It’s an all-too-common gripe from parents that their kids cling to them like monkeys, but what about parents clinging to their kids?
I don’t feel much like a man in admitting so, but I’ve found myself doing the latter of late.
I’ve been cuddling them more, stopping them to plant little kisses on their cheeks as they charge past me towards their next (no doubt messy) adventure.
I’ve been saying “I love you” more.
But it’s at bedtime that I really find it hard to let go.
My partner and I split the often arduous job of putting our three girls – aged seven (almost eight), five-and-a-half and four – to bed. As our middle child is by far the most difficult and “emotional” of the three, and I don’t cut the mustard in terms of settling her of a night, I’m often left to put the other two down.
First up, our four-year-old. It’s normally a quick book and, gulp, an episode of ‘Greg’s Kitchen’ before she falls, generally without much fanfare, into a deep sleep. But rather than jumping up and moving one step closer to Daddy Downtime, I linger, holding her tight, caressing her curly hair, observing her sweet and innocent face in the faint light.
Then I grab the eldest off the couch, where she’s usually immersed in a gymnastics video or an episode of “Katherine & Rachael” on YouTube. While she’s old enough to put herself to sleep, we haven’t enforced it, and to be honest, jumping under the covers with her, her head on my shoulder as we have a quick chat, is a treasured part of my day. And to have her feeling safe, warm and comfortable as she nods off is something I’ll always wish for her, whether she’s seven or 27.
I’m trying to hold on to as many moments as I can, trying to harness all that beautiful innocence for as long as I can…
Many times I’ve fallen asleep with the eldest, only to wake 30 or so minutes later with her contentedly nestled on my shoulder. It’s probably not the best habit, and I know it’s one I need to break, but it’s as much for me as her at the moment. Whether it’s the responsibility of having three little mouths to feed, or turning 40 and fighting off nagging self-doubt over direction, or my ongoing wrestle with anxiety, or the whole melting pot combined, fragility often has a chokehold on me and the girls are makeshift shields.
There’s all that, and the fact that I’m desperately trying to make good on not being present enough with them to date, and now that it’s hitting home just how quickly they’re growing up (in less than 15 months they’ll all be at school) I’m trying to hold on to as many moments as I can, trying to harness all that beautiful innocence for as long as I can.
It’s the Catch-22 of parenting: wrapping them in cotton wool while they’re still little and blissfully unaware of the Big Bad World and all it entails (how to explain racial intolerance, terrorism, income equality, social class and general human conflict?), while acknowledging that they need to be released, to bloom and to prosper.
Having their dad, the first man in their life and the person who is meant to display strength and super-heroism, relying on them for comfort, even if they take comfort from that in return, might bring problems down the line.
Because as I check on each of them later on before turning in for the night myself – pulling the blankets up to their necks, pushing the hair out of their eyes, putting their displaced teddies back into position, kissing their cheeks – at least I know they’ve been loved.