Reinstating our children’s bedtime routine

The last time my hubby and I sat in front of the telly in the lounge with our children all in bed upstairs was around 4th February 2013, over three years ago.

We always had a fairly reasonable bedtime routine for our three children. Upstairs around 8pm, get ready and then a story. As Abi and her sister shared a room, they often listened to the same story. Being just 22 months apart made bedtime easy.

However, it was bedtime when Abi fell ill and suddenly passed into a coma due to a ‘catastrophic’ brain hemorrhage. At the time, I was reading a book to her sister while her dad was looking after her in our bedroom. Our son was already in bed and, though awake, was drifting off. It wasn’t that unusual for someone to be ill so there wasn’t much concern over Abi’s condition. This of course changed dramatically when she became disorientated and quickly lost consciousness. My hubby called me and I knew it was bad, though not as bad as it turned out.

So, we went from a sleepy, unwinding bedtime to full-on panic, screaming, crying in a matter of minutes. Paramedics. Mum in tears. CPR. Lights on bright. Shock and trauma. If I dare to close my eyes I can still see and feel it all now so clearly.

When we came back from the hospital a few days later, without Abi, we naturally wanted to reassure our son and daughter. Our daughter struggled at night in any case so I slept in her bed with her for about a week. Then we began to gradually fall into a new routine of all going upstairs together at bedtime and us reading to them and settling them before going across the landing into our bedroom and watching tv until we went to sleep. We’ve been doing that ever since, even with the arrival of two more children. Our bedtime routine is now at least two hours long, with play time and endless stories, and we rarely get into bed to start watching tv until 11pm. Then we watch a show and fall asleep around midnight before waking up in the morning and starting all over again. We’re knackered!

It’s not all about the kids

We’ve always known it’s not healthy, but then, what is? We never thought it would be forever, but then it’s become the norm. A few months ago, I met a mum in the park and her parting words to me have stayed with me ever since: ‘It’s not all about the kids’. This is so simple and truthful, because while we’re busy giving our all to the children, physically and emotionally, because we never know the hour, we have very little left for us.

Yesterday, our children’s counsellor asked us – ‘When will you be ready to sit downstairs again?’ We looked at each other. We’ve never discussed it. We just get through the days.

But, she pointed out, drawing out bedtime and staying upstairs is only adding to our anxiety. We, as parents, are reinforcing the fear that something will happen to one of them, and they, as children, are getting the message that we are there because there is something to fear. So they aren’t learning how to cope, how to soothe themselves, how to get by without us.

But there is something to fear! We saw it all up close and in detail. That crazy moment when the bright light of our lively, super-fit daughter was snuffed out, like that. No warning. No buildup. It’s inevitable that, in the aftermath, we are living on the edge… we all need reassurance!

Yet, with two new children, the subject of routine is coming up. As every parent knows, routine is key. It doesn’t have to be military but a simple and consistent routine makes for a much happier family. Children like confident parents, they like structured discipline, it keeps them safe. But despite knowing all this, I feel it’s a hopeless cause. I can’t take my own advice!

As my hubby and I had both discussed this with our children’s counsellor we saw this as a hurdle we needed to get over together. This is crucial as so often I am the one at the therapy meetings while my hubby is at work, and while I relay the things discussed it doesn’t make an impact if he hears it second hand.

Establishing a new normal

Last night we worked out a new plan; nothing too far off what we’ve been doing but much tighter in terms of timings. In grief, it becomes very hard to give a damn what the time is, so this demands a lot of emotional effort.

My hubby took our 2-year-old up first at 7.45pm to put him to bed, with just one story. He shares his room with our 9-year-old son so has been used to going up with him. At 8.15pm, he took our 9-year-old up to bed and read him a couple of chapters from a book. He was at first insisting on the usual game of bedroom football, but my hubby was brilliantly firm and calm.

Our toddler protested at the lights out so soon after his story and began to wail. We allowed our 9-year-old to read to himself with his small bed light. And then my hubby said good night, confidently, and left the room.

I was settling the baby in our bedroom and saw him standing on the landing not really knowing what to do. Years of sitting with them in the darkness until he heard them sleep was hard to undo like that. But he went downstairs and made a cup of tea. The boys kept quiet and stayed in bed.

At 8.45pm, it was our 14-year-old daughter’s turn. We like to read to her still and bedtime is a key time of day when she can talk about her day or her troubles – time that is essential at that age. But rather than doing this at 10.30pm when I was tired and irritable, I told her I was going to read to her at 9pm and then leave her to go downstairs at 9.30pm. And this was exactly what I did. I read, we had a quick chat, and I left. She did ask what if she needed me, and I simply said, we are downstairs. She got up to use the loo but didn’t come downstairs once. A good start!

So, at 9.45pm I was sat on our sofa, with my hubby, watching a programme we’d been following (from our bedroom telly). And boy, was it weird! I felt like a child doing something I shouldn’t!

I was uncomfortable, on edge and waiting for someone upstairs to call or need us. With four children up there it was inevitable that one of them would need something at some point. But no, it didn’t happen. I worried about the baby on her own, as she has never been out of my sight at night time. But apart from waking for a quick feed at 10pm, she was happy to settle down.

Then I worried that they were all being too quiet, I know too well that it’s when they are quiet you need to worry. I can tell when my children are genuinely ill when they go quiet.

Then, feeling fed up that I couldn’t relax, I went through a phase of thinking ‘Why are we bothering doing this? We can sit up there with them, it’s not doing any harm. We can start this tomorrow…’ the grieving mother in me fighting with everything to keep still and force myself to focus on the telly as if I didn’t have a care in the world. I was out of my comfort zone, and I realized that my comfort zone isn’t being chilled in front of the telly, it’s being on edge, tired and frustrated upstairs waiting for our children to call out.

Maybe we can do this?

It took a while, but we both gradually relaxed a bit more, we even cuddled up! We went to bed at 11pm, a bit too quickly as though we had been itching to get up there all along and back to our ‘safe space’.

Before we went up, I began to think that I could get the last load of washing out of the tumble dryer now instead of in the morning. And I realized I could get my daughter’s packed lunch ready for the morning, rather than rushing like we usually do. And this made me realise that with hopefully better rested children and more time for us, we could go to bed feeling less like we are ‘fire fighting’ and more like we’re winning at this parenting lark. Each one of us should benefit from a more structured bedtime and mornings – where we are all tired – will be a bit less stressful.

I am already exhausted thinking about doing it all over again tonight. It’s emotionally draining, feeling like we’re pretending to be assertive and like we aren’t afraid. But we have to consider the long-term impact on all of us by carrying on with our hypervigilance.

I may be a mother of five children, I may have children of all ages and stages, but I am still learning about parenting… and grieving… and living. I think it’s called ‘winging it’. I treated myself to a fab Selfish Mother sweatshirt with this slogan to remind me that I don’t need to do it all. (Incidentally, they donate a big part of the proceeds to charity.)

I hope that in years to come, our children are able to understand what we went through to give them a stable home, and stability is one of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone.

do-not-stop

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Halloween just got scary

[I didn’t post this blog about Halloween at the time, I suppose to avoid offending anyone or to put a damper on the fun, but reading back on it, it’s certainly worth sharing. It’s not a major worry for me now, and who knows how I’ll feel about it in the years to come, but it’s a classic example of how trauma and grief can distort things.]

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A brief encounter… of the heavenly kind?

Last year, I had an encounter at the cemetery that has never left me.

There have been a number of occasions when I’ve visited Abi’s memorial where I have felt a presence near me; a bit like you might feel when you think someone is behind you, but when you turn around you realise you’re alone. It either makes you shiver a bit or you shrug it off as imagined. But to me, it always feels pleasant, warming. I never thought I’d say that about being alone in a cemetery!

This particular day, I’d visited Abi alone as usual during the morning. I didn’t feel chatty, I felt depressed as though I’d woken with a large grey cloud above me. I was on the verge of tears and confused.

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A baptism of faith

At church yesterday, there was a baptism and, after it had been done, we sang this hymn, which to me summed up how faithful God is and how He will be there for us
(and had been with me) from the beginning until the end – regardless of what happens in the middle.

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Coping (or rather not!) with a tween’s grief

I feel like I’ve been winded. My tummy feels tight.

I am crying. The tears started and didn’t stop. The happy feeling dissolved.

My heart hurts and I don’t know which way to turn. How to act for the best.

An argument with my 11-year-old daughter caused this. I have to write – I really have nothing else.

I’d said something fairly subtle about finding happiness again and she jumped down my throat.

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Memories of our last holiday together

As friends and family head off on half term holidays, I’m glad to have a relaxing week ahead with my children. But I feel a slight pang of envy, as I know we are in need of a proper holiday, but with the new baby I’d not had the strength to plan one.

Who needs strength to plan a holiday? It’s the highlight of the year right?

I’m sure every grieving parent struggles with making holiday plans. Holidays are the epitome of making happy memories… and we feel lost. We can’t shrug off our grief like most forget the stress of work. Our grief comes with us… in bucketfuls!

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Tears for Abi at bedtime

Perhaps it was because I’d just told my six-year-old son that he looked a bit like Abi when he gave me a cheeky grin.  It wasn’t to make him feel sad, it just slipped out. Is it bad to say things like that? I don’t know.

Last night, my son was getting ready for bed and was in his bedroom. He’d been quiet for a while and came into my room where I was feeding my baby son on my bed.

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An epiphany in the garden

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At the weekend, I had an epiphany.

As the weather was hot, we got out the paddling pool and spent time in the garden. The first time this year.

At first, the children were reluctant to join in (much to my hubbie’s annoyance as he’d spent the best part of the morning getting the pool up and filled). But it wasn’t long before the temptation of the cool water beckoned and they relaxed, got in and had a good splash around with dad.

For those minutes, I could hear nothing but squeals and laughter and, rather than hush them up, I wanted to turn it up! It was like music to my ears.

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Organ donation: Abi’s parting gift

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As Dying Matters Week draws to a close, I wanted to share with you my personal experience of organ donation. It’s vital we feel able to talk about aspects of death like this. I have shared, in quite some detail, the process that is necessary in order to donate organs to another – a dilemma we were faced with when Abi died (so grab a coffee and a tissue!). If you are considering joining the organ donation register, you may find this post useful. It contains details of the steps involved and how complex the process is, which was something we certainly never realised until we were there.

Abi had collapsed into a coma following a sudden brain haemorrhage at home. The prognosis wasn’t good but the brilliant neuro surgeons at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol operated on her anyway the same night; she had just a 5% chance of survival at that point, but any percentage was enough to give us a slim hope.

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“Abi was beautiful and clever and wonderful”

Abi is wonderful

Some days I feel a heavy sense of confusion with my grief and the effort of trying to hold myself and my family together with some kind of normality. Yet, it’s often on days like this, when a sort of gloom has set in, that I receive an unexpected message of comfort.

It could be a school friend writing a note to Abi on her RIP page on Facebook, wishing her well in heaven, letting her know she’s not forgotten. A kind word from a friend, something I read, or a sign I see in the beauty of nature around me: a golden sunset, a bird building a nest in our garden, a forget-me-not…

At the weekend, I received a message from a friend who wanted to relay a story of how Abi had touched her family that week. With kind permission, she has allowed me to share this on my blog.

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