I have always been extremely blessed when it comes to Elliot’s willingness to go to bed without any battles. In recent weeks, however, I have found myself becoming frustrated at some of his current bedtime habits.
Since Elliot was a few months old, we’ve had a bedtime routine. It’s extremely important to both of us. It’s obviously changed over the years as he’s gotten older, but the staples of bath, snack, books, Bible story and prayers have remained.
What’s been bothering me recently is Elliot’s trying to keep me in the room longer than I need to be there. It’s been reeling in my mind the past few weeks, complicated by the vicious mom guilt from which I daily suffer.
After we pray, we give each other hugs and kisses. This is where the frustration starts. I walk away, toward the door. “I need another hug and kiss,” Elliot requests. After, I don’t know, 10 hugs and kisses, I begin to feel as though Elliot cares not so much about the actual hugs and kisses and more about staying up later … and later. What kind of mom says to her child, “No, you can’t have any more hugs and kisses”? So, when I start to feel that perhaps Elliot is manipulating me, I tell him, “This is the last hug and kiss. It’s time to go to sleep.”
Usually that satisfies him, and I can exit.
Except for the talking. “Mama, I have to tell you one more thing.”
“OK, one more thing. What is it?”
“Tomorrow, after school, can we play Play-Doh?”
“Yes. Now, please stop talking and go to sleep.”
“Well, what day is tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow will be Thursday. Please, Elliot, no more talking.”
“Mama, after Thursday is Friday.”
“That’s right.” I raise my voice a smidge and say firmly, “I mean it, Elliot. No more talking. Good night.”
Then, the “I love yous” begin. “Good night. I love you,” Elliot says.
I am not kidding when I write this: He would go back and forth with me on “Good night. I love you,” 57 times, or more, if I let him. Again, what kind of mother doesn’t reply to “I love you” when her child says it? But, just like the hugs and kisses, are the incessant “I love yous” a way of staying up later?
I finally leave the room and close the door completely, just how Elliot likes it.
“Close the door all the way,” I hear my 4-year-old demand. Contemplating banging my head against the wall, I calmly answer, “I did close it all the way.”
I walk away, relieved that he is finally ready to go to sleep. Five minutes later, while cleaning up the dishes downstairs, I hear the pounding of preschool feet on the floor above me. The door opens.
“Mama, I have to pee,” Elliot calls down. Despite how many times I’ve told him he does not need my permission to go to the bathroom, he always asks.
“OK, go ahead,” I tell him. Miraculously, he actually has to pee, even though he just went 15 minutes ago.
At last, he goes back to bed and stays there.
As I write this, I acknowledge that bedtime struggles could be way worse. He could scream and cry and throw himself on the floor, all the while declaring, “I don’t want to go to bed! I’m not tired!” Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by a couple years of easy bedtimes.
Like I said, the mom guilt adds a dimension to all of this that I can’t shake. Maybe I really am an impatient, mean mom. Maybe he feels like he doesn’t get enough hugs and kisses from me during the day because we’re not together, so he needs to make up for them at bedtime? Apply that same mindset to the “I love yous.”
When he is older, I’m sure I will miss just lying in bed with him “for a couple minutes,” as Elliot always requests before I leave the room. I will long for multitudes of hugs and kisses and hundreds of “I love yous.” But, in those moments, when I’m trying to stick to our bedtime schedule, I do get frustrated.
A hour or so later, when it’s my bedtime and I sneak into Elliot’s room to adjust his blanket and give him a kiss, the mom guilt rears its head again. There is nothing sweeter than a sleeping child, and I often become overwhelmed with sadness because I got angry with him. I know I’ll get another chance the next night, but I always fear I will make the same mistakes.
Originally published on ovparent.com.