My Lovely Sleep Disaster
Here I sit at 10:00pm on a Tuesday night (having finally conquered bedtime) contemplating how I am going to describe our sleep plan for my two boys, ages 2 and 4. While I’d like to tell you that they go to bed on their own, in their own beds and sleep through the night … that’s not the case. Sleep in my home has been an evolution starting with a rigid approach for my first son and ending with a lackadaisical compromise we have grown to truly enjoy.
In the Beginning…
With my first son I read many sleep theory books during my pregnancy and eventually settled on the method that I felt was least harsh. I followed the steps in the book to a T for fear that I would not a be a good parent if he weren’t sleeping 8 hours in his own bed by 3 months of age. It was a disaster! I followed the steps perfectly and for 3 nights for hours and hours the two of us cried and cried and cried, but at no point (even after 3 hours!) did he fall asleep on his own. It was traumatizing for us both.
After our experience, I donated all of my parenting books and decided to take the “Natural Parenting” perspective. I decided that God gave mothers instincts for a reason. If my soul was crying out to me to comfort my child, then that’s what I was going to do! I never could have understood the soul-crushing power of an infant’s cry until I became a mother. It’s truly the most torturous sound I’ve ever heard. Sleep training had me as upset as my sweet young baby, if not more.
I felt a sense of relief once I gave myself permission to do what felt right to me and not what the books told me I was supposed to do. However, I was still terrified of co-sleeping for fear that I would suffocate him. To me, this seemed like an unnecessary risk at the time. I would stay up in the rocker and nurse him to sleep at each feeding, slip his pacifier in his mouth so he wouldn’t notice my absence, then gently place him back in his bed before returning to my bed. I was so paranoid that in the middle of the night I would feel movement by my feet (the dogs) and in a panicked frenzy, I’d jolt awake and try to catch my baby by my feet before he fell off the bed … only to look beside me and see my sweet angel sleeping soundly in his bassinet. The dogs thought I was crazy! That happened more than I’d like to admit. It was terrifying.
My first son was dependent on his pacifier for sleep and comfort. Ugh. I hated that thing. I’d literally have to get up 2-3 times a night to put the damn thing back in his mouth. I’d also hang over the side of the crib (a huge challenge when the mattress is on the lowest setting) and rub his back until he was soundly asleep. When my son was around 16 months of age a major change occurred; I became pregnant. I no longer had the energy to comfort him back to sleep 3 times a night. So, we started co-sleeping. He would go to bed in his crib and then the first time he woke up, I’d throw him between us and snuggle him. It was truly an “ah-ha” moment for me. I felt so stupid. How could I have missed this sweet cuddle time for a year and a half!?
I felt really cheated by the parenting books. How could I let them scare me into missing this sweet time with my child? He smelled so sweet and he curled into me like he was meant to be there. I was more rested and felt more connected to him; it’s time I’m so thankful we had together before I had my second child.
With my second son, I started co-sleeping around 3 months. I enjoyed breastfeeding so much more, I was better rested and I truly enjoyed having him there. He slept in our room until he grew out of the sleep ‘n play and I never pushed him to sleep independently. I nursed him until 13 months and then began weaning him off. He was probably around 15-16 months before he was fully weaned at night. For a long time, I was a human pacifier. I would fall asleep nursing him laying on my side and I’d only wake when I’d feel my milk let down hours later. I did initiate weaning at night, only because I wanted my body back!
Where we are now…
Now, they both start in their own beds, but by morning at least one, if not both, are snuggled tightly between us. Sleeping with my children fills me up with the positive energy I need to get through the day. It gives me the strength and patience I need. I know throughout the day, no matter what challenges we may face, we are going to have time to be at peace together that night.
Weekend mornings have become my cherished time. The kids wake up at whatever time and we all lay together in bed and watch cartoons. My husband and I wake gently and enjoy some morning cuddles before the hustle and bustle of the day begins. It’s become our time to reconnect re-fuel our family. I long to hear the ding of their NOLA Tiles nameplate hit the door as they throw it open, followed by the pitter-patter of little feet running towards my room calling out in a way that only a sweet child can, “Ma-maaaa.” It’s only a short time that we get to feel the love of our young children, pure and unwavering. My 4 year old only comes to bed with us occasionally now, and I truly miss him. Each passing month, he becomes more and more independent. He needs me less. I’m thankful for our “family bed” and I’m certain that I’ll never regret sharing our bed with them. I once read a quote that described how the more time you give them when they want you, the more time they’ll give you when you want them.
For now, our sleep plan is as needed. All families are different and this is what works for us. I’m thankful to have let go of the pressure to follow a plan and do things the “right way.” Ultimately, many could say that this is a truly selfish approach to bedtime. I agree. I did what worked best for me at the time. However, I’d argue that when the mother is less stressed and more well rested, the entire family benefits. My children love sleep and bedtime, our house isn’t a battleground and I have more patience for their toddler tactics come daylight! They say, “Pick Your Battles!” For me, having my children in their beds throughout the night isn’t one I’d like to pick.