Why I break the one parenting rule EVERYONE tells me not to!

Some rules are worth breaking

Content Editor / November 16 2018

Recently I calculated that I’ve spent around 4745 hours – at least – putting my children to sleep over the past eight years. I’ve also sung Baa Baa Black Sheep and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star around 7300 times each, maybe more if you count nap times.

Since my daughter was born over eight years ago, I have stayed with her until she has fallen asleep. Every single nap time. Every single night. Then my son was born a few years later, and as they share a room, I do the same for him too.

I have tried to break this habit, I really have. Believe me, most of the time I do not want to be lying on a bedroom floor singing nursery rhymes for the best part of an hour. I’ve even pointed out to them that they have each other for company – nup.

And no matter what I offer as a reward for putting themselves to sleep – pancakes in the morning, hot chocolate, extra stories, sticker charts – nothing will sway my oldest from believing that she “needs” me to help her get to sleep. When I try it, she gets so anxious and teary it breaks my heart, and I don’t have it in me to walk away.

What the experts say

Whether you should stay with your kids while they sleep or not is a very divisive topic. Some say it forms strong bonds, others say children need to learn to put themselves to sleep.

At the UCLA Sleep Disorders Centre, they describe it as the parent acting as a ‘pillow’ or comforter for their child – something they must have in order to sleep. Then halfway through the night, child wakes, pillow is gone, the whole process starts again. And some nights for us, it does.

In an article for Motherly, certified sleep expert Rachel Gorton said she came to the realisation that the only thing she could control was her own feelings about the fact her son needed her to help him sleep.

“I could let go of the expectation that my son should be a completely independent sleeper,” she shared. “Or I could continue to allow myself to feel frustrated that he wasn't responding the way I wanted.”

How reassuring that even sleep experts can’t always get their own kids to sleep!

Studies have also shown that the more attached children are to their parents, the more secure, confident and independent they (eventually) become. It makes sense – they know we are their safe place, the person that makes them feel most secure in the world, so if we are always there when they need us, there is no need to be afraid.

"Eventually, they *have* to fall asleep, right?"

And let’s be honest, this time won’t last forever. I doubt my teenage children will be climbing into bed with me in the future. Or as adults, anyway.

And as much as I might grit my teeth on nights where I’m exhausted and want nothing more than to drink tea and relax with my husband, night time is often when my kids share their sweetest, most interesting or revealing thoughts about their day. It’s also a chance for my super-active son to “download his brain” before he can sleep.

And of course, as soon as the little buggers eventually drift off, I stare at them in wonder and awe, and think how beautiful they are and how lucky I am to have them.

Nicola Conville has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 20 years across a wide range of print and online publications. Her areas of expertise are parenting, health and travel. She has two children; Lucy, age eight, and Nathan, age five.