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Why parents truly love to watch their children sleep: A risk worth taking

Updated on September 11, 2012

No one is immune...

Every parent has done it. Even those with the most hardened of hearts will grudgingly admit to doing it at least once (though we know it’s happened more than just once). Certain nights, after finishing our own bedtime rituals but before turning in ourselves, we sneak quietly into our child’s bedroom, and gaze upon his little sleeping form. Sometimes we adjust the covers ever so slightly, or we may even gently stroke his hair or kiss her delicate cheek.

Why? No seriously, why?

Why do we do it? Why do we take the risk of waking the child who just hours before could make us sell our souls to the devil to get him to go to bed in the first place? Are we trying to incur the wrath of the abruptly and unwillingly awakened ball of fire? Are we such adrenaline junkies that just the challenge of getting out of the room without waking the beast sends our epinephrine levels to new heights?

Of course not. We’re tired, harried parents who want nothing more than to go to sleep before repeating the day-to-day grind tomorrow. So again, the question is, why do we do it? Many of us will jokingly answer this question by simply telling you that this is the only time our child is ever quiet, and the time we find we like her the best all day. But we’re not fooling anyone, are we? Sure, it’s nice to see your child being quiet, a luxury for many parents, to say the least. But that’s not even close to the truth.

Here is the truth:

Once you have stealthily snuck up next to your child’s bed, you are immediately awash with a sense of calmness and peace and renewal. The even rise and fall of her chest as she breathes softly, the slight flutter of his eyelids as he cruises through REM sleep, the curl of a small fist under a tiny chin. No meditation needed at this moment, for just this first look is enough to bring stillness to the whirlwind that is life.

But then you continue to gaze, maybe held captive by that stillness. You may even tilt your head to the side in a subconscious nod to the beauty you are witnessing. And suddenly, you begin to recognize the miracle before you. It may start with the awareness of the complex biological processes taking place in such a seemingly innocuous way. His little brain is recharging for tomorrow, letting go of anything unnecessary and making room for new adventure and new knowledge. And her little legs and arms are resting from their day of constant use and abuse. You acknowledge that there is even more going on there than you understand, but you know that it is good and it is amazing.

Then you finally reach the real reason you are there. The real miracle: Life. This softly breathing (or in some cases, softly snoring) little body came from you. You made him. You were somehow, in some way, given the ability to actually create life. And an incredibly complex being at that. Whether you believe in God or not, you know that he is a gift for whom you can never be thankful enough.

Angelic

And the answer is:

You sneak quietly back through the room and slowly, unwillingly, close the door behind you. Even if it only lasts for a few moments, your heart has been filled to overflowing and the smile you wear is one of the most genuine smiles of your life. You are once again reminded of what is truly important in life. And we all need that reminder as often as possible.

Now, we’ll ask the question again: “Why do we do it?” The answer is, “Because it is impossible to resist, and there are precious few greater rewards in life than to gaze upon your sleeping child and know that all is right with the world, if only in this moment.”

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