The following lesson took me somewhere between 5-10 years to figure out.
Shortly after I had my first baby, I read a book that was extremely helpful. It taught me about sleep and feeding cycles and schedules with new-borns. I desperately needed help with this topic and I found answers in this book.
The knowledge and education I found gave me structure, which inspired confidence as a new mom and ownership of my time. It also turned me into a bit of a schedule dictator. I felt very strongly about the importance of sleep and proper naps for my developing little baby.
As my family grew, I continued to practice the priority of proper sleep for my little ones. This worked well with babies, however as the babies turned into fun little people, my husband and I had different views about bed time. He likes to stay up and enjoy the night. He remembers growing up having late night hot cocoa and toast and watching favorite sitcoms with his family. This is what he wanted with ours.
Mark would often get home from work late in the evening, near the time that I felt the kids should be going bed. He would want the kids to stay up; after all, he didn’t get to see them all day. I was convinced that the kid’s proper development was at stake and that they would surely be grumpy the next day at best (which I would face alone), and at worst, they could be developmentally disadvantaged in some way from the lack of sleep hours.
The kids naturally wanted to stay up with daddy. I was vetoed. I talked to Mark about it privately and expressed my concerns. He understood where I was coming from and would agree that earlier bed times were probably a good idea. We would decide together to change it and sometimes we would for a few nights, but ultimately, the default stayed the same. Night after night, the kids wanted to stay up with daddy, and he wanted them to stay up too. I would attempt to motivate the kids and remind Mark to support me in this, but they liked to watch tv at night with dad, and Mark didn’t share my passion. I felt frustrated, disrespected, unimportant, and unloved. Sometimes I got angry. I was a victim.
It felt horrible. This was the case nearly every night for many years. It was a pattern that I dreaded. I felt stuck. My happiness was contingent on something that was ultimately out of my control. Not good.
Then something changed.
One night as I walked into the family room (feeling all my habitual negative feelings), I saw my kids on the couch watching tv with Mark, and it hit me. I’m the only one having a problem. I’m the only one suffering. Everyone is sitting there happy and content and feeling good. My panties are in a twist. –The kids do well in school and their teachers have nice things to say about them. They are healthy and functioning well. Why am I so concerned about them going to bed right now? Maybe they are actually getting enough sleep, even though it’s not as early of a bedtime as I want. Maybe their development is happening exactly how it’s supposed to. Maybe I could let myself enjoy the evening with them. That would probably feel better.
And it does.
This isn’t to say that I changed my views of the importance of sleep or that I stopped caring if they go to bed at a reasonable time. I do care about that. Very much so. I know it’s important and I want them to get all the sleep their bodies need to function well. But, I figured out that its possible to want all of that, without actually needing it for me to have peace. This has taken a lot of deliberate re-programming of my thoughts. Every night. Sometimes it’s still a conscious effort.
Keeping my happiness in the realm of things I can control is empowering.
I can want my kids (or husband, or friend, or insert applicable person) to do X, and at the same time not need it in order to feel good or happy or at peace. If I need something (which is ultimately out of my control) in order to feel good, I give the uncontrollable circumstance all the power. I can encourage and persuade and hope and expect X, but ultimately the actions of others are out of my control and other people can actually do whatever they want.
In this sense, wanting without needing gives me authority over my emotions. It’s fantastic!
Now that the kids are teenagers, I still generally am the one who signals when it’s time to have a family prayer and go to bed. They don’t always go right to bed, and I don’t get wound up about it. It’s much more peaceful for me to not. They are well aware of my feelings about bed time, and they will make their own choices about it just like I have.
Even though nothing actually changed about bedtime at our house, it sure has become oh so much better!
(What else do I feel powerless over?)