nights not long after I’ve said goodnight and left him and his sister to watch a cartoon on Netflix. (Yes, that’s another horrible mistake I have made. Being a single dad has been hard sometimes and so I continue to try and wrestle a tiny hour or two of free time for myself at night. And with that in mind, I take cheap and easy routes toward getting my kids into the bedroom. I’ll do anything, I guess is what I’m saying. You want cartoons? Fine, here’s cartoons! )
It’s bad parenting and I know it. The discipline is weak. Henry wanders down one time, I carry him back upstairs. The next time, I’m in the middle of doing some hardcore exercising, some Sumo burpees, covered in steaming sweat/having small heart attacks, and there he is again. This time he’s got his blankie over his head, like a ghost. He thinks I can’t see him.
I chuckle to myself. Every damn time. And that cancels out my sense of discipline. I carry him back upstairs, tell him to get some sleep. Ten minutes later, he’s back. He wants some OJ. I give it to him just so I can avoid the argument. I know that sucks. But I’m confessing all this to let other people learn from my mistakes, you see. So go a bit easy on me.
Eventually, after as many as ten trips up and down the steps to re-deliver the wandering son back to my room (I know … MY room), he falls asleep. But I’m doing it all wrong and I hope you know that I’m about done with that. I’m turning on the discipline jets now, way too late in the game. But it has to happen. Hopefully, if you’re like me and raising some kids on your own, you will read this before you make any of the same mistakes I’m making now.
But if not, at least you can know that you’re not alone. As parents, we do our best, I guess.
Even when we don’t, really.
Image: Bielanko Private
Keep up with Babble.com on Facebook.
More on Babble: