Tiggy’s never been very good at going to bed. She has a complete night-time FOMO – terrified that we’re all suddenly going to throw a party the minute she gets into bed. So bedtime is always an hour’s dance of negotiation, giggles, pleading, sternness and exasperation… about half the time it ends up with us snuggled up reading stories to each other
But in the last couple of weeks, it changed. She was no longer only fighting about when she went to bed, but she started asking whether I would stay with her or if she could sleep with me. On one hand this was lovely but on another I was frustrated. I love our snuggle time, but even in lockdown, my days are busy, possibly more busy than before and those quiet moments before my own bedtime are precious to me. I am happy to snuggle down a bit longer until she falls asleep from time to time, but I was concerned that this might turn into a habit… and nights spent with the girls tend to be restless as I’m alternatively kicked, elbowed and freezing as the duvet is pulled off me – all in the name of motherly love.
I questioned her. What was wrong? Was she suddenly afraid of the dark? Did she think that there were monsters under the bed? Was she unhappy? Had something happened? The answer was always no. She was fine. She just wanted to sleep with me… and the more I resisted, the more she asked…
For someone who does this stuff for a living, I can be very slow in my own life. It took a while for it to finally click that this was her way of dealing with her anxiety around the lockdown.
I had been watching for tantrums and shouting matches, for tears and protestations that this was “unfair”. We’d had some of that in response to specific situations… but less than I’d expected and nothing out of the ordinary for young girls.
But I hadn’t counted on the general unease that she must be feeling as her world was turned upside down. Denied access to friends and school, to her beloved grandma, aunts and uncles, treats of trips to Wagas or the cinema… must all left her with an underlying feeling that her world wasn’t quite as safe as it was before: something that it is impossible for a 9 year old to understand and articulate. So she did what came naturally and reached out to anchor herself in her safe place… me.
All of us are unsettled right now and it will be manifesting in unexpected ways. Watch for the usual signs in your children – the meltdowns, the chat-back or the unexplained tummy aches. And then question the unusual behaviours. Before jumping to any conclusions, just ask yourself – could it be that they’re anxious about this crisis?
Remember too that, however well you are coping, there will be a part of you that is anxious too. So that over-eating or desire to sleep all the time, may just be your way of self-soothing.
My heart swells knowing that I am Tiggy’s safe place but I beat myself up that I resisted her request for so long, worrying that we’d develop a bad habit. When I realised what was going on, we decided to have a sleepover in my bed. I was very tired the next day – but she seems better and hasn’t asked me to sleep with her anymore.
It can be hard to figure out what’s going on for our kids. Tiggy is articulate but she couldn’t tell me what was wrong because she couldn’t recognise it in herself. It can be even harder to figure out why we ourselves are behaving in a particular way. That can leave us feeling stumped. How are we supposed to deal with things when we don’t know for sure what the cause is?
Tiggy taught me that there is a simple solution when we don’t know what to do. We show more love. That love might look different at different times – but really, particularly in these difficult times, there is nothing that isn’t made just a bit better by being a bit more loving – whether it’s towards our kids, or indeed, towards ourselves.