About six months ago, my daughter started expressing her fear of the dark the minute she knew I was about to leave the room before she went to bed.
Initially, I started responding with things like “There’s nothing to be afraid of” or “you’re fine, honey… just close your eyes and go to bed” before giving her the fifth last kiss and leaving the room. Of course, these quick fire one-liners were coming from a place of assumption that it was just another one of her ploys to extend her already-extended bedtime routine. I was also guilty of wanting to just handle it quickly so that I could get to my coveted quiet time at the end of a long day.
But, one night I took a step back and considered… what IF she really was afraid of the dark and this wasn’t a ploy? And I imagined her laying in that room by herself full of anxiety. And it broke my heart.
So … instead of dismissing her, I started acknowledging and validating her instead (a great lesson I learned from my friend and life coach Kerry of Simply Kerry). So I said “it’s ok to be scared, I understand” and would go on and explain how I actually used to be scared of the dark too when I was a little girl. And how my Mom helped me feel better when she told me how Jesus’ angels are flying all through my room to help watch out for me when I sleep – and that between Jesus, his angels, and Mommy and Daddy in the room next to me… that I was safe. And I explained that those same angels were flying around in her room too.
And the way she looked at me when she said, “You were scared too, Mommy?” … I could see a calmness come over her that she wasn’t alone in her fear. And that was kind of awesome.
Well. Cue a recent night.
While her brother miraculously slept in the bunk below her, she was doing the loud, exhausted cry and telling me she was scared. But my “acknowledge and validate” hat was NOT on. I was TIRED. I had nothing left after a long day of playing referee, chef, house cleaner and dish washer. And I just. wanted. to be on my couch and decompress.
And I was “this close” to calling her out for trying to avoid bedtime … but I took a deep breath… and instead, I decided to avoid dismissing her.
This time… I switched up my story and told her about how I used to sleep in the same room as my sister…and how we BOTH used to be scared of the dark but we made each other feel safe by being in the same room together along with Jesus and the angels. And I reminded her that she had her brother there too.
Nice little story, right?
Wrong. She wasn’t buying it.
Because the minute I started to leave her bed, she sat straight up with tears in her eyes begging me to stay. But I decided to leave anyways…knowing my exhaustion might turn into a frustrated tone of voice, and hoping her exhaustion would just turn into sleep already.
But she just cried harder.
Which then woke up her brother.
Who was begging for me now, too.
And I stood in the hallway with my hand on the doorknob and my forehead on the door…and the guilt begin to BOIL … because I remember reading some random dumb article about how you should always lay with your kids if they ask you to no matter what because they will feel abandoned for life … Blah blah blah BLAH
And just as I was about to re-open the door to free myself from the guilt-boil… I heard my daughter’s cry turn into words raining down to her crying brother.
“Hey buddy…” she said calmly.
“It’s ok. Sometimes I am scared of the dark too. So is Mommy. But I’m your big sister and I’m in here to keep an eye on you and so is Jesus and his angels. You can close your eyes because I’ll keep you safe.”
And suddenly… COMPLETE silence from both of them.
And tears rolling down my exhausted face.
There are so many FREAKIN days that we question our actions as a parent. So much time doubting our capability and marinating in the guilt. So much time wondering if what we do is enough… wondering if how we act is right… and (if your mind works like my crazy one) wondering if the ONE way we handled that ONE situation is going to screw them up forever.
And then a moment like that happens. When you realize your kids really are listening… and it’s working.
It’s like rainbows and butterflies and choirs of angels are dancing around you. And you realize that maybe you don’t suck as bad as you’ve been telling yourself that you do. That maybe some of the things that you do and say are positively impacting your kids.
But then “tomorrow” will creep in. You’ll deal with a 15-minute tantrum when the iPad is taken away. They’ll tell you they don’t like you. And suddenly you are back in battle with that voice in your head that tries to tell you that you suck as a parent… and it’s like that trophy moment outside that bedroom never happened.
Because somehow… we are programmed to focus more on what we’re doing wrong. But it’s time we start acknowledging and validating when we “win” at parenting. Whether it’s writing it down. Sharing it with someone who we feel joyful with us. Or just stopping for a minute to soak in the moment. So that maybe… just maybe… the next time that “you are not an awesome parent” voice wants to go to war with you, you can snag that memory from the archives, turn it into a grenade … and blast that inner enemy.