Take a deep breath and just be – even at 2 a.m.

My little girl, Sally, still frequently wakes up in the middle of the night and comes into the master bedroom. I’m the kind of person who likes to have plenty of space to sleep in, and I’m also getting more and more pregnant, so as you might imagine this can be pretty annoying.

“Mommy? Mommy? I want to sleep in bed with you. Please?”

At 2:00 in the morning, the last thing I want is to have a small kicking child get in bed with me. But the thing is, one of the most important things about positive parenting is remember to consider the child’s perspective and desires in addition to your own. Sally wasn’t in my room because she wanted to rob me of sleep. Sally was in my room because she loved me and wanted to be close to me. So I took a deep breath and decided to not be annoyed this time.

“Come on honey, climb up here.”

Rather than stashing her wiggly body in the middle of the bed and turning my back to her as I frequently do, I took her into my arms and pulled her close. As I put my arms around her she put her chubby little hands around my neck and pulled herself close to me. As I held her I thought about how big she is already, and how soon she’ll be all grown up and stop crawling in bed with me. I stroked her hair and looked at her little face with its perfectly shaped nose, mouth, and eyes. I thought about how much I loved her, and I took the moment to treasure the little body softly raising and falling with each breath in my arms.

This would have been the moment my mother would have prayed over her, thanking God for her life and for all that lay ahead of her. Instead, I just treasured the moment and remembered how short and sweet life is, something to be held onto and valued and not rushed through. There, at two in the morning, I held onto the moment and took the time to treasure my daughter instead of rushing through life or being annoyed.

Soon her breathing changed and I knew she was asleep. I held her there in my arms a few more minutes before carrying her back to her bed.

If I had dwelt on my annoyance at being awoken in the middle of the night I would have missed out on those sweet moments, and might have created some not-so-sweet moments along the way. Sadly, that other course is one I take too often – I’m not perfect by any means.

It’s not that I have to be happy when Sally wakes me in the middle of the night from now on, and it’s not that my annoyance and desire for uninterrupted sleep is illegitimate. It’s just that so much of life is how you approach it, and fast realizing that approaching those middle of the night moments with a smile on my face and love in my heart sure beats approaching them with a frown and a touch of anger.

But isn’t that how it is with life in general?

How often do we rush through life without taking time to enjoy it? How often do we get annoyed at little inconveniences (missing the light, having to wait in line at the bank, or finding that the store we’d intended to go to is closed, for example) rather than remembering the big picture? How often do we overlook how others feel, thinking only about our own annoyance?

One of the things I like best about practicing positive parenting is that it doesn’t just affect my daughter, it also affects me. It has helped me learn about myself, has helped me learn to work better with others, and has helped me become a more peaceful and less irritable person. For me at least, positive parenting is not just about what parents can teach children, but also about what children can teach parents.

The Radical Notion that Children Can Have Anxiety Too
Why We Should Teach Children to Say "No"
Stop Stressing Out and Give Your Kid a Snuggle
I Co-sleep, But: Some Thoughts on Attachment Parenting
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • picklefactory

    What you describe is something I found very appealing about the stoic idea/habit/practice of negative visualization: if I suddenly lost this in the future, what should I do now? Does this really matter, in the long run? Thinking “sooner or later, I won’t be able to do this any more” really realigns one’s priorities…

  • Kris

    Thank you for turning me on to positive parenting! It’s basically what I was doing, but I hadn’t read into the theory until you mentioned it, and it’s helped me be more consistent.

    Parenting has given me so many opportunities to grow. When I allow myself to show that I am annoyed or upset, or when I react based on my own emotion instead of out of a genuine desire to teach him, I see the negative results immediately in his attitude and behavior. Most adults are too tactful or polite or understanding to nudge me when I’m reacting out of grumpiness or frustration. My son has helped me be a more kind and loving person to everybody around me.

    2 year olds are much smarter than most people give them credit for! My son usually reacts very well to discipline as long as I explain why he did something wrong, what he should have done, and give him a clear consequence. It’s when I get lazy and try to punish without teaching that he turns into satan’s spawn.

  • triskelethecat

    @Libby Anne: my daughters used to crawl into our bed, too. I worked nights 3-4 nights/week, so daddy didn’t always know they were there (he was a sound sleeper), and they would spend the rest of the night in our bed. When I was home, that didn’t work so well. What we finally worked out was that they could cuddle for a while and then I would pat them on the back or their butt and whisper that it was time for them to go back to their own bed. The first few times, I walked with them; after that they went on their own, happily, since they had the cuddle time they wanted/needed. Yes, it’s hard to cope with the middle of the night awakenings, but like you, I appreciated the cuddle time as precious.

  • Didaktylos

    You know, there is probably also an element of Sally wanting to make the most of the time she has left as an only child.