I spend a good chunk of my day convincing little humans that sleep is a good idea. The other day, as I was prematurely patting myself on the back for getting all 3 kids to nap at the same time, my two oldest decided they were simply going to skip their naps. Of course, they were little (cute) monsters by the end of the day.
Right now, I’m struggling most with my middle child. He has recently started to extensively delay bedtime. He wants ten stories, ten songs, a million cuddles. Every time we acquiesce, he asks for more. After all of the above, he started asking for more lights on (we already have a nightlight). So we started with one, then two (after all, if he was truly afraid we didn’t want to be the mean parents who ignored this). This was enough for a bit but then the demands escalated. He wanted all the lights on but then also wanted us to hold him to sleep. The thing is, we’ve been down this path before. With both of our older children, we’ve always given in, and then regretted it some time later. Who doesn’t love the feel of their young child against them, all chubby cheeks and fat fingers, warm breath on your shoulder, kissing your cheek and saying “I love you, mommy”. I mean, what could be more precious? But it is hard to tack on an additional two hours for bedtime after a day packed with activities and attention doled singularly on the children. That extra times leaves us extra wiped, so we bring even less to our relationship, our home, and our work. And I am a firm believer in children needing to get a good night’s (or nap’s) sleep! When our kids put themselves to sleep, they fall asleep more quickly and wake up better rested.
This is on my hand because my middle child just cried himself to sleep for nap time. He only cried for five minutes or so, but it of course broke my mama heart. In truth, if I didn’t have a third child currently strapped to my chest for his own nap (we are visiting family and my oldest is sleeping in my room, where the crib is), I would probably just hold the kid to sleep. Again-who doesn’t love that feeling? So there’s the added guilt of attention being taken away from him by the baby. But we did try the “cuddle to sleep” method the last two days and he just ended up giggling, playing, and essentially doing everything BUT sleeping.
I reached out to our sleep consultant this week (honestly, at this point I should just have her on retainer) and she advised that if the gentle approaches weren’t working, to firmly return to business as usual. She advised either letting him cry or spending less and less time in the room with less and less physical or verbal interaction. The latter sounds like it would be torture to do, so we have settled to let him cry. Bedtime has improved dramatically (still delays, but not as many demands and we haven’t had tears for a few days). Naptime has proven to be more difficult, perhaps because there is less sleep inertia and it involves taking a break from playtime. I joked with our sleep consultant that I should print out a frame with “When in doubt, cry it out” for the nursery, because this seems to be what we resort to after a few days of failing at every other approach. Her philosophy, at least with our family/children, has always been: if baby/toddler/child is dry, fed, healthy, has gone to the bathroom and if you’ve addressed all of their fears, questions, and concerns, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to sleep by themselves.
I recognize this is a very Western philosophy. It is very foreign to my mom, who always had children in bed with her. In truth, our youngest (almost 4 months now) has spent more time in bed with me than I’d like to admit. This is mostly because I’m so exhausted when he wakes to feed that I accidentally fall asleep with him. I sleep alone (poor hubby has been banished to the guest room for this reason), with no extra pillows, blankets, or throws. I wear warm clothing so as not to cover myself and make sure the baby’s unswaddled and in the very center of the bed. It always fills me with great trepidation, despite all of these measures. For us, the main reason we haven’t intentionally shared a bed is fear. The second reason is that it’s been really important for my husband and I to have adult time after the kids go to sleep. We are not perfect in this regard, as I often allow housework or work work to bleed into our time, but it is theoretically more possible if there is no child in our room.
I’ll end on a positive note: my 4 year old has become a much better sleeper with time. He was our crazy colicky baby who refused to sleep on his back and had us up every twenty minutes as a newborn. We held him to sleep for naps until he was almost 3! But now this very same child will tell us he’s tired (before nap or at bedtime) and then go to sleep by himself. He sometimes needs a bit of encouragement when it comes to changing into PJs, but then he’ll happily settle in under the covers with his stuffed animal and put himself to sleep with no extra support. If you had told me this four years ago, I would have never believed it. It’s amazing how children change over time.
One of the greatest challenges of parenthood has, for me, been sleep. There are a good days and bad days, but definitely lots of sleepless nights, sleep regressions, and changes – potty training, separation anxiety, nightmares, travel, teething, etc., etc., etc., which seem to knock the schedule right off its track. But one day, these little humans will become (really) big boys, and then I will probably be nagging them for sleeping TOO much. Funny how things work. For now, I’ll try my hardest to revel in the baby snuggles and to try to focus less on the naptime/bedtime snuggles. However, I will never sleep when the baby’s sleeping, because when else would I get anything done!?