I asked this question – “who’s the boss in our house?” - to my then two-year-old as he was attempting to order me around. He responded by sitting on the kitchen floor and peeing.
In this moment, he gave me the best metaphor for my daily experience of parenting under the illusion/delusion that I have control in a world with children.
This past weekend, our family had the milestone of moving the now 3-year-old’s bed into his sisters’ room. This happened after a disastrous domino effect of events, starting six months ago with a 2.5-year-old who climbed out of his crib repeatedly. The side of the crib came off, and a fugitive was born. This boy immediately gave up naps (see previous blog), made a total nightmare out of bedtime, and started showing up at my bedside at all hours of the night and early morning. It has been a long, hard road of trying to crack this sleep puzzle with our maverick (our daughters dutifully stayed in bed screaming for us even when they could get up and out).
We yelled. We cried. We begged. We used melatonin, which actually was the first step on our road to recovery. We stopped yelling, which also helped for a more harmonious, but painfully drawn out, bedtime routine.
Christmas approached and we shuddered at the inevitable setback that would be brought on by removing our son from his room to make space for guests. We may as well stop trying, we sighed in surrender, because we are going to be back to square one in a week.
But then, we had our own Christmas miracle! The first night in his sisters’ room, this sleep-resistant child suddenly crawled into his bed, chubby hands under fat cheek on the pillow, and let us leave. While he was still awake. And for the first night after 14 consecutive nights of demanding me at some point between 12:45 and 2:45 am (after which it would take me 1-2 hours to fall back asleep), he slept all night.
Our cautious optimism grew more confident as the older sisters actually WANTED their brother to stay in their room, and he was clearly settling in just fine. Even when his room became available again, we decided on a trial period for him to stay. It wasn’t perfect – he resumed some of his nighttime awakenings (although no longer EVERY night), but the bedtime routine became exponentially easier, and he was happier. So we converted the girls’ room into the bedroom for all three kids, and his room to a playroom.
This experience over the last few months has seriously tested my control issues. Why wouldn’t my child just respond like my other two children had? Every night I went to bed with foreboding about the terrible night’s sleep I could not control because there is no reasoning with a 3-year-old, especially at 2 a.m.
In a strange way, even the eventual solution (at least for now) has tested my sense of control. I had planned my house to have two kids’ bedrooms – each decorated according to emerging personalities, with distinct design aesthetics. Granted, they looked more “do-it-yourself” than anything approaching a Pottery Barn catalogue, but my son was surrounded by his caped heroes and my daughters have inspirational girl power art on their walls. Now, we have white bunk beds opposite a homemade, dark, wooden bed frame, and dinosaur bedding with a space bed tent (another failed intervention in the sleep war) butting up against pink and white striped comforters.
This sounds so minor, but it is the perfect illustration of what seems to be the biggest struggle for many of us in parenting: we are not in control. We can be in charge, at least most of the time, but control is an illusion – or delusion - depending on the day.
You know what they say -- life is what happens while your children make their own plans.
p.s. Six nights into the new arrangement, he has slept all night every night. I can totally deal with the mismatched room design.