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Sleep Like a Baby? What Sleep?

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

From naps in the family van to the cry-it-out method, parents do whatever they can to avoid sleep deprivation. Sometimes we just need to commiserate and be reminded that these times won't last.

One of the hardest aspects of parenting is the loss of sleep.   When I was pregnant with our first, I told my husband I thought we should practice getting up in the middle of the night so we would be prepared.  My husband thought I was a lunatic.  We didn’t practice and my husband was right….the on the job training was good enough.

I have had this article toiling around in my head for quite some time but I thought I needed a happy ending before I could write it.  The idea is to instill hope- not take what remnant of hope remains from the sleep deprived parent.  See, I have three children, spaced two years apart.  When I had a newborn, 2 year old and 4 year old, life was rough.  When the baby finally started sleeping through the night (at age 1!) the others started waking up... 

I used to envision them having a middle of the night pow-wow, gathered around jugs of warm milk in a dimly lit room. The baby would be saying, “Look guys, I have been the one getting them up for months now.  I just need a break for tonight, who will take over?” 

Reluctantly, the two or four year old would acquiesce and volunteer to wet the bed or have a nightmare.  Then they’d come traipsing in to my room to wake me.  I truly believe there was probably an entire year that passed where I did not sleep through the night. 

This is the other aspect I think many moms deal with too- the kids come to you!  If you are nursing of course, it’s a given, but then they continue to do that.  It remains a mystery to me.  My husband would often comment on how refreshed he felt because everyone finally slept through the night. Meanwhile I was seething but too exhausted to put up a fight.  The irony is, too, that if I woke my husband to take care of whomever our middle of the night greeter was, he wasn’t who they wanted and he didn’t “do it” right.  Not sure if that was my issue or the kids.

Of course, middle of the night awakenings aren’t the only problems.  It’s getting those little people to sleep alone in their cribs or to stay in that brand new corvette toddler bed at the beginning of the night when you have laundry and dishes and more laundry to get done. 

In my younger years, I turned to Ferber which is better known as the cry-it-out method.  For some children this works swiftly and quickly.  My eldest  took two nights and he was able to fall asleep on his own.  I, on the other hand, was a wreck and still feel guilty about it.  My second, would stop me from reading and point to her crib!  What child does that?  My husband I grew cocky and thought we had mastered something so we decided to have that third, also known as the Never Ever Sleeper.  He wouldn’t nap and he certainly wouldn’t sleep at night.

I will admit that I attempted the cry-it-out with him one time and it was awful and I vowed to never do it again. We managed through the first year, driving around town to get him to sleep. We let him sleep in his car seat in our locked garage (with a baby monitor in the van) for much of his first year of life.  If we dared attempt a transfer to the crib, the deal was off. 

Eventually, we transferred him to a bed and decided on a life of reverse successive approximations.  Successive approximations is a method used in work with phobias where the person gets closer and closer to the thing he or she is afraid of.  In this reverse instance we started out laying in the bed next to him. The next step was sitting in a chair next to the bed. Then we moved the chair a little closer to the door over time.  We now are down to saying goodnight with two “check ins” before he falls asleep.  It’s a dream come true.

My children are now 9, 7 and 5 and all sleep through the night almost regularly.  Maybe I get woken up one time a week for a nightmare, an occasional just-need-to-see-you visit which, believe it or not, I welcome.  I know these times won’t last and it’s nice to be sought out for comfort and to tuck  them back into their own beds for a night of sweet dreams.

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