“Abby, I know that we need to sleep separately from our son. But he won’t let us leave his room at night. What do we do?”
I get some variation of this question multiple times per week. If you have asked this question, you are in good company!
I love this question because it instantly shows me who is “driving the bus” in the family. In this particularly case, it was a three-year-old child.
The parents thought that since their son would have a BIG emotional reaction to their leaving the room, that meant they “had” to stay.
This thought has been perpetuated by certain schools of parenting, which say that a child should always get to be with his parents when he wants or needs them.
This is a lovely thought in theory, but my experience with my clients is that the less experience a child has with separation (and coming back together again), the more fearful a child is of separation.
A child who goes to childcare every weekday has an easier time separating from her parents – in most cases – than a child who is home with an adult caregiver, or esepcially her parents, every day.
(That doesn’t mean that daycare is a better option for a child. There are lots of positives to each choice. )
It does mean that if your child hasn’t had a lot of practice with separation – and separating easily for daycare doesn’t necessarily translate to separating easily at bedtime – they will need lots of opportunities to practice.
The more your child practices this skill – as with any skill – the easier it will become.
The hard part for parents is believing it’s okay to not come when your child calls. To sit with the discomfort of hearing your child being upset, and not rushing to their aid.
And the reason it’s hard for you is because of what you are making it mean.
Unconsciously, many of us believe that a good parent is one who is always responsive.
But to those of you who are always responsive when your child calls you back to the bedroom after lights out, sometimes for hours, I would ask: are you your best parenting self when you give up your evenings to sit in your child’s room, or lie in his bed?
Or do you become resentful? Do you snap at your spouse or your child? Do you neglect your own self care and thus become a lesser version of yourself because you never get a break?
Being a responsive, loving, attentive parent doesn’t mean you are always available.
You can be a good parent who sets limits on your availability. I would argue that you will actually be a better parent when you limit your availability to your child. (Of course there are exceptions to this rule, such as when your child is sick.)
You just have to believe it’s acceptable.
I’d love help you learn how to hold loving, consistent limits with your child. Schedule a complimentary parent life coaching session and experience a transformation in just one hour. Guaranteed.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and certified life coach for parents. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.