Remembering The Family Bed

I'm a featherweight when it comes to sleeping.  The tiniest of noises will wake me from the deepest slumber.  Noisy neighbors, passing cars, ants breathing...all interrupt my sleep cycle.  I sleep with a fan blowing even in the coldest months just in hopes that the white noise will help muffle the sighs of this hundred year-old works occasionally.

I blame it on my children.  Years of sleeping with one ear open, listening for the early rustlings of a hungry baby in an attempt to preempt the full wake of a squalling hungry feed them or comfort them before they even realized they needed something.  Because with four small children, one awake child, meant four awake children. 

Flashback to our family bed.

To lessen the mommy response time, we adopted a family bed.  Keeping squirming children at close easily-accessible range definitely has it's bonuses, not the least of which is more sleep for everybody.  But it also has it's disadvantages.  Acrobatically sleeping children who put their knees and elbows and chins and toes in awkward and uncomfortable places being the easiest to imagine. 

The criticism of family and friends however was far more annoying than the frequent 2 AM kick to the kidneys.  Grandparents and aunts and family friends were all certain we were creating sissy dependent maladjusted human beings who would probably leech off of the government and their parents for all of eternity...and they would never get married or have any other meaningful social interactions without the supervision of their overly-protective mommy. In fact, they would probably never leave their parents' bed if they weren't forced out and completely and strictly prohibited amid traumatic tears and desperate pleas for mercy.

Here we are, many years later.  I haven't had even a random visit from a nightmare stricken child in several years.  All four children sleep each night in their own beds.  They chose, mostly on their own, but with some loving encouragement from their "overly-protective mommy", to leave the family bed in search of their own independence.  Sometimes the younger children transitioned to a sibling bed before actually seeking their own, but across the board we accomplished independent sleep without traumatic tears or whimpers of fear and isolation. 

I remember telling the more vocal critics of our family bed that I was certain that when they turned eighteen they wouldn't still be sleeping with their parents.  Of course, I was right.  And it didn't even take them that long. 

As for leeching off the government, etc.... I suppose it's yet to be seen.  But the oldest just turned eighteen (and is ready to graduate from high school) and he manages to pay his own cell phone bill every month.  The youngest manages over-night girly sleepovers with no apprehension or midnight phone calls home.  The fifteen year-old has a boyfriend and otherwise budding social life.  And the younger boy is confident in his own right and will most likely be testing for his junior black belt in karate sometime this year.  They are pretty confident and independent kids, in spite of having spent their early years sleeping with their parents and having their night time needs immediately met.

And while I sleep much better since they all left my bed, I do sometimes miss them.  Just last night I woke due to some chirping cricket or buzzing mosquito and felt very lonely.  I found myself fondly remembering their quiet breathing and sleeping snuggles.  I wanted desperately to hold a tiny toddler hand and stroke wispy baby hair.  I even (almost) missed the random toes in my kidneys.

Perhaps I was being a little reminiscent because I had recently heard a young mother lament her toddler's constant need for attention, especially at night.  She spoke of how her daughter clung to her neck at bedtime and how she was constantly followed, how she couldn't get anything done without her little one wrapped around her legs.  She had plans for preschool and dance class and swimming and karate to help foster a spirit of independence in her daughter.

But small children aren't supposed to be independent.  We as humans are wired for survival to depend on our mothers for protection until we are able to take care of ourselves.  If we lived in a more primitive world, toddlers who wandered off independently from their mothers would end up eaten by saber-toothed tigers.  Babies left to sleep alone at night, would fall prey to all sorts of monstrous predators.  We are not so removed from our ancestors biologically.  It has not been enough generations for our biological needs to change.  Our infants and toddlers do not realize that they live in a world of indoor climate control and high tech security systems.  Their biology is still wired for the saber-toothed tiger stalking the jungle.  They want and need their mothers to feel safe and secure.

I remember the clingy needy stage all too well.  It is hard... hard beyond belief.  Children are incredibly exhausting and draining and wearing with their constant need for love and attention...   I feel your pain, mothers of young children... I sincerely do.  I know it is emotionally draining and physically exhausting.  But take it from a mother who has walked through the fire of raising young children and emerged on the other side...Independence can not be forced onto the very young.

Confidence (and the resulting independence) develops gradually over time.  Toddlers should not be expected to be independent in the same way they shouldn't be expected to cook their own meals and drive the family car.  They just aren't physically, intellectually, or emotionally ready for it. 

But I promise that they will not be clinging to your legs forever.  There will come a time when they don't want to even be seen with you.  And that is hard in an entirely different way.  But it is a normal part of developing into an independent adult.  And that's what we really want as parents... to raise independent productive adult members of society.

Don't rush them too much.  As hard as it is to WILL miss them being small and vulnerable and needy.  But you will be proud of their independence at the same time. 


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