What I Learned When I Locked My Son in His Room
As a new parent, I have discovered new appreciation for things I had previously taken for granted. Drinking hot coffee. Eating hot pasta. Taking a nap.
In a recent move, I added a new item to this list. I never appreciated doorknobs until I moved to a house with door levers. My son, who once would try the knob, give up, and climb back in bed, was now roaming the house at all hours of the night. We settled into a new nightly routine: We would say our cheerful goodnights, close the door, and wait at the top of the stairs for the inevitable reasons he couldn’t go to bed yet. No number of absolutely consistent “I love you. Go to bed” uttered from the top step bored him. Challenging him to hop, stomp or roll back each time never tired him. Challenging him to slam the door quieter each time never silenced him.
We tried a later bedtime. It didn’t work. We tried an earlier bedtime. It didn’t work. We tried different combinations of bedtime books and songs. They didn’t work. We tried completely ignoring him when he exited his room. It kind of worked, but meant a 50% chance of waking our sleeping toddler when scooping him off the living room floor and bringing him back to bed. And perhaps because of the interruption to his sleep schedule, he was waking up much earlier.
Meanwhile, my husband’s and my own free time had evaporated. Knowing that I’d have to be up at 5 am to deal with the now perpetually cranky toddler meant that as soon as we got him to sleep, I went to sleep. On the plus side, my iPhone photo library was never tidier. My perch on the stairs meant an extra hour to edit endless photo bursts of nearly identical smiles.
After a few months of this new routine, we locked him in. The solution was embarrassingly simple: a $5 lever handle lock on his side of the door, one night of protesting, and then a child resigned to actually go to bed at bedtime. There are almost no late-night interruptions now, save for those rare nights after we forget to fast forward past the wolves scene in Zootopia. Perhaps because of the lock, he’ll happily stay in his room until his clock turns green, so there are no early wakeups either.
The greatest benefit to the door lock is not at bedtime, but at quiet time. The lock gives me an uninterrupted hour for whatever tasks are too hard to do during my son’s waking hours. Checking in on the camera lets me see that the door lock gives my son time for things he doesn’t otherwise get to do either. Alone in his room with stuffed animals and books, he has been weaving elaborate stories that he breathlessly reports to me after quiet time.
We know our solution is only temporary, as he’ll eventually need an unobstructed path to the bathroom. But for now, the lock is a sleep-marriage-sanity saver, as well as a boundary that forces creativity. Locking my child in his room helped him build an imaginative world all of his own, without input or interruption from his parents. Recently, when I went up to open the door, my son slammed it shut and told me his animals weren’t ready yet. Clearly, we should have locked him in sooner.
Stephanie Loomis Pappas is a professor turned stay-at-home parent committed to debunking all of the bad parenting advice on the internet. She started snackdinner to remind Googling parents that whatever they’re doing, they’re doing just fine.