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Mindful Parenting in the Middle of the Night


“Water, please.”

It was a small voice, but we live in a small house so I heard it instantly. It was about 3 AM, but I was having trouble sleeping. I had just been away on a mindfulness retreat for four days, during which time I had missed my daughters terribly. I hadn’t seen them since I had gotten home a few hours earlier, and I was grateful for the excuse to go into their room.

It was quite dark in there, and I had to blink a few times to figure out who was awake. It was my three year old, the one who seemed to have a harder time while I was away. She had regressed in her potty training, and refused to talk to me on the phone when I called home. She was sitting up in her bed, holding a pink sippy cup in her hand.

“Mommy, can I please have some more water?”

Her voice came through the silence with such sweetness that I felt my chest tighten and tears come to my eyes. I was so grateful for how normal, how known, it all felt. There was no confusion in her voice about the fact that it was me, Mommy, standing there after several nights of not being there. There was no anger or resentment in response to my recent absence. I was so happy to hear her voice, to have a moment with her, that I didn’t care that it was 3 AM and I was exhausted.

“Of course, sweetie.”

Honestly, at that point I was so overcome with love for this little person who I hadn’t seen in far too long that I probably would have given her anything she had asked for. I’m so grateful she only wanted water.

Once she was tucked in and smothered with kisses and I was back in bed, I thought about what had just happened. Usually when I get the middle-of-the-night wake up call, I’m pretty irritated and irritable the whole time. I don’t want to be awakened, and even if I’m already awake, I really don’t want to have to get out of my cozy bed to stumble across the room and down the hallway, dodging dirty laundry on the floor and baskets of clean laundry waiting to be folded. If the girls are asking for water, I feel annoyed at them for drinking it so quickly. If their blankets are twisted up, I feel annoyed at myself for not tucking them in tightly enough. And if they’re asking for their lovies (which are usually IN THEIR HANDS), well, I just get pissed off at everything.

I’m so tired, I tell myself as I stumble around in the dark, finding lovies and tucking in little arms that demand to be covered. I’m going to be so tired tomorrow. I have so much to get done. I can’t function like this. The girls are going to be up in just a few hours. I need to make lunches again. I can’t stand making lunches. I don’t even know if we have any sandwich bread left over after the weekend. Do we have wraps? I guess I have to go to the grocery store. I despise the grocery store. Ugh…

And so it goes, on and on. The girls are passed out before I even close their door, but it usually takes me at least another thirty minutes or longer before I’m asleep again.

This night was different. Even though it was the same as all other nights in that I was tired, the girls would be up in just a few hours, and I had a lot to get done the next day, it was a completely different experience. I was flooded with gratitude over the moment, so happy to have that small interaction with my little girl, to be able to take care of her when she needed something.

The difference was all in my mind.

Most nights, I get all wrapped up in how annoying it is to be awakened in the middle of the night. My mind a) decides that I shouldn’t be tired, and that it’s some great travesty if I am, and then b) gets on the fast lane to tomorrow and how terrible it’s going to be if I’m exhausted. It’s pretty miserable to drive on my mind’s highway, sitting in traffic and dealing with accidents and missed exits that only exist because I keep making choice after choice (either consciously or unconsciously) to trudge along in my own mental congestion. On this night, I wasn’t thinking about all of that. I was just so happy to be in their bedroom, to have that moment with my daughter after four days of so many moments without her.

That is the power of mindfulness.

Thankfully, we don’t need to leave our children in order to appreciate them. We don’t need to do anything or go anywhere in order to stop the chatter in our brains. We just need to notice that our minds are veering towards the on-ramp to crazy town (or in many cases, we’re already there), and decide to get off the road. When we can stop the car, look around to what’s actually in front of us, and stop worrying about where we’ve been or where we’re going and just notice where we are, well, most of the time we realize it’s not so bad.

The bad news is that it’s not easy, and I often get it wrong. The good news is that life gives us lots of opportunities to practice. I just wish they didn’t happen at 3 AM.

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Yawning woman sitting on sofa image available from Shutterstock.

Mindful Parenting in the Middle of the Night

Carla Naumburg

Carla Naumburg, PhD, is writer, speaker, and clinical social worker. She is currently working on her third book, How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t at Your Kids (Workman, forthcoming). You can read more about her work at

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APA Reference
Naumburg, C. (2013). Mindful Parenting in the Middle of the Night. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 14, 2019, from


Last updated: 22 Sep 2013
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