There are some milestones you think, as a parent, will be such a relief when your child achieves them. Feeding themselves, toileting independently, happy school drop-offs. And for the most part, once your child can do all of these things on their own, as a parent, you are unabashedly proud and grateful to have moved beyond spoon-feeding, diapering, and walking a tearful child into class.
I am a mom of three kids born in a four year time span – 2009, 2011, and 2013. With kids born so close together, many of these milestones were just plain relief to have one less kid I had to manage, and one more kid on their way to independence. However, something about the last kid, the baby of the family, achieving these milestones is so much more emotionally fraught.
The most recent milestone has been a bigger gut punch than I expected. He’s asked to fall asleep by himself every night the last week and has done so easily with absolutely no hiccups. I am a lot sadder about it than I expected.
Now, I know, you are doing the math, and yes, he’s nine years old. He will be ten in March. We co-slept his first year, and then for several years my children chose to share a bed or beds in a single room, until one by one, they decided they were ready to sleep, and fall asleep, in rooms alone.
This usually happens between ages eight and ten, and it’s not a straight path. Sometimes they choose to have a “sleepover” in one another’s room, which I do allow, but now only on weekends as they are getting too big to really get restful sleep when together on school nights. When they did sleep in a room together, I sat with them until they fell asleep. As they decided to sleep independently, I sat with whoever asked, and that was usually the youngest.
For the last couple of years, it has been only him that’s asked. I would sit in his room, playing games on my phone for the 15 or 20 minutes it takes him to wind down and fall asleep. He’d ask me questions or tell me about random bits of his day, all of which were equally amusing and frustrating, as we both knew he wouldn’t fall asleep until he stopped talking.
I loved this final bit of bonding time as he fell asleep.
These days, I remind him what he needs to do before bed, give him a hug, cover him up (which he doesn’t need or ask for, but I do anyway), shut the door, and leave him to his dreams. It is as it should be but is one more reminder that my babies aren’t babies anymore. They are all growing up so incredibly fast, and the years with them are so very short.
To all the parents out there wondering if they, as parents, should still be doing (fill in the blank) for their child, my pearl of wisdom: do the thing. Whether it is sitting with your child as they fall asleep, or tying their shoes, or walking them into school, if they ask for your help, and you can, do it. They won’t ask forever. Taking the time to nurture (I don’t like to say baby them) is not something you’ll regret. When they are ready to be independent, they will be, and there will be no stopping them.