Nocturnal Nurturing: Why I Stay Up Until My Teens are Home at Night

It is said that Orca whales don’t sleep for the first month of their offspring’s life. They swim alongside the overactive baby to protect it and help it get stronger. So, this whole sleep deprivation thing is not exclusive to human mothers.

I imagine all that solidarity is supposed to make us feel better. However, there’s a chance I am too tired to be comforted by the idea of misery-loving company. 

I became the parent who stayed up until the boys were home at night. (Maureen Stiles)

Mom is the default nighttime parent

See, I’m not sure there was a defining moment or big declaration but somehow I ended up being the parent who waits up for the kids to return from a night out. No raucous duel of rock, paper, scissors or a flip of the coin to declare me the loser in the sleep game. It just sort of happened. 

That was eight years ago when my oldest entered high school. In the ensuing years, I have discovered that being the default nighttime parent has distinct advantages. 

Before my boys could drive, I had a system of napping on the couch and setting my phone alarm for late-night pick-ups. During this time, a scroll through text threads with my kids would unearth numerous one-word entries stating, “Here.” I have patiently idled in driveways, made numerous unexpected friend drop-offs, stopped at the drive-thru for snacks, and often just brought everyone back to my basement for a sleepover. 

The late-night runs solidified my relationship with my sons

All those runs may have interrupted my sleep patterns but it steadied my relationship with my sons and their friends. I learned to ask zero questions and just listen as my passengers prattled on about the evening or Twitter and YouTube. Pretending not to listen without reacting or replying took Herculean effort but it paid off in intel and bonding. 

I was Sherlock Holmes disguised as a chauffeur in pajama bottoms. I sniffed for alcohol, was on high alert for strange behavior, and fortunately never once had to make a judgment call on a kid’s condition. I learned that boys call each other by their last names leading to awkward moments when it came time to actually address said, friends. Decoding the language was challenging, but like any anthropologist lucky enough to observe subjects in their natural habitat, I was willing to put in the work. 

Having three boys each two years apart meant that one son would graduate to driving just as the next one entered high school. That added up to nearly a decade of late-night runs for me before everyone could drive themselves. 

When my kids became licensed drivers, it got even more challenging

That license didn’t signal the end of my nocturnal duties but rather altered and heightened them. The fact that my kids were not only out but responsible for navigating approximately 3,000lbs of metal made it impossible to settle in for the night. I continued to set that alarm in case I drifted off to ensure I was awakened by curfew time. But most nights I was wide awake all on my own.

Fortunately, our state has fairly strict curfews and passenger limits for new drivers. I used these governmental statutes as my shield in those early days of licensure, giving me some modicum of peace.  

As they aged, Uber came into play and I was always apprehensive about them making it home safely after riding with a stranger late at night. So, I used Find my Friends on my phone until they arrived. 

With my oldest, I discovered that when he got home late he was often not tired or ready for bed; making it a great time to chat. The same has held true for his younger brothers throughout the years. A simple question like, “Did you have fun?” often opened the door for late-night dishing. I wasn’t looking for gossip or insider secrets, just a connection over something other than homework and hygiene. 

Waiting for my teens to come home became a favored parental duty

Knowing that I was waiting and aware made my kids hesitant to stay out later or party too much. Not that I avoided the late-night text request for a curfew extension or experimentation with alcohol, they were still teenagers after all. However, I tried to be flexible when the situation merited it, firm when necessary, and consistent with the rules. 

This is not a trust issue as two have taken off for college and I sleep like a log with no idea where they are outside of what they choose to share. It started as a necessity that turned into a habit and remains one of my favorite parental duties. 

I believe that this nocturnal nurturing improved the communication and strengthened the bonds between me and my boys even if my sleep habits deteriorated in the process. I am down to my last high school teen and Covid has definitely cut down on his late nights and activities. Most evenings he is joined in the basement by his 22-year old brother — currently home after college graduation — and co-conspirator in the quest to emerge victorious over elusive video game opponents. 

However, when my oldest does head out for the evening, there is no curfew per se, but I usually wait up anyway. After all, he won’t be swimming alongside us for much longer and like those Orca mamas, I’m not ready to trade in these moments for a little shut-eye. 

More to Read:

This is My Lasting Gift to My Children

About Maureen Stiles

Maureen Stiles is a Washington DC based freelance journalist, columnist and editor. With over a decade of published work in the parenting and humor sector, Maureen has reached audiences around the globe. In addition to published works, she has been quoted in the Washington Post and The New York Times on topics surrounding parenting and family life. Maureen is the author of The Driving Book for Teens and a contributor to the book Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults as well as regularly featured on Today's Parenting Community and Grown and Flown.

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