Summer holidays, and with a break in routine and family coming to stay in our three-bedroom house, I thought it would be a perfect time to start transitioning my two girls to a shared bedroom. I imagined lazy evenings of reading bedtime stories with one precious girl in the crook of each arm, goodnight kisses and waking in the morning to find the two of them snuggling together, the picture of Instagramable sisterly affection. The older one has always been a great sleeper, the younger is not – so I thought, now she is 18 months old, she may learn from her big sister that sleep is in fact a wonderful thing, worth doing for an uninterrupted stretch of 9 or more hours. All our sleep woes would be solved and it would be perfection. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?!
Oh how deluded a hopeful mother can be. I should have known better.
Instead of my fantasy of peaceful story times by lamplight and kissing them both sweetly goodnight, the evenings became fraught and unbearable. I began to dread bed time hours in advance. Before, our hard-fought routine had been pretty well oiled: I would bath them together, give them both some milk and do teeth, and then while the biggest watched something on the iPad in her bed I’d read a story to the littlest in her room, put her into her cot and close the door. Then I – or her dad, if he was home – would go and read to the oldest and lie with her for a bit in the dark, chatting until she was ready to drift off to sleep.
This is motherhood: Just when you think you have things under control, something comes along to show you you’re in fact just running on luck and making things up as you go along. An interruption in our bed time routine turned out to be more than any of us could handle – especially me. In their shared room the youngest was confused about why she wasn’t in her own room, and she wanted to play. The oldest couldn’t understand why she had to go to bed earlier and then be quiet after the lights went out. I refused to give up but couldn’t get them to go to bed without tears (mostly mine) and admonishments, and would arrive late at the dinner table oozing frustration and anxiety. It was 10 days of misery where I felt like a failure every night.
Until the release.
For me this has been the ever-repeating arc of parenting. You can try new things – you must try new things! – and some will work and some will not. Too often, instead of just rolling with the punches when it’s clear I’ve stepped into a parental-no-go zone, I refuse to give up and try to force what should not be, refusing to hear reason – because I am mother, and of course I know best. (Victory will be mine!) My husband said after day two, “This is not working.” My visiting mother-in-law tentatively suggested that perhaps we’d all be happier with the toddler in our room instead of trying to force her to sleep in Annabel’s. I would hear none of it. To my own detriment…
This is the lesson: the moment you try to force something is the moment you will lose. The release is the victory. Not the victory itself.
When I released what I thought we should be doing and accepted what was right in front of me, I could finally exhale. We put the toddler in her travel cot next to our bed, she slept through the night, and we could get back to business as usual with the biggest one’s bedtime.
And lying next to her in bed on that first night I realised what a fool I’d been. I must have been crazy to ask her to be quiet after lights out. It’s then that the magic happens… When her sleepy little voice unloads her last worries of the evening, asks the pressing questions unanswered in the bustle of the day, and lets me hold her little hand until she says, “Mummy, I’m sleepy now.”
How could I have almost missed out on this treasure trove of final moments of the day with her? What on earth could ever have been so important that I’d want to “shush” her after the lights go out? How could I make her think her sleepily shared confidences were less important to me than getting the baby to sleep?
The days are long but the years are short and before I know it she’ll be reading herself to sleep, she will no longer require my assurance that monsters can’t get into her room. She won’t tell me what’s on her mind and she won’t say, “Mummy, will you lie with me for a bit?” This was what I was missing out on as I tried to create what I thought was a perfect situation. The perfection I was looking for was right there in front of me all along.
I’m not saying I think room sharing is a bad idea. If you’ve managed it successfully I’d love to know your tried and trusted methods. I may try it again myself somewhere further down the line. But for now I’m glad I gave up on it. I’m glad I didn’t force what didn’t come naturally. I’m so glad.