“Should you go check on her?” My dear husband asked nervously after about three minutes.
You see… our beautiful, nearly two and a half year old, daughter was upstairs all by herself. Not making a sound. I had just come downstairs after trying to put her to sleep. We did our bedtime routine, as usual, and I laid down to nurse her to sleep… just as I had hundreds of nights before.
Evangeline has nursed to sleep since she was a newborn. There have been few instances that Daddy has put her down, or the car… but on her own? Never. Not until three nights ago. She wasn’t falling to sleep nursing, and her new brother downstairs needed his Mommy. So what’s a girl to do? I told her good night and that when she was ready to go to sleep I would come back up… and then I left.
I quickly nursed Stephen in anticipation of her calling for me. We waited… and waited… and waited… but all we heard was the sweet sound of sleep. Nothing. After about ten minutes a mixture of nerves and thoughts of “could it really be…” forced me back up the stairs just to be sure. Yup. Out cold… I was thrilled. And also… a little disappointed.
You know how moms always have that bittersweet “They don’t need me anymore…” reaction to new milestones, especially ones that take them farther away from you or bring new independence. Of course they do still need us, just differently than they did before. But mostly, we were thrilled.
Seriously, you should have seen the smile on Jake’s face when I told him she was sleeping.
We’ve known for a while now that it was just a matter of time before she made this transition. Even before she turned two I could see the writing on the proverbial wall. And, just like we did that night, I have been waiting all these months for her to be ready to make that leap. She’s fallen asleep on her own three times now, and I am so so happy. Not because she is more independent, and not because she won’t be as “needy” at bedtime anymore. I’m happy because I know we did it the right way.
Now… before you go all mommy-defensive on me – I am NOT saying you did it the wrong way. Every child is different, and every child needs a different level of comforting and attentiveness. What worked for us, may not work for another family or even our family later down the road. So, now that my disclaimer is well in place… let me finish my thoughts.
For two years well-meaning family, friends and books have all attempted to explain why I was doing it the wrong way. Why taking this kind of approach to bedtime was unhealthy or detrimental to my child’s ability to do something or other. Many thought that she would just never learn to fall asleep on her own and I would be chained to her bedside until she was twelve. Not only did none of those things happen, but we have enjoyed so many wonderful benefits from following our instincts.
Evie is a compassionate and sensitive girl, and the flip side of that is she needs a LOT of love and attention. She is a very emotionally attuned person, and so her emotions need a bit more work than other children’s do. Stephen? Totally different… But our Evangeline is what most would call a “high maintenance” child. The more the work the better reward though, right? I knew our approach would pay off, and it has.
She never had to cry herself to sleep… when she did cry, we were right there holding her tight.
She always knows we will be there for her.
She is a secure, well-adjusted child.
Did I always enjoy nursing her for half an hour or more every single night? No… not really. Many nights I looked forward to nighttime with much less than excitement. It was work – always. But guess what? God did not put me on this Earth and give me two beautiful children so that I could make them “independent” or “self-soothing” as early as possible. He gave me two children to love and care for, day and night. He gave me two children to raise to be confident, loving and strong adults. He put me on this Earth to serve – and that includes my children.
So many mothers today take their vocation and look at it from the perspective of “How soon can I get my life back?” Questions like, when will I get to go back to work or when will I get to sleep eight hours without waking up are not questions I ask. Waking up once or twice (or more) during the night, spending long days with just me and the little ones, never having more than a three hour break, having a date night out only on that rare occasion… that is my life – indefinitely. Someday I may be given a new season, but that is still yet to be seen. This is the life I have been given, and it’s not one I am going to run from as fast as I can.
Instead, I am going to embrace this life. I am going to have as many children as God sees fit to give our family and I am going to help them to get to sleep as long as their little hearts need me there. Even if that means I have another ten… or twenty… or thirty years of it. And I hope I do. Not because it makes me happy, but because living in perpetual service to others is exactly the kind of life that causes me to forget my own happiness, allowing me to experience joy instead.