As a child, I was always dreaming. I had very detailed dreams and exhausted the ears of my family many mornings at breakfast. My Dad always listened, the psychology major, and always offered interpretations. His studies were heavy on Freud so interpretations were sometimes shocking, but he also bought me a book on dream symbols. That was super helpful. I did have one recurring nightmare about a witch coming to our house on Halloween every year. She played hide and seek with us and whoever she found would go back to her cottage to be brewed in her stew! Yikes!!!
I was a scared child, scared of being kidnapped, scared of fires, scared of Mom dying, all of it. I was a child of a Purple Heart Vietnam Veteran and had been trained as a child how to prepare for anything. I craved the code words so I could feel one iota of control over the specific things I feared. When I became a Mother, I had to face the fact that I was now a Protector, especially when my husband left for work trips. It was up to me to save my child from my imaginary fears. Yes, to all you Enneagrammers out there, I am a 6.
I never figured out how to feel better about my nightmares as a child, but as a Mother, I know how to help my kids. Not long ago, when one daughter had a nightmare that someone killed me, it dawned on me to rewrite her nightmare. We prayed together for peace and invited Jesus to the dream. I retold the dream to her, with our whole family in it. In this version, she bravely defended me, Daddy protected her and her sister, and Jesus rescued us all. I didn’t die, but we all went home and had cookies to celebrate. Voila, right? Maybe. But I prayed a ton over her that night, too. She’s since forgotten that dream and I haven’t seen any residual evidence of it. Here’s another story:
Another daughter had a bad dream that I left her with her grandmothers. They pushed an elevator call button and when it arrived, they placed her in the elevator all by herself and pushed a button to send her down. She arrived at a place with lots of scary animals and was most greatly sad that I wasn’t with her. First of all, I’m so glad my children tell me their dreams. I have asked since they could walk if they had dreams and when their verbal skills finally catch up, they know that I want to hear their dreaming stories. I stopped what I was doing when this dream was shared and invited her into my arms. I told her that I understood that sometimes when we go to grandmothers’ houses, Mommy runs errands and she’s sad that I’m not there. She nodded with her sad face and leaned in closer. I said, “let’s rewrite your story, ok?” I prayed over her and invited Jesus to her dream, and we listened. After a few seconds I shared with her that Jesus never left her in the dream. As soon as she was placed on the elevator, Jesus scooped her up on his hip and held her. When it arrived at the animal floor, he said, “Nope, not here,” pushed the button and brought her up to a floor where I was waiting for her. I thanked Jesus for never letting her go, for loving her, and bringing her safely to our family again. She voluntarily prayed after me and confidently asked him to keep her safe and bring her back to her Mommy. Afterwards, she even said she was ready to have that dream again because she wasn’t scared. This is a three-year-old child. The dream’s power over her evaporated in a few minutes.
I remember trying as a child to “fix” this nightmare about the witch. I decided that I would hide with my big sister next time. I was sure she would know where to hide, and at the very least I would not be alone. The next time I dreamed it (and last), it was a total fail! I was aware that I had a plan and decisively followed my sister to a closet where she shoved me out and when I turned around, there was the evil woman! I had tried so hard!!! But I didn’t invite Jesus to that dream, I tried alone.
So, no, this doesn’t always work. There have been nights when my kids had nightmares and I tried so hard to wake them enough to calm them down, but to no avail. What has worked in those moments is to scoop them up and implement grounding phrases, “you had a bad dream, you’re awake now, Mommy is here, everything is ok, it’s nighttime, you’re home safe in your own bed with your family who loves you, you went swimming today with your best friend and laughed really hard about tooty braids, you snuggled your sister while you watched Daniel Tiger learn he had a peach allergy, it’s time to go back to sleep and have a newer, happier dream about tooty braids and swimming.” I admit I haven’t dealt with night terrors with my children, and many of you have. Would you share below your best tips in dealing with those? I’m sure someone reading will need some fresh ideas!
We have such influence as Mommies (and Daddies!) to empower our children in a world they don’t understand or have much control. Dreams come and go, and most of them are forgotten by breakfast, but our kids need to know that we hear them, that we can recognize their fear behind the dream, and can speak hope into it them. That’s what I love about rewriting dreams. Nightmares tell the story that they’ve lost control and the bad guys win. Mamas are braver than that, and we have the divine gift to teach them how to overcome those fears.