On a recent holiday my eldest son came into my bedroom late at night and uttered those immortal words all parents dread, “I can’t sleep”.
Whilst a myriad of unkind responses raced through my head in irritability at being awoken from sleep myself I somehow managed to bite them back and lamely said something along the lines of ” try not to worry about it, that will make it worse, just lie there and close your eyes and hopefully you’ll drift off”.
Looking somewhat sceptical and bemused he padded back to bed and left me wide awake and thinking.
My first thought was amusement. Why do children say these things and what do they think we as parents can do about these issues? Does he think I’ve got a bucket of sleepy dust under my bed I can sprinkle over wakeful teenagers?
Having 4 children and spent countless sleepless nights there have been times I would have given almost everything I owned for such a powder, so desperate was I to sleep.
But as time wore on and I pondered deeper I came to a realisation. He wasn’t only telling me he couldn’t sleep.
Being a sensitive soul, prone to some anxiety, he was telling me something was off with him.
He was feeling afraid. We were staying in an unfamiliar place and it felt strange in the darkness. His fears were magnified in the shadows. His bed felt odd, his surroundings were untested and quite simply he needed his mum. He wanted me to make him feel safe and secure, like I used to when he was a baby and I rocked him to sleep.
He’s grown a lot this year. He’s a young teenager and almost 6 foot tall. His voice has deepened and he’s not a little boy any more.
So sometimes I miss the cues. I miss the moments when he needs me. He’s come on so well since his school anxiety and become so self reliant and independent that I forget he’s still a child. And he still needs his mum.
But now he’s older it’s different. He has different needs and we have a different relationship.
You might think that I’m making too much of this, that maybe I should have just taken what he said at face value, instead of reading into it. But I know him.
When he came into my room that night it was based on a feeling he was having, he wasn’t able to articulate it so he based it on the closest thing he could think of. Not being able to sleep. And undoubtedly that was part of it but not the whole part.
Something caught in my spirit that night. I lay there and thought of all the conversations I’d had with my kids recently and wondered what other cues I had missed.
I felt gutted to be honest which quickly seesawed into the usual motherly guilt trip.
Parenting is hard and children don’t come with a manual and as they age their needs and issues change.
I forget that sometimes. When I am prompted to remember by situations such as that night I feel like I’m constantly playing catch up .
Love language and family dynamics change but I will strive to keep up with the times and with the children and their needs, however subtle the cues might seem.
Till next time.