My six year old, Cullen, has been sleeping on the floor in our room since the end of August when Papa Roy died. Since he lost Papa Roy his little world has been shaken to the core. He has been afraid that someone will break into the house or that there are monsters. Every time the dogs bark he thinks something is coming to get us. He does not want to be left alone especially in strange places. At the condo we stayed in at Disney he followed me from room to room at night. And if by chance I got out of his sight he would bellow for me.
Cullen has always been a timid and insecure. New things scare him and he will work himself up very easily into panic if allowed. We felt like his fright at night was no longer about Papa Roy and more about his basic personality and hyper imagination. And though we needed to tread lightly, sleeping in our room might continue on til he was sixteen if we did not give him the confidence to sleep through the night alone. After all he had been doing it since he was 6 months old.
Edward and I had discussed with Cullen the idea of returning to his bedroom after our Disney trip. Six weeks seemed ample time to regain some security. And Edward and I were longing for our own space again. Tripping over sleeping bags, pillows and toys at the foot of our bed has gotten old. At one point Cullen was lining up toys on the floor near his pallet to make it more "like his room." I had to remind him that this was not his room and his toys belonged downstairs.
So it is the morning after the first night Cullen is back in his room. (And his sister, Avery back in hers. She had been sleeping in the guest bedroom since Cullen moved to our floor. It seemed only fair since both their rooms are downstairs. Avery is our courageous child. As she says, "I am not afraid of anything." haha This is true. I for one wish she were more cautious but that is another blog entry.) And what a night it was. We put the children to bed before 8pm which is their normal time. Both went without a problem. Avery was asleep within five minutes of her prayer. Cullen was another story. We did make it to the other side. Cullen is at school and all is quiet. But for a few hours there I was not sure of my parenting abilities, whether what I was doing was selfish or tough love, whether Cullen felt abandoned by us and whether it would all end up with something terrible happening.
As I lay in bed holding my breath and waiting for him to arrive at our bedroom door I had flash backs of when he was 7 months old and we had to teach him how to sleep in his crib without being rocked. As first time parents we made the awful mistake of rocking him to sleep. My back would be killing me, the swing batteries were being replaced constantly and Cullen was awake til 10:30pm while we worked furiously to get him to sleep. I would try and lay him lightly in his bed only to have him wake immediately and we would start all over. His sleep patterns were terrible and it was all our fault. Finally I came across this book called Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Oh my gosh, what a life saver it was. I learned how to put him on a sleep schedule that kept him happy and me sane. The more sleep he got the more he wanted and at regular intervals. But first... he had to go through 3 nights of trials where there was no rocking. We established a routine of bath, bottle and reading and then he was laid down flat on his back. I sat down stairs with Edward and cried. Praying that Cullen would stop crying and stop breaking my heart. I fought the urge to go to him. We tried that the first night... reassuring him and then leaving but it seemed to only make things worse. So we went cold turkey the second night. "Goodnight baby boy. I love you. I will see you in the morning." And then with the crying came thoughts of whether I was ruining him for life. And whether our bond would be broken and he would never trust me again. But we got through the night and the next morning he was smiling when he woke. And he still loved me.
So six years later the same thoughts raise their ugly head. Am I being heartless? What else can I do? Why can I not give him the confidence he needs to sleep soundly. I felt like a failure. A mean, heartless failure because I have to admit in the face of my helplessness and his wails of "mommy, mommy!" I lost it. All I could find in myself was yelling and screaming and threatening. And I know that did not help at all! I just wanted him to stop begging me to make it right when I could not.
I went upstairs and woke Edward. I could not be alone with this anymore. What did he think? Were we terrible to leave him down there?" And he said something that clicked with me. Cullen had to do the work. There was nothing more we could say to him. His fears were irrational and reason was not gonna help. He needed to live through the night and wake in the morning knowing all is well. And he needed to do it over and over again until he was secure and confident in himself and his ability to face his bed at night. He has everything he needs to get through the night and he needs to learn to dig within himself and find the courage to do it. Oh its hard, sitting back and letting him do the work. I want to make it better for him but I know anything I do will undermine the work he needs to do.
So I lay in bed holding my breath and when he came to the door I woke Edward... and he calmly said to Cullen. "Cullen you have to do this. Mommy and Daddy love you but you have to do this. We know you can." And Cullen went back downstairs to his bed. I was so thankful for Edward at that moment. And I was amazed and proud of Cullen.
And this morning Cullen was doing his morning thing. He was fine. I told him how proud I was of him and how sorry i was that I got so impatient with him. He nodded and smiled a little as he acknowledged that he survived. We both survived it.
And tonight we do it all over again. But tonight I will practice patience and compassion along with tough love.