I had a long chat on the weekend with a regular reader; I’ve known her casually for years, but most of what she knows about my life comes from this space – this space where I am honest but not too honest, because there is a fine line between ‘truth’ and ‘potential future embarrassment of my children’.
But it occurred to me as we talked that I default to talking about the (anonymous) dayhome kids rather than my own. I make it sound like at 5:30 every day all of my issues with little kids just disappear, and that’s so not true, good lord.
And I also realized that I’ve maybe given a skewed perception of my failures as a parent; i.e., because I’m trying to respect my kids as growing, autonomous beings I’ve not been entirely forthcoming about some of the challenges I’ve faced and continued to face with my own boys.
So, in the hopes that it will perhaps encourage that one reader, plus anyone else who (mistakenly) thinks I have all the answers (or even half of the answers)…
Harry – like the Big Apple, he never sleeps
Well, not never. But from the time he was a tiny newborn, he didn’t conform to anything I thought I knew about sleep.
He would nurse, on one side. For twenty minutes. He would drift off to sleep before the breast was emptied. He’d lie on the nursing pillow, still partially latched, and sleep for forty-five minutes or so. He’d wake, want to nurse some more. Because I didn’t know any better, I’d shift him to the other breast, where the cycle would repeat itself.
ALL DAY AND ALL NIGHT LONG.
I didn’t know that not emptying the breast would lead to engorgement & plugged ducts, both of which I had. I didn’t know that it would also negatively affect my milk supply (it did). I didn’t know that humans will naturally start to wake up after forty-five minutes of sleep.
So many things I didn’t know. And it nearly ruined my mental health and my marriage.
I felt like a failure because my child wouldn’t sleep unless he was touching me. He co-slept with us for the better part of nine months, not because I wanted to bed-share but because no one got any sleep otherwise. And when I say “co-slept”, I mean “actually laid right on my chest all night long”.
When I feel like I’m failing, I get defensive. I lashed out at Michael constantly. I snapped that he didn’t understand what I was going through (and I stand by that, he didn’t know what I was going through. But since I didn’t spare a thought for what he was going through, I was really being kind of unfair.)
At nine months, I went back to work and Michael became the stay-at-home parent for a while. I decided once and for all to move Harry to a crib, in his own room. And then it got really bad; three or four wakings a night, and him unable to soothe himself back to sleep unless I was holding his hand or patting his back. On countless mornings I woke up, lying on the bare hardwood floor next to his crib, maybe with a stuffed animal as a pillow, my arm rammed through the crib bars and a mass of pins and needles because I’d passed out from sheer exhaustion at some point during the night.
Then I’d get up and go to work! It was… well, horrible.
One day, Dr. Phil (who I used to watch faithfully, before he went all Montel on me) had The Sleep Lady as his guest. The family they profiled sounded exactly like ours. The long, drawn-out bedtimes. The constant night-wakings. The sleepless nights for a guilty mom trying not to disturb the rest of the house, storing up resentment while she cat-napped everywhere but her own bed.
That very night we started The Sleep Lady Shuffle (click the above link to see the method). And it worked. IT WORKED.
Within a week, bedtimes were taking less than twenty minutes. Within two weeks, the night-wakings were down to maybe one a night, and that one was easily resolved. Within a month, Harry was sleeping in his own bed, alone, every night.
To this day, Harry is the most troubled sleeper of my kids. He has a hard time winding down for sleep. He says he will lie awake sometimes for hours, obsessively thinking about things that upset him. He can’t be allowed to read himself to sleep; he’ll finish the entire book and then start over again from the beginning. He wakes easily. He’s a very early riser. In order to ensure that he gets enough good, healthy sleep every night we need to start his pajamas / toothbrushing / quiet time routine a good hour before bed. During especially stressful or exciting times we’ll add a cup of chamomile tea and / or a warm bath as well.
I spent so much time when he was a baby trying to make his sleep effortless – for him – that I ended up making it harder on everyone.
I still feel badly about that.
This ended up being really long, so tomorrow – the dinner-table battles I somehow got sucked into with Ron, and how that’s playing out in the family dynamic.