Last night my daughter Lucia told me that she was scarred by that horrible parenting move I performed on her regularly until she was about twelve-years-old. She described it as “force napping.” According to Lucia, now sixteen-years-old, she remembers that every time we went on an airplane or a road trip somewhere when we arrived, I would force her to nap. I’d do a guided meditation and gently brush my palm over her eyelids to close them, trying to get her to fall asleep for an hour or twenty minutes or ten or whatever I could “force” her to do.
“Sometimes,” she recalled, “you’d turn on white noise and leave me in a room in some strange house or hotel so I’d ‘nap.’”
She’s not imagining this forced nap history. I did it. I remember it well. I was convinced that I could keep her calm and collected as long as she had enough sleep. On those early morning flights when Lucia didn’t get enough sleep, I was possessed to get her to nap, especially if she didn’t sleep on the plane. I was sure that kids misbehaved because they were sleep-deprived.
Lucia was an easy child. She was naturally compliant and cooperative and calm, but I convinced myself that if she didn’t get enough sleep, she’d turn into a demon child and I wouldn’t be able to handle her. Maybe I was worried about what other people would think. Or maybe I thought that if I let her get into a bad, sleep-deprived pattern she’d never be that “easy” child again.
At sixteen Lucia has the same disposition as that of her younger days. For a teenager, she’s easy. My friends and family say, “You have a good kid” (whatever that means). I’m biased, but I actually think she’s amazing. She has a great sense of humor. She’s smart and mouthy and appropriately dismissive of pretty much every aspect of my being. But she is a teenager which is simply not easy as a parent.
I don’t get to control Lucia’s sleep anymore. I don’t have control over much anymore. At the beginning of the pandemic, she moved down to our basement to get some space and I don’t really know what’s going on with her during the day or the night. The other morning she came upstairs with two new holes in her ears.
I ask Lucia every morning how she slept, sometimes inquiring about what time she went to bed, but she never tells me. It’s her time now and I have to trust that she’ll sleep when she wants or needs to. When Lucia told me about how much she hated force napping it made me think about what other parenting decisions I might have made based on my own self-preservation. In addition to force napping, I made Lucia clear and set the table, practice piano, brush her teeth, and say please and thank you religiously.
I imposed those rules so that my life would be easier. If I could train my child to listen to me and do what I said, I’d be okay. We’d be okay.