Life is always busy for us as a family, like it is for most. We have active, energetic boys who love ‘doing’. I still work on the theory, from when they were very little that is I give them a ‘run’ at least once a day they are happy, I always notice their behaviour change if they are inside for to long so, whatever the weather they are outside (hence the reason that our garden now looks like a football pitch).
One thing I have been incredibly grateful for as a parent is my boys ability to sleep well. Yes we had the night time waking and zombie like experiences when they were younger, shouting that the covers had falling off and deciding to get up in the early hours because ‘mummy the birds are singing and the sun is shining’. But on the whole we have been incredibly lucky.
However, these last few weeks we have noticed our youngest, Daniel getting more and more fractious, falling apart at the seams over the smallest thing and throwing the most amazing 2 year old tantrums (he’s nearly 8). The automatic parenting reaction – ‘he’s not getting enough sleep’ but at this age, putting them to bed earlier does not guarantee a child who switches off, snuggles under the covers and closes their eyes. no, very often I go upstairs to find him with his light on, organising his match attax (football cards).
I have written before about us not knowing what goes on when we are not with them – the school day is a long period of time for us to be apart from them, and lots of things can, and do happen. So, cue the interrogation – are you happy at school, have you had any falling out with friends, the usual anxious, worried maternal instinct kicks in.
My youngest is a quietly determined little boy but he does have his sensitive side. His use of his imagination is amazing, the games and stories he invents and the worlds he goes off to always astound me.
But once we had ruled out that nothing was ‘happening’ to him when he wasn’t in our care we realised that this wasn’t actually the issue.
His imagination was scaring him.
So, in short, our brain can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality, and my son was making up all sorts of stories in his head about bears coming to eat him, dinosaurs chasing him and he was then going to bed and dreaming about them.
He was then waking frequently, really upset but finding it difficult to understand what was happening so, in the middle of the day when I was doing my mummy interrogation he could not really recall, or verbalise what was going on, just that he didn’t feel ‘right’.
Things finally came to a head this weekend when we went away for a night and he slept in the same room as us. When I was settling him down to bed he said ‘I feel better mummy because I am not on my own and I am not scared’. This was when all the stuff came out about the dreams and the fear and the tiredness that was coming from just not getting enough good sleep, leading to the tantrums etc…you get my drift.
Cue the mummy guilt – what if I had listened, what if I had woken when he was awake in the night and scared – bad parent alert?
Rational answer – we don’t know what we don’t know. Sometimes we miss things because we are so busy, we approach issues with the tried and tested solutions – the ‘getting more sleep’ the ‘having a rest’ the ‘tell me all about it’. But sometimes it just doesn’t work and we can’t reason our way out of it, or ‘make it better’ for them in this way. And it can be hard to handle.
What on earth could I do to make this ‘okay’. I can’t restrict his imagination, it is such an important part of his development but how could I make bed and sleep time safe while we work this through?
So I asked him.
‘I don’t want to sleep on my own’.
Cue the parenting part of me which would say – you are nearly 8 years old you should be brave enough to sleep in your own bed etc etc.
But that wouldn’t work – we knew that already.
And it is okay to break with convention, to do something a bit different to help children through a difficult period – although it challenged every part of me, I knew I had to listen to what he was saying and know that his fears and worries were real to him.
So – we spoke to our older son, Joseph and he agreed that it would be okay for him to have a ‘guest’ in his room for a short period, to see if this would help Daniel. He loves his brother and although they fight like siblings do, he wanted to help.
When my husband and I talked it through we agreed that we had to ‘do’ something to show Daniel that we were listening, that these fears and anxieties were real for him and we were going to support him to do something about it.
So mattress on the floor last night, story and an MP3 relaxation and we have changed course, just for now, to see how it all pans out.
I can’t tell you this will be the solution and it is going to make a massive difference overnight but sometimes, as mums, we have to try something different just to see – even if goes against every parenting routine and behaviour we are used to.
I have, over the years built up an amazing network of support to help with the emotional ups and downs for me and the children, and it is times like these I really need them. Jennie Harrison is my support person of choice this time, along with Bach flower remedies, some story relaxations and just seeing how it goes.
None of us have it ‘sorted’. Sometimes our children will throw us a curve ball which we can’t explain away and in this case, however challenging we have got to listen to our Daniel’s worries and not dismiss them in the hope they will go away. I hope that this support will help him process whatever is going on in this vivid imagination so he feels safer and most importantly, able to understand that it is okay to have times where he feels worried, and fearful but knows he has the tools and the support to deal with them.
My message to you – know you are doing the best job possible with the resources you have. We are on a journey as parents and we don’t always know what is round the corner. none of us have it ‘sussed’ and whilst we have our worries and anxieties which can keep us awake at night, so do our children. That is okay, it is just sometimes we have to adapt our approach to make a positive change moving in the right direction.