I have a motherhood confession. There is a child (or two or three) sleeping in my bed more nights than not. With four total, and all of them still relatively young enough to wake up in the middle of the night sick or scared or wet or thirsty or just alone, it’s a nightly event that at least one and sometimes more pads into my room, holding a blanket or a stuffed something that has seen better days. I roll over and look at the clock and inevitably there’s a moment where my stomach sinks at the math of how much more sleep I just might get if I am lucky, but still, I always make them some space.

I know it’s a controversial subject, and I know (and respect) that it’s not for everyone. I know the parenting magazines would probably frown on it. Perhaps more importantly, at least to me, I also know the lack of sleep has likely taken years off my life or at the very least made me look like it has. And yes, I’ve read the sleep training books and talked to the doctors and let myself fantasize about what it would be like to just once, sleep wholly through the night and let me tell you: the prospect is absolutely lovely.

But I feel like this is something I need to do, and there is a good reason. It’s this:

When I was 16 I stopped eating.

It wasn’t that simple, and it wasn’t all at once like that or even a conscious decision, not at first. But I was no longer a kid and me and my life were both getting big fast and I knew I needed to do something to try to make us small again because the bigness felt too new and frankly a little bit scary.

But as these things do, pretty soon the not eating itself as a thing got too big, bigger than I could easily handle myself. I lost more weight than I ever meant to although somehow it still wasn’t enough, and the anxiety problem that had been a manageable hum in the background of my life before became a loud and constant scream that I couldn’t ignore. Nighttime was the worst, and then I stopped sleeping. I would toss and turn for hours, trying to convince myself I wasn’t hungry and I wasn’t sick and I wasn’t falling quickly into a hole that was too big for me to pull myself out of alone.

My mother and I were not in the best place then–neither of us separately was healthy and together we were worse than the sum of our parts–but I knew she saw what was happening to me and I knew she was worried as well. One night when it all got to be too much, I did something out of desperation that I hadn’t done since I was maybe six and scared of thunder: I crept into her room and climbed into her bed.

She didn’t say anything, not that I remember, and I assumed she was asleep. But I pulled the covers up and settled my head on her pillow and closed my eyes and then I felt it, so light I thought I imagined it at first, her hand resting on my back. I’m sure it was the first time we had touched in months, maybe years.

Sometimes I think that hand saved my life. Or it was the bridge that got me into the next day which got me into recovery, eventually. At the very least, I know this: I fell instantly asleep.

For a short while it became a routine of sorts, and one that we never spoke about in the daylight. I don’t know if she appreciated those small moments of togetherness we had there like I did or if she just tolerated them because she knew I was sick, and she’s gone now so I can’t ask. But when she died and I found myself unable to sleep again, I was grateful for the memory but also for its lesson.

You see most days I’m not a great mother, not like the ones you see on TV or read about in those same parenting magazines that say my babies should learn to self soothe. My temper is shorter than I’d like and I make more boxed mac and cheese than anyone should ever admit to. I am terrible at braiding hair or remembering to sign the thousands of papers that come home every day stuffed into four different backpacks. I’m much too distracted and I’m tired and I make so many mistakes daily that usually I lose count before lunchtime.

But at night? This is still something I can do, what my own mother did for me all of those years ago. I can make space. I can let them in, rest my hand lightly on their backs and feel their soft breath as they settle next to me and–if only just for that moment—help them rest easier in the knowledge that they don’t have to be alone. I know it’s not forever and their need, big now with little-kid troubles: night terrors and bed wetting and things under the bed, will evolve into bigger-kid need and likely then into the not needing at all, and it’s a prospect that both gets me through my tired days and terrifies me.

But for now I know this: for as long as I can I will help them sleep, even if it means that tonight, I don’t.


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I Chose to Co-sleep With My Family (but there is a good reason) | lizpetrone.com

19 thoughts on “The One Good Reason For My Many Sleepless Nights

  • Karen DeBonis

    Oh this was beautiful, Liz. Now that my boys are 25 and 30, I’m convinced more than ever that there is no right or wrong of parenting. You do what’s best for them and for you, and that’s what best.

    • Liz

      Thank you so much Karen. It’s funny, the more kids we have had the less I have felt like we had a clue what we were doing. By now the only thing I know for sure is that I don’t know.

  • Barb Aureli

    Liz, I wish two things. One, that someone had made me feel safe when I was little. And two, that I had let my little one into our bed more often.
    I can’t stop crying. You are beautiful and loving and wonderful. And I bet when they are grown your kids won’t remember all the Mac and cheese. But they WILL remember how safe they felt at night when you always let them in.

    • Liz

      Don’t cry, lady! You have mothered me through these last years more than you could ever know. Xoxo

  • Summer

    This is beautiful and perfect! I’m not a “fun” mom and I have a lot of anxiety that at times keeps me so mentally busy, I forget to have fun. I let my kids in my bed because I remember being 17 and crawling into my mom’s bed after losing my grandma and having constant nightmares. I can’t give my kids everything but I can give them some of my space! Solidarity my friend!

    • Liz

      I’m there with you on the anxiety front, mama. It’s a struggle. I am grateful for the small moments of peace, even if they happen at 3:00am.

  • Amanda

    I’ve just recently been introduced to your writing and am so happy I was. I so appreciate what you share. Thank you for being brave enough to share the WHOLE STORY of parenthood, not just the parts that we think are the “acceptable” ones. Parenting is hard, lovely, messy, snuggly and everything in between.

    • Liz

      Amanda that’s such an amazing thing to say, thank you. I’m so glad you are here too. And AMEN sister, parenting is all those things and more, as are we. Xoxo

  • Brenda Kahley

    Wow Liz. You are amazing. This was really touching. Just keep on doing what you are doing. Some of my most precious memories were when the kids would either crawl in bed with us or I had to crawl in bed with them to soothe them. How I miss that feeling of being needed. So all those parenting magazines be damned and you will come out on the other side knowing that you did what was right for both you and your kids. I love reading your blog. Wish I could express myself half as well as you.

    • Liz

      Thanks Brenda! I’m so glad to have connected with you on FB so I can see those babies of yours! Enjoy!

  • ImperfectlyWorthy

    What an absolutely beautiful post.

  • Tiffany Dozier

    Thank you for being so honest. I have felt bad about letting my kids sleep in the bed next to me at times. Sometimes out of sickness they come or sometimes the younger two come when my oldest’s echolalia isn’t allowing them to sleep. I’ve also sat with my oldest, watching Barney the dinosaur in the early morning hours, when he’s crying and I can’t figure out why. If them being next to me calms them, alleviates stress, or makes them feel better, then I figure why not. If I know something that can help that is not harmful, why not?

    • Liz

      Oh Tiffany if you can survive early morning Barney, you are basically a superhero. Your kids are so lucky to have you! XOXO

  • Cindy

    Thank you for your honesty! I look forward to all of your posts. My kids are 6 and 2 and yes, they both have been known to find their ways into my bed. I love snuggling with them. I know it’s frowned upon, but I can’t resist. I am a two-time cancer survivor and I regularly worry that I won’t be around to see my kids into adulthood. I hope they will remember how safe and comfortable they felt with me ( and sometimes their Dad too) in our bed. I hope they remember how much they are adored even if I’m not a perfect mom who makes healthy dinners from the veggies grown in my garden ( I can’t even keep flowers in a vase alive for long!) or a mom who who never raises her voice. Those moments together cuddled up are the most cherished moments of any day. Even if I don’t sleep much or they kick or snore, or elbow me in the stomach. I breathe into my daughter’s hair or feel the soft toddler skin of my son’s arm casually draped across my face. Who cares what the magazines say. Life is made of these sleepless but fulfilling hours😊

    • Liz

      “Life is made of these sleepless but fulfilling hours.” YES! I wholeheartedly agree. Also, zzzzzzzz. 🙂

  • Melissa Merriman

    I read one of your posts, this post, for the first time tonight and I had to say thank you! Thank you for opening my eyes and for possibly saving the life of my baby girl!
    My daughter is 9 and was recently diagnosed with moderate/severe generalized anxiety disorder with panic disorder. Basically, her anxiety is so bad it affects lots of life events but doesn’t dictate all of them. For now I can still get her to go to the park with me after 30 minutes of coaxing. Today it took me an hour off convincing to get her to go a friend’s birthday party. I pray there is never a day I can’t coax her out into the world; but I know it could be a real possibility.
    Everyday we fight to beat this thing she and her therapist named “the anxiety monster.” I wish her anxiety didn’t lie to her because it does. It tells her everything except the actual truth which is that she is fierce, she is smart, she is amazing and she is strong!
    The first year of her life she refused to sleep anywhere but in her own crib. No bedtime cuddles for mama, no matter how much I craved them. So I hailed how independent she’d be. She used to be able to sleep alone in her toddler bed. So filled with self pride at only two years old. Then came the bunk beds, which I thought was the sweetest request from two sisters I’d ever heard. And then she needed to sleep in the bottom bunk with her sister to be able to sleep. I wish the warning bells had gone off in my head but instead I posted a picture on Facebook the first time she said “Sissy, can you snuggle me tonight?” and she slept under the protection of her sisters arm all night. No matter how much she tries to brave and fight back against the monster that is anxiety, I can’t remember the last time she slept anywhere but in my bed. Right now she needs to be next to me just to feel safe closing her eyes.
    As I lay here next to her, awakened in the middle of the night by my own anxious thought about her battle with anxiety, I thank you for saving her future self. I’ve been so consumed trying to arm myself with tools to fight this monster, that I never thought about what anxiety could mean one day for a girl who is already so naturally thin that people mention it regularly. Reading your post was the first correlation I’ve made between her anxiety and the potential for her to develop an eating disorder in the future. You put it on my radar and for that I will be forever thankful. I want to do everything I can to help my girl keep winning the battle, and knowing the future threats and building her positive self image now so she’s ready when those thoughts creep in, are essential for a long term victory. Thank you for helping me build the arsenal my little warrior will need to win. And thank you for reminding me that she’s not sleeping next to me right now because she’s spoiled, or taking advantage; she’s laying next to me because she needs to right now.

    • Liz

      Oh Melissa I wept as I read your powerful words. I can so relate, both to you on your journey as a mama raising an anxious child (we have one of those too, and it’s so heartbreaking sometimes) and as the child in the same scenario. This process can be so hard, right?
      But here’s what rang through your story to me again and again: your devotion and love for your baby girl. We are all walking this path half blind, I think, but your love is a light that is lighting the path for you both. I am thinking of you guys and will for a long time. Please keep me posted on your journey. Xoxo

  • Dana

    I love this and feel this deeply. I wrote my version here: http://www.dananicolenews.com/never-go-gentle-good-night/

    • Liz

      Beautiful Dana. Thank you for sharing.

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