Malefi-Mommy and Nighttime Parenting

Malefi-Mommy and Nighttime Parenting March 8, 2012

I have struggled with falling asleep, staying asleep, and returning to sleep for as long as I can remember. I will say that falling asleep at bedtime has gotten easier due to the sheer exhaustion of a day spent caring for a house and many children. But returning to sleep? Still very difficult. So, if my husband and I don’t train our children to stay out of our bedroom at night, I quickly reach a level of sleep deprivation that takes a serious toll on my mood and my health and, in turn, our family’s well-being.

My children have come to refer to my night personality as “Malefi-Mommy”. In their database of scary villains, Maleficent from Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” is as terrifying as they come. She’s the one in dark corners and closets by day. And she’s the one sleeping on my side of the bed at night.  From 11pm until 6:30am, I’m pretty darn scary. Mostly, because I’m furious when they wake me and I face the prospect of another hour or two of trying to fall back asleep. But also, because I want to burn in their psyches that they may not sleep-walk or awake-walk or dream-walk or any-kind-of-walk into my room at night and wake me up just because they feel like it.  Infants who have a biological need to nurse at 5:30am are allowed to wake me up until we train them to sleep through until 7:30am. But my first grader does not need me to get water for her at 1:30 am, my Kindergartener does not need to recount the nightmare he had last month at 3am, and my 4 year old does not need to cosleep at 4:30 am. If we left them to their own devices, I think each one would be visiting us twice a night at least. That would amount to 6 non-baby wakings for my husband and me, or giving into a permanent family bed situation, neither of which is on the table.

I even HIGHLY discourage them from coming in when they have nightmares. First of all, as an insomniac, I’m well aware of the psychological component of sleep, and I have read from sleep psychologists that if children are allowed to wake their parents by crying “nightmare”, it actually trains them to have scarier thoughts at night. As they enter into light sleep cycles or wakeful periods, they will involuntarily replay past nightmares or scary thoughts in their imaginations, subconsciously creating a reason for paying mom and dad a visit. Apparently, children only legitimately have nightmares once in a blue moon. If it occurs every night or a few times a week, something else is going on. And I have to say, once we cracked down on “nightmares” as an excuse for nocturnal visits, the nightmares have all but ended–the kids rarely have scary dreams to report in the morning.

Furthermore, a wise (and strict) red-head who blogs here once told me that she and her husband direct their children to guardian angels, Jesus, Mary and patron saints at night. A couple years ago, we began doing the same thing, with excellent results. I have explained to my children that I cannot control their imaginations, or even really help them to control their imaginations, but their guardian angels and Jesus and Mary very powerfully can. I believe that this is not only teaching them now to turn to their spiritual helpers when they are afraid; it is also giving them practice for the future (purity of thought, etc) in consecrating their imaginations to Jesus and asking for His help in taking every thought captive.

Finally, it’s disrespectful to interrupt others’ sleep without serious reason. As my father-in-law recently said, in a large family, the dynamic cannot be two parents serving 5 children; it must shift to become 7 family members all loving and looking after one another. Respecting parents’ need for adequate rest is a component of that.

And the simple fact that my children think I’m scarier at night than many of their worst nightmares has become a helpful deterrent to impulsive night visits.


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  • Steph

    I love the term Malefi-mommy! 😉 I just wanted to add that my 3 year old son loves the song “God is bigger than the boogie man” from Veggie Tales. I’ve heard him singing it to himself. He’s even told me he could go play in X room by himself, “because I won’t be scared because God is bigger than the boogie man”

  • JMB

    Good for you! I’ve suffered from sleep problems since I was a child. I used to have test anxiety (started in fourth grade!) and stay up and worry. Then in 6th grade I had a huge bout with insomnia – 2 weeks. It’s happened on & off a few times since then. There is no doubt in my mind that my sleep issues resulted in us having four children and no more. Now that I’m 45 I’ve been dealing with some perimenopausal symptoms, like night sweats, temperature sensitivity and premenstrual insomnia.
    What works for me now is to remember Dale Carnegie’s (How to Stop Worrying and Start Living) advise that sleep deprivation will not kill you. My mantra now is that it’s ok to be tired. I don’t really have any other physical issues – I’m in good shape, I’m not overweight, I’m healthy. I can handle being tired.
    I also keep our thermostat at 60 at night, I use silicone earplugs and often times, I will sleep by myself in an extra bed if I really need some shut eye. I also have an emergency stash of Lunesta in case I totally see no way out of being wide awake.
    I don’t want to say it gets better – now I’m dealing with a 16 year old who goes to bed at 11:30 and gets up at 6:30 (drives me crazy) during the week and on weekends is up until all hours of the night and sleeps until the crack of noon. But I’m finding some better ways to manage it, rather than take it out on my dh and kids.

  • Kellie “Red”

    hmm, wonder who that red-head is?

    But seriously, I don’t parent at night because I just can’t. I am miserable and then I’m a terrible mom by day! Obviously a nursing baby or a night time emergency for an older child is different. I have realized, with time, that the more I tend to a child at night, the more likely they are to keep waking!

  • Christy

    I’ve had a lot of experience with similar sleep related problems until recently. I started supplementing with magnesium at the beginning of the year and my sleep has improved exponentially. Just throwing it out there in case it might help anybody else. Oh, and it lengthened my luteal phase too, which was a bonus!

    I’m going to have to try getting my 3 year old to pray to his guarding angel when there’s something scary in his room. What a great idea!

  • maryalice

    I’ve heard this about the magnesium, too. I have a lot of cycle related sleep issues, and B vitamins help a lot. We have also been strict with our children about sleep to preserve my sanity!

  • maryalice

    Unless you’re like my aunt, for her the guardian angel WAS the something scary in the room — she used to ask her mother to “tell him to get out of here!”

  • Claire

    When our older son was about three, he was scared to go upstairs to his room on his own. I asked him what would help and he asked me to make a sign to tell the monsters to stay out. I made one with his help and it was on the wall at the bottom of the stairs by the light switch for a long while. Friends thought it weird . . . but he liked it! And it worked. I guess all his monsters could read and were very obedient to mommy-and-child-made signs.

  • Juris Mater

    Christy and MaryAlice, can you tell me more about how to take magnesium and B vitamins (what amts of supplements) and whether it’s safe to add these to a prenatal during nursing/pregnancy… because it’s a rare time when there are no little ones surviving off of my body.

  • Juris Mater

    JMB, what’s your trick for being OK with being tired but still keeping your mental health intact? Sleep is so very psychological, and I had just come to the point where I realized sleep deprivation wasn’t going to kill me and I stopped letting it make me anxious, because I’ve always had a strong physical constitution and good stamina. But then suddenly the sleep deprivation began to make a massive impact on my mood–I’d say about a year ago, right around the time I turned 30. Once I’ve crossed a threshold level of sleep deprivation, the bottom falls out for me, and if that happens too many times in a short period, our family is really in trouble. Maybe coping with the sleep deprivation gets easier as the children get older and there are fewer physical demands and just a little more space?

  • maryalice

    JadaJo says…

    Our 5 year old has trouble sleeping and will often get “scared” at night. We have taught him the St. Michael prayer to say when these things happen. This seems to have helped him tremendously. All of our kids also have a prayer candle. He will often take his to his room after prayers “just in case.” Then I just have to make sure it is out before I go to bed.

  • Bethany “B-mama”

    Malefi Mommy made an appearance last night at our house… We’ve had a returning nightly visitor the last couple of nights and he is disrupting our sleep. After sending him back to his room, he reappeared again. Don’t mess with an 8mo prego mommy and her sleep! Thankfully, I think MM won’t have to show her face again for awhile.

    We are also enlisting the kids in helping everyone get good sleep before the baby comes. “We have to protect our family’s sleep”–if we are working together toward a common goal, it’s less about individuals and more about helping one another. I’m hoping this works.

  • JMB

    Babysitters and preschool, and afternoon kindergarten helped tremendously during those years. I forced myself to come home after drop off and lie down. Even if it was only 20 minutes. On the days that I didn’t have any help, I would just take it slow. I wouldn’t try to accomplish much at all.