70: The Mommy Bed

70: The Mommy Bed

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Multitasking Mom's Survival Guide

The Mommy Bed

A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.

~Irish Proverb

“Can we have a sleepover tonight?” my youngest son asks. Others might assume this is a request for a group of rowdy boys to take over the floor of my family room, tucked in sleeping bags with little shut-eye for the night. But in our home a sleepover means something different. It is a family tradition of closeness that my children have grown to adore. It means that all four of my children climb into Mom and Dad’s bed in the early evening in lieu of the usual organized bedtime proceedings.

What we do from there varies on any given night. Sometimes we watch American Idol or Wipeout episodes, with each of us picking a favorite to cheer on. We often take turns reading a few chapters from Harry Potter or a favorite novel from Mommy and Daddy’s childhood. We study for tomorrow’s test on the life stages of the frog Jeopardy - style.

Sometimes we take turns around the bed sharing the best and worst parts of our day. In storms, we take flashlights and make shadow puppets on the ceiling. Some evenings my boys bring their Matchbox cars and turn my curled-up snoozing body into a mountain with my legs fashioned as treacherous mountaintop roadways. My daughter brushes my hair and applies glittery make-up to my closing eyelids. We spend the last hours of the day together in this five-by-five cozy tangle of blankets and pillows until we all fall asleep intertwined in each other.

You may think that I am a benevolent and inventive mother who decided to create this family bed tradition in order to foster a safe haven for open communication. Or that I read about it in a new-age parenting book on how to make our children feel safe and secure. The truth is, however, none of the above. It comes from this, pure and simple: I am exhausted and entirely too worn out to put my children to bed properly.

My career choice is a blessing and a curse. I am an obstetric nurse who works night shifts. This means that if I choose, I never have to miss a soccer game or a third-grade recorder concert. It also means that my blood carries as much caffeine as oxygen. It means that quite often I am on hour thirty of being awake with no sleep. At times it feels as though it is the ghost of myself that is cheering on my son from the bleachers. I am lucky to have the flexibility my occupation provides, but I am also so very tired.

I typically work my twelve-hour “graveyard shifts,” as they call them, on consecutive nights. After the second night, I typically nap for a few hours if I’m lucky and then power through the rest of the day. By late afternoon, I am queasy and have a mild tremor, but alas there are mouths to feed, sports practices to attend, and arithmetic answers to be secretly Googled on my iPhone beneath the table. The dog doesn’t care if I have barely slept in the past twenty-four hours when he needs to be walked. “My mom worked the night shift last night and can barely function” doesn’t quite work as an excuse for school librarians, and that pop-up dinosaur book isn’t going to find itself.

Years ago, when my children were younger and needed me for everything, the evening hours after a night shift felt like the worst kind of motherhood punishment. I would sit in a haze on the couch with little ones racing around me, dreading the formal bedtime routine that I knew any decent mother should be embarking on. Each child should be bathed and placed in fresh pajamas. Teeth should be flossed and brushed according to hygienist specifications. I should spend fifteen minutes reading or practicing sight words or math facts and then reviewing their prayers before sleep. (I did, after all, check off on their CCD homework that they said the “Our Father” prayer every night this week. The afterlife ramifications of fudging your child’s prayer schedule can’t be good.)

Then each child would need to be tucked one by one into individual beds while I cleaned up the toy clutter underfoot. I would shut off the lights and melodically call, “Goodnight, my loves.” But of course that would not be goodnight. There would be calls for more water and other endless requests. “Mom, Nolan is sniffing, and it’s bothering me.” “Moooommmmm, do spiders sleep or crawl around your room all night?” “Mom, my left ankle is itchy!” “Mom, can you just lie down with me for five more minutes?”

The thought of the entire production was entirely too overwhelming some days. So, one night in a moment of motherly exhaustion, I announced at six o’clock, “Everyone into the Mommy bed!” They all piled in with great excitement, and we were able to spend quality time together while I was able to remain horizontal. With this, the post-night-shift sleepover in the grown-up bed commenced.

And so it is. If I have just worked the night shift, or let’s be honest, am just plain wiped out, a family sleepover is in order. When Daddy comes home from work and we are still awake, he joins in the fun. If we have all drifted into slumber, he carries each sleeping child to his or her own berth. Other nights, Daddy chooses to leave everyone as is and selects the least cluttered of the little one’s beds as his own.

I’ve read all the parenting books. A consistent bedtime routine is essential to instilling proper sleep habits in a child. I should be bathing all the germs of the outside world off my child every evening. My children should be tidying their rooms before bed and reading independently each evening before sleep. Most nights they do. I used to feel guilty on the nights I caved and let everyone pile into our bedroom. Some had brushed their teeth; some hadn’t. Some are in pajamas while others remain in gym shorts and T-shirts. But what’s the difference really? As the years have gone by, my guilt over these unstructured evenings has lessened.

Maybe it is because my oldest is entering the teen years and more frequently opts out of the family bed. Maybe it is because this is the time when my middle son and budding artist, Jack, seems to share all his creative ideas with me. Maybe it is because my youngest son, Nolan, once asked a friend, “What do you do at your family sleepovers?” When the child seemed confused by the question, Nolan turned to me and proclaimed in hushed horror, “I don’t think they have sleepovers! Can you believe that? That’s the best night of the week!” Or maybe it is because now that I am a mother of a little girl, I’m actually proud to teach her that some days you do not need to do it all.

There is one thing of which I am sure. When my children are grown, they will probably not remember if I cooked a perfectly nutritious meal every night, or if I followed the bedtime rules created by modern-day parenting experts. But I am sure that they will remember the nights they fell asleep in the crook of my arm whispering their secrets to me and sharing silly stories with each other. Sometimes being too perfect of a parent means missing out on the moments when life’s magic mysteriously appears. Our children will most likely forget the routines, but remember the love.

I can’t wait for our family sleepover tonight. I’m exhausted from work and can’t wait to lie down. But mostly I’m looking forward to the moment when we finish reading the book we’ve been working on, The Wizard of Oz, and we all fall asleep together to the words “There’s no place like home.”

~Mary Hickey

More stories from our partners