I didn't plan to be the kind of parent that stays in bed with my children until they're safely off to dreamland. In truth, my husband and I didn't put any real thought into at all. We simply didn't plan not to be those parents, and the rest just happened. My kids, now ages 3 and 6, have never known a night when they didn't fall asleep next to their parents or grandparents, and if that makes me crazy, well, I'll plead guilty to the charge, and I'll do so happily.
Because guess what? My kids might have a high-maintenance bedtime routine, but they're also well-adjusted, happy, and intelligent, with only the normal levels of parental attachment. In my book, that means our system is working for us.
I don't tell every mom I meet that my husband and I spend hours in our kids' beds every night — sometimes because they're fighting sleep, sometimes because we give into it ourselves. I learned my lesson after the first few times, when I realized that my confession received only two responses: judgment-filled advice on how to stop the practice or a speech about how their own children are such easy sleepers, delivered with a thinly veiled tone of superiority. One mom told me her children were like slow cookers at bedtime: set it and forget it.
Our routine is a little more like preparing a six-course meal. For my 6-year-old daughter, it's a delicious one. After bath, pajamas, and teeth and hair brushing, we pick out books together. Then we snuggle up in her bed, she tells me details about school that she refused to divulge earlier in the day, maybe we watch a music video together on my phone (currently, we're rotating between Meghan Trainor, Taylor Swift, and Michael Jackson), then she reads to me until she gets too tired and asks me to take over.
After a couple of books, it's lights out. Often she's down for the count immediately, but if she's feeling fidgety, she'll ask me to take her on a "cloud journey," a meditation exercise I revived from my decades-old camp counselor days, that involves her relaxing every part of her body, then floating around the world on a cloud. She never makes it past our neighborhood without passing out. After I hear her deep breathing for a few minutes, I might catch up on email while lying next to her, or often, I fall asleep for a half an hour or so, then wake up and move to my own bed.
My 3-year-old son's bedtime process is a little more annoying (what isn't with a 3-year-old?), often involving a dozen books, trips downstairs for bedtime snacks and drinks, blatant lies about not being tired ("look how open my eyes are, Mommy!"), and the making of various forts in his bed, which he rolls around in like a puppy. But the end result is still the same. Eventually, he relaxes, his body gets heavy, I tell him a soothing story, and he falls asleep, leaving me feeling relieved, and honestly, with a sense of accomplishment that I have helped this crazy kid submit to a biologically imperative need.
Witnessing that moment when our children turn from wild, demanding creatures into slumbering, angelic tiny humans, might be why my husband and I keep up our admittedly draining nighttime routine. It's magical, and it's fleeting. There will be a day when they no longer want us in their rooms at all, when they definitely have no interest in spending hours cuddling, reading, and talking with us before bed. So, yes, staying with my kids until they fall asleep is a burden — mostly on my sex life and prime time live TV viewing opportunities — but to me, it's also the biggest blessing.