BurlingtonVT Moms Blog is partnering with Phoenix Physical Therapy to bring you our latest series titled “50 Shades of Sleep”, about…you guessed it….sleep. Like an elusive treasure, we find ourselves obsessing about sleep not only for ourselves but for our children as well. Although we may not consciously recognize it we are constantly making decisions surrounding the subject of sleep. Is it OK to co-sleep? Can babies really be trained to sleep? What are night terrors? When do you move your child from your bed to the bassinet or to his own crib or into his own bed? Does the thought of SIDS scare everyone? Is it normal for kids to wet the bed and up to what age? And does it all change when they get older? Our goal through this series is to invite you into an open conversation about all things sleep, and to acknowledge that no matter your struggles or choices, you are never alone.
The Sleep(less) Train to Crazytown
I was hesitant to participate in this sleep series for a few reasons… I’m not an expert on telling you or your children how to sleep. Also there isn’t one sleep solution that has worked for us…I’m a pretty flexible parent. I don’t have one way of parenting…some days I go to my children the minute they whimper with desperation and need help, other days, I lean up against the counter, coffee cup in hand, and wait for them to figure out how to solve their own problems. Some may call this inconsistent parenting…I call it normal.
Anyway, back on track…clearly I decided to participate in this series and it’s merely my way of sharing how we handle sleep in our house. It’s the way that has worked for us after many years of being sleep deprived. I like telling stories and I hope that sometimes my stories will make others happy, or introspective…and not feel alone, especially if they are struggling with getting their children to sleep “normal” hours. So here is my story for each of my children.
Henry current age: 5 ¾ (this is what he will tell you)
No problems with sleeping through the night. Still wets the bed occasionally, and still experiences nightmares and a handful of night terrors. We let him “camp” in our room every so often on the weekends. He falls asleep on his own after several stories, while staring wistfully at his fish tank and thinking about Lego Star Wars. In his entire 5 ¾ years of life he has only told us twice that he was tired. I’ve seen him almost fall asleep at the dinner table while vehemently denying that he should go to bed.
This kid did not sleep…alone. Our old apartment in Chicago was very small and his room was practically attached to ours. He would not fall asleep in his crib unless someone was holding his hand and sitting right next to him. Once asleep he would wake up in the middle of the night and not go back down. To get him to sleep at night we would have to hold his hand until we were sure he was asleep. Then step by step I would remove one finger from his death grip. After said hand was released it was a matter of getting out of his room without him awaking. The kid’s hearing was so intense he could practically hear a mouse fart. So inevitabley he would wake up and freak out. So back at it again with the hand holding until he fell asleep. If I could get him to let go of my hand I would then have to figure out how to get out of the room. The “army crawl” is how I got out of his room on every occasion. For real. I just could never let him cry it out. Plus we lived in an apartment building. I couldn’t torture my neighbors with his crying…I was always worried they’d call CPS on us.
We co-slept. He would go to bed in his crib and when he woke up at night we would just put him in bed with us. Both of us worked 40 hours a week, neither of us had the energy to fight the sleep battle with him. So instead our nights were filled with him head butting various delicate parts of our bodies, repeatedly. But for us…it worked.
When we moved to Vermont, Henry was 3.5 and understood that it was important for him to sleep in his own bed. So in order to get him to sleep by himself we knew that he would have to put himself to bed without one of us coddling him. Stories were read, and then we’d leave the light on and walk out of the room. It took awhile for him to be able to sit there without one of us next to him. He continued to wake up nights and come into our room, and my husband, dutifully, would walk him back to his bed and put him back in. With me being pregnant at the time with Ruby we knew we needed him to get out of our bed to make room for her! And over a 6 month period he learned that sleep was indeed a good thing…even though he would never admit it.
Ruby current age: 18 months
Takes two short naps during the day, and goes to sleep on her own each night after bath and stories. Wakes up a few times a night but goes right back to sleep when my husband or I go in to the room to comfort her.
Ruby would not fall asleep on her own without being rocked or nursed to sleep. Like her brother, she too could hear mice fart and would wake up at the slightest sound. We employed the army crawl method of getting out of her room which became increasingly more difficult especially because I wear a lot of chordoroy. Which, you can imagine, makes a lot of noise against the rug when you’re army crawling.
Once asleep my husband and I would have to watch all Netflix TV shows on mute with subtitles so as not to wake her up. It got to the point where she would wake up 1 hour after going to sleep and would not sleep until she was snuggled in our bed. And because I’m a stay at home mom now, she would not go to sleep for naps unless I held her. So if you’re calculating this, I was only getting 1 hour of alone time to myself ALL DAY. Crazy town for me. No joke. I wanted to pull my hair out. I cried a lot…more than my usual overly emotional self. It was just too much for me. Not only did she need to co-sleep with us but she tossed and turned and got pissed off with us when we were in her space in OUR BED. I knew things needed to change. And I think she knew this; I sensed that she too was unhappy with the sleep situation.
We couldn’t let her cry it out. Even if we tried to let her cry it out, one of two things would happen.
One: her crying would wake up Henry or even worse not wake him up but trigger a night terror and then we’d have two kids screaming uncontrollably.
Two: she puked when she got upset. We learned the hard way one night after we had chicken curry for dinner. Try cleaning that up off plush carpeting.
So I had to figure out how to get her to sleep in her own bed without excessive crying and barfing but also do it in a way that felt healthy for me. So for three nights I would get up with her every time she cried. I went to her room, calmed her down. Held her, kissed her, put her back in her crib and walked out. I stood outside her door holding my breath willing myself to believe that she was ok and that she was safe. When her crying would get to the point where I thought she might barf, I’d go in and calm her back down.
I went in to her room no less than 10 times the first night. The first night was the hardest…not because she cried so much but because both she and I were just so tired from waking up constantly. And magically one of the times that she was crying, she didn’t make like she was going to barf, but instead, put her head down on the bed, butt up in the air, and fell asleep. I know she did this because I was watching her (from outside the door) PUT HERSELF TO SLEEP! I use the word magically not in a sarcastic way…there must have been some sort of sleep fairy that came to our room and wooed my daughter. Because after three nights she started sleeping thru the night. And if she did wake up all I had to do was go in and give her a kiss and she’d go right back to sleep. Now at night I lay her down in her crib, she snuggles with her monkey, and closes her eyes. I have no idea how I did it…but let me tell you…I high-five myself almost every night because damn…I’m good.
Don’t hate me because we have finally started getting a tiny bit more sleep in our house. Because frankly….if my child didn’t sleep and you were telling me this story, I’d probably resent you. Sorry, but it’s the truth. No one wants to hear about how the sleep fairy came to your house. How she was sweet and had poofy little wings, smelled of teddy grahams, and how she silently fluffed your pillow at night while you dreamed about House of Cards. I mean seriously, it can just make you sick when you are dog tired and people complain about only getting 8 hours of sleep. Snore. No pun intended.
All I can say is that with Henry it took us almost 4 years to get him to sleep on his own. With Ruby…3 days. Take what you want from my experiences, just know we too have had our issues. And I’m crazy to think that it’s going to be blissful sleep-land forever. I know the sleep fairy will go on strike and complain about being underpaid and under-appreciated and make us do all the work again. I know this because nothing is ever constant with parenting. You master something and it changes in an instant. You know what is constant though? Coffee. Mmmmm….coffee…and also knowing that other parents are sometimes struggling with sleep too.