The fears/night terrors phase is upon us. Poor Erin decided a few days ago that there was a bug (a beetle or an ant) in her room and it was going to crawl on the wall. She woke up crying and sweaty. I’m not sure if she actually saw a bug or if she just dreamed about one. We assured her that the bug is not in her room anymore, and Matt looked under her crib and confirmed “no bugs!” We looked out the window and talked about how the bug actually prefers to be outside and is in fact probably in our neighbor’s garden right now with his friends. But still, before bed, she has continued to get scared and cry. Laying on her pillow before drifting off, she’ll say, “Bug in the garden with his friends?” trying to convince herself. Last night, moments after falling asleep, she woke up crying and sweating with a wet pillow. Over the next hour as the cycle repeated, Matt and I took turns comforting her.
Erin has tried to “stall” bedtime in the past by calling us in her room for a variety of reasons. We have learned over time the difference between her version of “crying wolf” and something like sickness or another issue, and we know that when it is the former, we eventually have to put our collective foot down. She needs her night sleep and will struggle behaviorally if she racks up a deficit. Plus, she will quickly make a habit out of it, causing us to lose sleep as well.
I am grateful that Matt and I are on the same page about the importance of acknowledging Erin’s fears. We want her to know that she can feel scared, sad, or angry, and we as her parents will respect those feelings as her reality in those moments. Even if we don’t agree or understand. Even if it is inconvenient for us. Even if her pain makes us uncomfortable.
I read a passage by Alice Miller recently that I loved: “What child has never been laughed at for his fears and been told, ‘You don’t need to be afraid of a thing like that?’ What child will then not feel shamed and despised because he could not assess the danger correctly?… [A] child has a primary need from the very beginning of her life to be regarded and respected as the person she really is at any given time.”
The reason I’m getting all philosophical is because I believe that the emotional challenge– the hardest and most crucial part of parenting in my opinion– is beginning to ramp up now. The last two and a half years have been very physically challenging. But now is when my mommy radar really starts beeping. Now is when Erin will look to me and Matt for approval and internalize our reactions to her emotions. I want to prove to Erin daily that my love is never contingent on her behaviors. I want her to feel what she feels, do what she does, mess up and make mistakes, and know that I will never shame her for those things. I will reprimand her and even show anger, but 30 seconds or five minutes later when that blip is over, I will look her in the eye with love, hug her, and move on. My love and adoration for her pervades all circumstance and exists not for her actions or accomplishments, but for the special and unique person that she is.