There is a secret that my family has kept for a long while now. A tiny, harmless little quirk that didn’t seem too far out of the norm. Until suddenly it did… at least to my daughter.
Before my daughter began to be embarrassed about it, I never felt like this was a secret at all… just one more unconventional thing about our free-spirited family. But, now, I wonder if my reluctance to talk about this wasn’t just because of my daughter’s discomfort, but because it concealed another secret, a deep, personal truth that I wasn’t yet ready to admit to myself.
Are you ready to hear my secret? I’m ready to tell you. Up until a month ago, my daughter slept in my room, right beside me.
My daughter is not a baby, not even a toddler. She’s a bright, beautiful 7-year-old girl who is independent in almost every other way.
The truth is I might never have told you this secret if she were still in my room. Because, up until this summer, part of me thought that she might never leave. That we’d still be “staging” her room for visitors, that we would always tell friends that we were shopping for a new bed, that she would never be able to have a slumber party.
Now that she’s out of my bedroom, I feel more justified in allowing her to stay for so long. Because, just as I’d read so many years ago, when she was ready, she really did leave, with almost no effort on my part.
The truth is, all three of my kids slept in my room until they were ready to leave. For the boys, that age was 3 or 4, a number that was close enough in the realm of “normal” that I felt like I could tell people, brag about it even.
“You see,” I’d tell them, “Attachment Parenting books are right. Kids won’t stay in your room forever. They’ll leave when they’re ready.”
It’s not as if I was in any big hurry to kick her out. She’s my last baby and part of me was glad to have her with me to snuggle to sleep at night and wake up to in the morning. Besides, I knew how much kids are influenced by their peers. I was certain that once she started school, she’d be packing her bags and headed to the room with the big puffy rug that we’d long ago reserved for her.
But, kindergarten came along, and then first grade. Still, she showed no interest in leaving my room. If anything, she dug her heels in even further, telling me that she was NEVER going to leave, not even when she was married with kids.
What did change was her openness about where she slept. She began to feel embarrassed when her friends came over, telling them that her room was too messy to play in or insisting that we stay outside. And, because we could see that she was embarrassed, the rest of us played along and kept her secret. It didn’t seem like a big deal really. Just a silly little white lie. But, when I overheard her telling her friends that her parents couldn’t afford to buy her a bed, I began to get a little concerned.
That night, we had a long talk about her fears of sleeping alone and her worry that sleeping independently would mean that she was a “big kid” and didn’t need me anymore. As much as I’d like to think our talks made a difference, the real catalyst seemed to come from Grandma. My daughter’s room-to-be is right across the hall from the guest room. Knowing that her beloved Grandma was coming allllll the way from Florida to stay with us made her giddy with expectation. She longed to show Grandma how brave she was, to sleep all alone in her “big girl” bed with the door open so she could whisper across the hallway to Grandma.
Still, her fears seemed to make her hesitant. It wasn’t until the day before Grandma came that she finally hauled her army of stuffed animals and blankets down into her very own room.
And that’s where she’s slept for the last month.
It wasn’t only her sleeping location that changed. Now that she’s in her own room, she doesn’t want me to lie next to her until she falls asleep anymore; she doesn’t even need me to sing her the entire “Baby Mine” lullaby anymore. Just a few verses, a chapter of our current book, a big hug… and she’s ready to be on her own.
I’m ready for her to be on her own, too. Most nights, at least. Sometimes I stay for just a little longer than she asks me to, hug her for a bit longer than she desires.
I wonder sometimes how much of her staying in our room was just that—me holding on for longer than was necessary. It’s not that I ever told her to stay. Quite the contrary, I often talked up the perks of having her own space to sleep. But, our words don’t always match our emotions, and kids have amazing intuition. Maybe the reason that she stayed for so long was not because she wasn’t ready… but because I wasn’t.
Day by day, year by year, my job becomes less about holding my children close and more about letting them go. There are moments when that scares the hell out of me.
And maybe that’s my deepest secret of all.