Adoptive Dad 26: Step Towards Independence but Not Aloneness

Last night on Nov 13 was a big step for my 4-year-old boy. He slept by himself in his own bed, in his own room for the very first time. This morning when I saw him, I asked him, “Did you sleep in your own bed last night?” He beamed with a big smile and was so proud of himself, raising his hands in the air to celebrate and saying, “Yes, I did! Yayee! And I wasn’t lonely!” I gave him a high-ten and told him I was so proud of him. It was such a huge step for him in his process of growing up. I know there are a lot of various theories about co-sleeping, whether should or should not and until what age. Having our son sleep in our bed was a judgment call we made because sleeping in company for him helped him to rest much more than if he were by himself. And repeated good night’s rests were essential to the healing of his body.

Leading up to this significant night were many conversations about how sleeping in your own bed and in your own room was part of growing up, that there was nothing to be afraid of and his bed and room were especially for him. There were several attempts by him to sleep on his own but they were not fulfilled. He found himself back in our bed. We didn’t forced or pressure him. We gave him the choice if he wanted to sleep that night in our bed he could or if he wanted to try sleeping in his own bed he could. My wife would read to him his night time story, say his nightly prayers with him and sleep in his bed with him until he fell asleep.  But many times, he would get up and come back to our bed. We knew he would do it when he was ready for it. We talked it over with him many times before he finally did it. But as we were coaching him, he asked a question that stumped me: “So growing up means being alone?” “Well, no, that’s not it,” I said, fumbling over my words because I knew what the physical action of no longer sleeping with mommy and daddy as a family symbolically looked like – what sleeping in his own bed alone looked like. Of course this made me think about the importance of growing up as an individual and progressively developing one’s independence as not equating to being alone. And yet, I’ve wondered how much our culture promotes that exact message, that our highly valued form of individualism actually creates more aloneness.   And, what would it essentially mean to communicate to a child that you’re growing up into your own person which means some separation from mom and dad as life progresses and yet you’re never really alone or detached from mom and dad on a meaningful, practical level? I said to him that, “You’re not alone. Mommy and Daddy are always here for you.” Those are the words. But as something physical has been removed from him (a physical thing that meant a lot to him in these early years of his life), I feel the importance of emphasizing something else that’s physical, tangible that conveys to him that he is not alone – that familial community is still essentially a part of his life and to the development of his identity. I want to convey to him in a felt way that increasing levels of independence and individualism doesn’t mean finding yourself in a vacuum. I believe a strong, loving and healthy family (as healthy as any family can actually be) and being deeply connected to that family is insurmountably vital to a person, especially to a young soul that’s growing up.  I don’t want him to think that independence means aloneness.  The two don’t have to be equated.

Well, you may think that perhaps him sleeping in his own bed for the first time is more of a significant step for me than it is for him!  Yeah, it is.

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