I remember shortly after we had our daughter, our two-year-old son was all out of sorts as children tend to be after such a significant change. Gentry started getting out of his bed and getting into bed with my husband and I. Waking up every 2-3 hours with a newborn and having a toddler in our bed was simply anything but ideal. I decided to reach out for help to one of my colleagues at the Parent Coaching Institute, Heba. Heba was a seasoned coach, instructor and sweet friend who taught me so much about parent coaching.
I explained to her how we were exploring shutting his door so he could sense that him staying in his bed was a confident decision we were making on his behalf to help him feel safer. Heba then asked in reply, “What is most important to you in your relationship with him? What are themes that have supported you to work through previous challenges?” I then remembered that connection and freedom were two themes that were always forefront of what worked for us—true values that were the foundation of our relationship. Then she asked, “What if freedom feels safer to him?” Boom.
I should have been compensating her for the aha-moments she was catalyzing. I realized Gentry was more regulated when he felt he had choices. Moving forward, instead of shutting his door and telling him he needed to stay in his bed, we decided to trust him. We left his door cracked, saying, “We trust that you can stay in your bed. We will leave your door open like this, so if you really need us, you can get to us.” Then guess what happened? He stayed in his bed.
It is interesting how from such a young age, children can sense control and agendas. Our agenda was for him to stay in his bed all night, so his little body naturally had to fight back to assert himself as the autonomous toddler he was learning to be. The answer wasn’t for us to choose for him, but to offer him a choice, trusting that he would make the right one. He didn’t change his approach or the learning stage he was in. We changed ours.
I realize that sometimes confident decisions need to be made on behalf of our children as they cling to our confidence. However, our children also need freedom and trust. Every child is different and situations and environments matter. Here’s the key: as my husband and I became more in alignment with our integrity, translating our values from ideals to muscle memory, Gentry could sense the agenda dissipate as we chose connection over control.
I love how God has always given us a right to choose—even to our own demise. I mean, even paradise (before we messed it all up) was never about control. It was about freedom, relationship, exploration, and love. These are themes that are about connection, not control. As a society, I see us moving away from relationship and love toward agenda and control as we ruthlessly pursue what we think everyone else should be doing. When we prioritize an outcome over the person, we move away from a living God and instead, toward mechanistic systems.
(This leads me to think sleep training was never meant to be a part of God’s plan. Or behavior charts or worksheets—anything focused on agenda over relationship.)
In the book of Mark where Jesus summed up the law in two commandments, he amplified how choosing relationship over all else is what matters most.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31.
Relationships are everything. It’s not what necessarily works in receiving the outcome you desire as much as it’s about realigning your life with what you believe matters most. As we realign our desires with where Jesus literally tells us true life is waiting for us, something magical happens. Our kiddos move with us.
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