As I put my 7 year old to sleep last night, she burst into tears. “Mommy I don’t want to sleep alone in here, I want you to stay.” As soon as the words left her mouth, my reaction was run. My mind was shouting, “Get out! She wants to suck you dry. You will never be able to do the things you want to do if you stay here with her. It’s already 8 o’clock. You could be attending the class you wanted to go to or finish watching ‘The Next Food Network Star’ on TV but no Lori wants you to stay with her.” My mind runs rampant with the desire to bolt and this is my first cue. So I say to my 7 year old, “I can’t stay.” I give her all sorts of good reasons… “Its 8 o’clock. You asked to change your bedtime and we did. So, now you have to go to sleep.”
She says, “Mommy, you can’t go. I can’t sleep in here with this empty bed next to me. I am dumbfounded. The empty bed?! What’s wrong with an empty bed? So, I ask “what’s wrong with an empty bed?” and there are more tears and less understanding. And I realize after a while (and I mean a long while) that she needs me and I can’t give her what she needs. So, in a moment of parenting stupidity or wisdom (i am still trying to figure that out) I say “Lori, sometimes it must feel like I don’t want to spend time with you, like TV is more important to me than you.” A new wave of tears pours forth and I say “I love you but sometimes it is hard for me to be here.” As the words leave my mouth, I hear the judgment rising “how could you say that to her?” And then I realize. Pretending that it’s not true is probably worse than admitting that it is.
I do not have the naïve notion that my children don’t know exactly how I feel. Sometimes, they know it even before I know it. So, what’s better; hiding behind a secret or opening up the discussion? So I do. I tell her that I love her but sometimes it is hard for me. When I was a little girl I felt like no one wanted to spend time with me. So sometimes I recreate that. She looks up at me through tear stained eyes and says, “I love spending time with you mommy.” And with all of her sweetness I can see that she is still ok. I have not done the damage I often believe I have. she can still open up to love and be vulnerable and I know in that moment that we are ok. Now I have the opportunity to grab onto the parenting moment and show her that she is more important than any old belief system or TV show. I allow myself to lay on the bed reading my book and watching her eyes close and listening to her breathing deepen as she slowly drifts off to sleep. I realize in this moment that there is no better place in the world to be, than lying next to my sweet innocent daughter and showing her the love I couldn’t feel.