It’s 8 o’clock p.m. and he’s not only wide awake, he’s excited.
It’s 8:30 and not much has changed.
It’s 8:45. He’s still awake and mildly charged.
It’s 9. Oh my God! When will this end?!
It’s 9:30. It’s official. He is evil. (And yes, he is still wide awake).
I remember the evening after I confirmed that my 4 year old boy could officially be categorized as a “highly sensitive person”, an HSP. “He certainly has many of the characteristics”, the expert told me. “It is normal that given the way he is wired, he will have a difficult time settling down”, he said.
“What do I do?” I asked in desperation.
You see, since my third child was born (yes, 4 years ago), our evenings became all about HIM. The only way he’d fall asleep was with a warm body (preferably mine!) next to him. And funnily, he’d wait until that warm body would doze off before he would allow himself to.
Needing the warm body wasn’t news to me. My first two kids also needed us by their side to feel safe before falling asleep when they were little…Fine. I could deal with that then.
That was 7 years ago.
7 years of little to any adult evening time. The thing is, both Mia and Oriol fell asleep once calmed and relaxed. And this didn’t usually take too long.
Highly Sensitive children are easily stimulated and exceptionally sensitive to others’ moods. They take longer to calm, have vivid imaginations that can frighten them, inviting sleep monsters into their dream world.
So, not only did someone he felt safe with (i.e., Mom or Dad) need to lie with him, but they also needed to lie calmly with him. And this, inadvertently led to either of us…well, falling asleep and bidding farewell to our precious adult evening.
And after 7 years, I can honestly say that I don’t want to do that anymore.
And my husband is way beyond “I don’t want to anymore”.
He’s had it. He’s done. No more. Period.
That’s where he’s at.
So I reached out for help.
And this is what the Highly Sensitive Person expert told me (no exaggeration, I still have the notes…)
- He will need 2 hours to settle down after dinner.
- During these two hours it is best that you just be one-on-one, uninterrupted and quiet time.
- Give him a hot bath with calming essential oils.
- Do some wind-down yoga.
- Do some massage.
- Reach some calm, safe books.
- And lie with him in a dark space.
- Bunk beds and sharing a room with his brother is likely too stimulating for him, he said.
I was in shock.
New beds? And what about my other two kids, also deserving of my bedtime attention? “A babysitter”, he’d suggested when I raised this conundrum. Everynight? And the cost? Where will my middle boy sleep?
I cried that night, and many nights since. I cried because it felt like such a huge insurmountable injustice. How can number 3 (meant to be the one who “just goes along with life…”) need even MORE from me.
Haven’t I given enough already?
There’s no more to give.
When will it be my turn?
Relentless. This mothering thing is just so relentless.
Those were the “Bad thought” moments.
They came when I was tired, or when I couldn’t wake him in the morning, or when I looked at the bags under his little eyes the morning after a tough night. Those eyes.
Those eyes that looked up to me from his highly sensitive soul; that look out to the highly non-sensitive world in their attempts to understand and navigate it.
It just took a few deep looks into those tired eyes to remind me that THIS is exactly what I need to remember. I need to remember that it is hard for him. And when I’m in a good place, well cared for, with a full bucket, I do remember.
In THOSE moments, I connect with that compassionate, conscious awareness. I see him. And I am calm and being calm makes such a world of difference.
It took a few days after getting off that call with the expert that I began to question his advice. I mean, he had obviously never managed bed time with three active kids under 10 on his own (or with a tired hot-tempered spouse).
And in stepping back like that, I realized that while well-intentioned, the expert’s advice did not work for me.I decided to take from it what I could manage, what served me.Click To Tweet
So, now I do the following:
- I separate the kids after dinner. (I transfer them into the same room after Mr. 4 is asleep.)
- I read calm and safe books to my highly sensitive person while my other two have quiet time on their own.
- I do my damnedest to stay calm and smile (self regulate!).
- Sometimes I’ll meditate next to his bed.
- And yes, I use kid-friendly melatonin when I know I’m on the brink.
Some nights I lie with him, and other nights he dozes off in a melatonin-aided slumber. And when Dad is away, he sleeps on a small mattress next to me in our room and I’m ok with it all. I’m even ok when it takes him ages or when I don’t get an evening.Why am I ok with it all? Because this is just the way it is right now.Click To Tweet
I’ve relinquished to those highly sensitive needs and to those eyes. It also helps that I’m taking care of me first (because otherwise I transform into a nasty monster by 7pm) I know it’s unconventional and a bit labour intensive.
It’s not entirely effective (I only get about half of the evenings to myself – that is a 50% improvement). But I do get to cuddle – something that I am increasingly realizing will soon become a treat. (They grow so fast!)
And a lot of the time I get early nights and long rests! So it ain’t perfect. But it feels good enough for now.
Putting kids down and getting kids to sleep is such a source of stress for many mothers. There are so many “shoulds” out there that define what is right, what is wrong.
Coming at this challenge from a place of a) self-awareness, b) compassion and c) longer-term perspective helps you to design a routine or system that works for everyone.
- how does bed time trigger me? what self-talk does it bring up?
- what does my child really need right now? what can I do to help myself respond to this need in this moment? does my own self-care need adjusting, here?
- in ten years from now, what kind of moments do I want to look back on?
There is no right or wrong.
There is simply a way that works best for you all, for now.
As with anything, this too will pass.