“Can I sleep in your bed tonight, mum?’ asks a little voice.
It might be Ben. It might be Alex. It might be Harrison. Five, seven and nine.
“I suppose so”, I sigh, rolling my eyes.
Who am I kidding?
The fact that my boys, who can be so big and grown-up, still want to get into bed and have cuddles all night fills me with joy. Elizabeth, of course, still sleeps in with me every night and will do for at least another couple of years.
Harrison is the only one of the four children who went into a cot, and that was because I read all the books, followed all the things that told me that I would create a rod for my own back, that co-sleeping was dangerous, that I would create a child that was too clingy. Thankfully, he was a fairly good sleeper and liked his cot and his own space.
When it came to the other three, I followed my instincts. I read up on safe bed-sharing practices, and if I created a rod for my own back, well, I would deal with that when I had to. I had learned how quickly they grow up, how quickly they gain independence, and how the time in between cuddles gets longer. I wanted to soak up every second of those cuddles.
Because of this, I never minded night-feeds. We made the decision that while we had a baby in bed, Graham would sleep in another room, a decision that has only strengthened our relationship while also keeping our children safe. I always looked forward to those magical middle of the night moments, where it would be just baby and me, feeding, cuddling, feeling their breath on my chest.
During the daytime, I find my attention pulled in different directions. I’m a mama to four, I work, I have all the normal housework and school runs and normal pressures. But come night time, when the laptop is away, the TV is off and the lights are turned down, I’m mum. I can afford the time to lie there stroking hair that is slightly damp from their bedtime shower, marvelling at the way it flicks around their ears and breathing in the strawberry shampoo. I can only look in envy at the long dark eyelashes lying against their cheeks and the occasional fluttering of little rosebud lips as they mutter and snuffle in their dreams. If I’m lucky, I get to hear little giggles as they dream of adventure and fun. It makes me smile, knowing that even in sleep they are happy and enjoying life.
During the nights, I sometimes want to hit pause. I know for the older boys, moments like these, where I get to feel the rhythmic rise and fall of their chests, their arms and long legs heavy over mine, are going to slowly drift away. Soon, they will be too big to climb into bed and cocoon themselves in my covers, snuggle up under my arms or lie across my tummy as they did every night as newborns.
People told me – tell me – that by letting them climb into my bed and be cuddled or rocked or fed to sleep means they will be too reliant, too clingy, like there is a problem with that. Why is there such an issue with a child wanting to be held by their mother or father to go to sleep? We are parents all day and all night – my job at protecting and soothing my children doesn’t end when the lights go out.
I call absolute bullshit on anyone who tells me I’m wrong, that by cuddling my children to sleep, I’m not doing them any favours. I’m teaching them that it doesn’t matter how old they are, what time of day or night it is, I’m there. I’m meeting their needs, not just physically, but emotionally as well.
So, I will hold my kids at bedtime, cuddle them and rock them to sleep and let them climb into bed for as long as they want.