Monsters: BE GONE!
Recently my 20-year-old told me that he felt betrayed when he realized the spray bottle full of lavender water we misted around his room was not, in fact, monster repellent. My husband and I, who had always tried to be honest with our kids—we got real about Santa, The Easter Bunny and the horrors of daytime tabloid talk shows—had grown desperate enough one night to come up with that narrative. It worked for several years, until Sage was old enough to realize Godzilla, Charizard and Baby Bop were not hiding under his bed.
I remember crawling in to my dad’s bed one night as a small child. One of my cousins had told me a story about the Bell Witch, a poltergeist legend in Tennessee, and basically scared the living hell out of me. (If you are reading this, Randy, thanks again for that. Really.) Daddy asked me what the problem was. “Witches,” I whispered. I wanted to hear that there was no such thing. However, my father, who never read a parenting book, said, “well, wake me up if you see one. I’ll be sure to say hello.” He rolled over and immediately began to snore. I spent the rest of the night wide eyed and terrified, my worst four-year-old fears confirmed.
So, as a parent, my goal was to banish all frightening images and thoughts from my kid’s world. Daisies, bubbles, cupcakes were the order of the day. I would handle all threats and they would always feel safe. Only my kids were freaked out. All. The. Time. I ended up in their room at night, standing guard for all three of them against Nessie, Bigfoot, Mandy Patinkin… it wasn’t working. No one was calm, and no one was sleeping.
A friend who was also a family therapist was over at the house one night. She laughed when I told her that we were all sleep deprived and terrified, and spraying fake monster repellent on the kids like DEET. She called Sage over before after his pajamas were on. “Hey, buddy,” she said. “I want you to come up with a solution for when you feel scared at night. A way for you and your brothers to feel safe. In the morning, I want to hear about what you came up with.”
Sage nodded solemnly. He walked to his room with his new found responsibility. The next day I was told that he kept his brothers safe with his Harry Potter wand, a special rock, and a complicated ritual involving his hamster. Great. Sage was empowered. It had not occurred to me to give him skills to help himself feel safe. I had thought that was my job.
We didn’t have perfect nights after that, but it started a change in my thinking. From then on, when my kids would tell me they were scared, my response wasn’t oh, let me jump up and rescue you. It was hm. What should you do? Really different. Now, mom won’t have to show up in her walker, fighting off would-be assasins with her purse when the kids are in their forties and hear a noise downstairs.
Unless they want that. Let me know, guys. I'm just a phone call away.