I’m not a monster, I promise! Hear me out…
I have three children (aged ten, seven and two), and have encouraged all of them to have a comforter of sorts, mostly to help them settle to sleep because that’s what I read in the parenting books. Bess has a Jellycat Cat called ‘Molly’, who has been with us since she was eighteen months and who, even now Bess is ten, is still ‘kept warm’ under her duvet, head and arms poking out as Bean goes off to school. Maggie swathes herself in two Aden + Anais swaddles, called ‘The Dubbies’ after my own comforters as a child. Each as long as her body, she’s often found wearing them as makeshift dresses when she really feels the need to wrap up in their love. Finally, Ted has Ra-Ra, a blue lop-eared Rabbit given to him by my mum, that is squeezed mercilessly with ‘I LOVE yous Ra-Ra sooooo much’ a hundred times a day. God forbid that Ra-Ra isn’t in his bed as he goes to sleep, because that beloved rabbit has to be cradled in the nook of his arm every minute, of every night, for all of our sanity.
I had a ‘dubby’ as a child. Dubby was a torn old cot-sized duvet cover (hence dubby, as I couldn’t pronounce duvet) that I would slide between my fingers as I sucked my thumb, ‘checking the softness’ until I felt soothed and calm. Still now, as an adult, I ‘check the softness’ of materials – a silken skirt, a soft cotton duvet cover, a tactile t shirt – and as I do so, I feel that instant sense of nostalgic calm flood through me, my heart rate slow, and peace restore.
So I don’t, for a second, underestimate the power of the comforter, and the importance it carries for a child to root them in a safe place, and provide a cuddle of sorts when most needed.
However, should they lose their comforters, then I have no intention to replace them with a looky-likey and reassure them that it’s the same, it’s okay and their comfort remains. I don’t have back-ups ‘just in case’, despite The Dubbies looking like they’ve been the rope in a game of tug ‘o’ war for five years or savaged by a flock of rabid moths.
Let’s be clear though, if you have a neurodivergent child, this is of course a completely different kettle of fish. On The Motherload® community we see many parents frantically trying to replace a particular cup, or teddy, or item of clothing that brings a sense of order for a child with neurodivergence. That one item can hold so much importance that it satisfies a need for control or hold a sensory benefit, or it might stabilise an emotion, or provide a much needed consistency and relief from anxiety. To have a back up is needed for their whole wellbeing and is in another league to a neurotypical desire for a comforter. There are incredible communities built to support parents searching for the most particular of items for their children, including the phenomenal ‘Little Blue Cup’ project.
But we also see many parents, who, upon realising that their child has latched onto a particular item, seek backup after backup with the idea of preventing parenting catastrophe. These items – most often cuddly toys and blankets – are often discontinued, or given as a gift, or an item that now comes with a price tag of about billion pounds on eBay. OF COURSE, if you lose a comforter it will always be the one that has become as rare as a good night’s sleep with a newborn. The FEAR, the mum-guilt, the sadness of the loss, and inevitable devastation that could descend upon your family feels Too Much when you could easily just have a duplicate in the cupboard, waiting to go. But is it really the answer to everyone’s prayers?
For many children, their comforter is a real companion – a bestest-of-best-friend that carries with it a particular softness. It likely has worn patches, maybe holes or frayed edges, where comfort has been sought. And – you’ll no doubt recognise this – a very unique smell. In our case with Molly, it’s a rather warm-but-fetid ripened banana and biscuits sort of stink and no, she won’t let me wash it. Ted knew his Ra-Ra from ‘fake Ra-Ra’ from a very young age – fake Ra-Ra is a greyer but exact version of his beloved one. Yet, by sniffing to check the authenticity of the bunny he knew to reject it over the side of his cot, and continue to wail for the original while we frantically turned the house upside down to find it.
If you’ve ever washed your child’s comforter you’ll know that for a short time they struggle with the different smell; all three of mine will say ‘but it doesn’t smell of Dubby/ Ra-Ra/ Molly any more!’ until the poor thing is wrangled, and smothered, and carried in dust and rain, and fallen onto floors, and has mopped up sleepy spittle and rubbed into gone off banana and finally, the unique smell is restored again. To my children, each of their comforters are unique, a one off, only-the-real-thing-will-do and the attachment to them is strong.
Of course, they have all had phases of leaving their comforters somewhere – Molly, in particular has had many an adventure of being left in pub loos, Ikea beds and worse of all, the ballpit in a softplay (bleurgh). I’ve sobbed half in panic, half in genuine grief every time she’s nearly gone and have been sleuth-like in retracing steps to find her. That delicious moment of finding her, holding her aloft with a ‘hurrah!’ moment of joy, swiftly followed with a ‘MOLLY, you naughty thing!’ quietly whispered into her ear when I’ve found her again (because, she’s ‘real’, isn’t she?!), hot tears pricking behind my eyes with sheer, unadulterated relief and sense of parenting success. By the time Ted came along, my third, his Ra-Ra has been rarely allowed out of the house because of the fear of losing him sends chills down my back and you know, third baby and all that.
But even knowing all of this, I wouldn’t replace them. Not like-for-like, anyway. And my reasoning is that you can’t ‘replace’ love so easily, especially a love that comes with so much attachment and feelings of security. For parents who have attempted it, you’ll know that your child knows that it’s not the original, beloved comforter. They know that it doesn’t smell right, doesn’t feel right, because it innately doesn’t feel like the love and safety that they get from the original. They know that it’s not the real deal, no matter how much we try to convince them otherwise. Realistically, how many back-ups can you have? And is there a lesson here for our kids about looking after their precious, most loved things that can’t be replaced?
My suggestion is – and I’d honestly do this with my three – is that in the event of loss (or, shall we say, ‘disintegration’ of their comforter) that we ‘validate’ the relationship that they have held so dearly and seek to sort of heal that first. I think it must be one of the earliest experiences of loss, kind of a ‘death’ for a little one. If you have ever heard your child sobbing into the night for their beloved comforter you’ll know that the urge to fix the pain is overwhelming. But perhaps by replacing ‘like-for-like’ we invalidate that intense connection they have with their bestest friend, their security; and perhaps we are denying them an important, early sense of ‘goodbye’ to things that are so loved.
Practically, if we don’t replace with a back-up version – for example, I don’t think I could buy Molly now even if I tried because JellyCat change their product lines so frequently – then how do we help? Only you know what would work best for your child, but my suggestion is that we help them say goodbye. A moment of reflection between us, time spent talking about the wonderful moments they had together. Or, if you are religious, a prayer for their precious friend. Maybe just a mindful moment writing a letter, or list, of memories they had with their precious companion. I’d maybe do their favourite dinner after, or go for a walk together. Importantly though, I’d mark the occasion. I’d let it ‘be a thing’, instead of distracting them from it. It feels right to me to allow them to feel the feelings that come with loss and verbalise those emotions, in a safe, protective way.
And then, because I’m not a monster, nor am I a perfect parent, I’d take them to the toyshop as fast as my little legs would carry them to find a brand new companion to welcome into our home, and their little lives. And give me that much needed sanity and sleep that comes with them having a little friend for comfort.
Most importantly though, I’d never let the bugger out of the house again.