Keener woke up at 1:50 AM last night. And again at 2:30. The past few nights, he has told me he is hungry when going to bed. Is he really? Is he playing me? Is he just trying to stall bedtime?
Parenting is hard. Moments like this leave me feeling incredibly perplexed. The human part of me competes with the boundary instilling part of me yet the exhausted part of me can’t help but weigh in at that time of the night.
The first time he woke up, I did not give him a snack. He was very startled when I went in and I suspected that he had a bad dream. Apparently, 3.5 is a common age for those to happen. Therefore, it felt like he was scared and then defaulted to “I’m hungry,” but who am I to say? About 30 minutes later, he called out for me again. He started off with, “I need a hug,” and quickly then asked for a snack.
In this moment, I was torn. I had conflicting priorities at play and it was 2:30 in the morning.
- I want him to eat dinner, a full dinner each night so he isn’t hungry at bedtime.
- I want him to sleep all night so he is well rested during the day.
- I want to instill routines and boundaries so things don’t feel chaotic for him at home.
- I want him to know I am going to meet his needs.
- I also want to go back to sleep.
And with those thoughts going through my head, I told him, “I am going to go get you a small snack. You are going to eat it and then go back to sleep. It is the middle of the night and everyone is asleep. You need your sleep and I need my sleep as well.” “OK mommy.”
I got him a snack and he went back to sleep until 7:15 this morning.
This had me thinking about the scope of challenges that comes with raising kids, overall and moment to moment. Each day (and night), we are faced with countless decisions that often elicit competing feelings: I want you to learn resilience, however, I want to help you when you struggle. I want you to not be spoiled but I want to provide for you when I can. Not to mention, we bring our own emotional state to the table every time we are making a decision for our kids, which can cloud are thinking even more. When I am upset, exhausted, hungry, or frustrated about something, it makes parenting with a clear mind that much harder.
As I lay there at 2:30 trying to fall back asleep after giving him the snack, I had the following thoughts:
- What does my child need in this moment?
- What do I need in this moment?
- Are moments like this becoming a pattern?
In that moment, he needed a snack. I am not in his little body and can’t possibly tell him whether he is too hungry to sleep. I also don’t know if he is in a growth spurt and needs more calories right now. While he had asked for a snack the two previous nights at bedtime (and I didn’t give him one and he didn’t wake up), overall this is not a pattern – he sleeps through the night. I was exhausted and that was playing a part as well. I was looking for the quickest path back to bed.
All that said, the behaviorist in me can’t help but think I have now trained him to wake up in the middle of the night to get a snack. As an attempt to combat this, I am going to remind him that night time is for sleeping and dinner time is for eating. I will give him plenty of opportunities at dinner time to eat as much food as he wants until his belly is full. And remind him that we are not going to eat after dinner. I may also offer him an “extra big sip of milk” to really fill his belly before we go up for bedtime.
We will see if that works. I may have created a monster that I will have to undo. But I also may have simply met his needs for that moment, that night. As with all things in life, we can’t look into our crystal ball to see the long term impact of our choices in the moment. All we can do is make the best possible choice for ourselves and our kids, given all of the information we have. If we see our choices are creating unintended consequences, we can always make a change going forward.
Mama, we are all doing the best we can.