Good Nightmares

They confuse you, stick with you, and all-around freak you out.

They’re nightmares.

And when you become a parent, you’ll have to witness (horrified) as a tiny bit of your child’s innocence is shed while he or she privately takes them on in the night.

Last week my two year old had her first one. Make that three in one night.

Her petrified sobs shot me straight out of bed and to her side. With a little shushing, patting, and cooing, I quickly ushered her back to sleep, only to return to my bed and shed a few tears of my own.

The idea of my happy, worry-free “baby” having to fight some dark thing inside her head—totally without my help or even comprehension—was heartbreaking to me.

And yet, I know nightmares are essentially a good thing. Last month I caught an interesting documentary on NOVA, What Are Dreams?, which extolled the virtues of “bad” dreams as practice runs for challenging or emergency situations. Their studies showed that nightmares are basically brain exercises, so that in the event of something awful happening, your mind and body will be more fit to cope and react.

That’s the rub with parenting, isn’t it? We bring these innocent, pure souls into the world, and then it’s our responsibility not to shelter them or keep them innocent, but rather to equip them with the tools needed to stand strong and healthy in the face of adversity. As painful as it is sometimes, for both the child and the parent, kids need to face trials and tribulations while you’re still there to catch them when they fall.

Or in this case, stroke their hair while they bravely drift back to sleep.

What parenting dilemmas keep you up at night?

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