By Halina Newberry Grant
My 5 1/2 month old used to be an expert sleeper-up until about 3 1/2 months. Life circumstances threw us all off schedule and out of our routine, and now we are repairing the damage. Most parents confront sleep training some time in the first year of their baby’s life, and if they don’t, I don’t want to hear about it. Bully for them.
First you have to choose your method, and while doing so, you must weigh the advice and suggestions from friends and relatives, and then go with your gut based on what you know about someone who’s only been alive a few months and who is changing every day and going through growth spurts and sleep regression and teething, to name a few possible obstacles.
Once you’ve chosen your method, you must ignore the doubt and panic that sets in, suggesting you chose wrong. You must also, constantly, tune out the well-meaning advice of others who think you’re doing it wrong, and who find creative ways to tell you that. You must memorize the relevant chapters of the book you’re using, so that at 4 in the morning you remember what to do when she roots to nurse and you’re counting backwards trying to determine if enough hours have passed since the last time you dropped strap, and you’ve left your notes in the other room and you forgot to look at the clock on the way in. You must bury your self doubt beneath weeks of no sleep and loneliness and despair at seeing your sweet beloved cry because she’s even more tired and confused than are you.
The emotional, mental, physical and spiritual work is relentless, and the only reason you trudge through is because there is the hope and promise and evidence that this will work, and that you will, after some time, get a solid and restorative chunk of sleep. You also trudge through because if you’re like me, you’ve never cared so much about a job, and never put so much of yourself, your time, your heart, your patience, your creativity, your stamina, your care, your earnestness into anything else you’ve tried. And, moving forward, I will know which other jobs are worth any amount of this sacrifice, because I will weigh their worth in lost hours of sleep.
By Brandy Black
I am maniacal about my children’s sleep routine. When I got pregnant I knew nothing of what I was doing, feeling totally overwhelmed, I began to read lots of books and what I learned was that sleep is very important for children, for anyone really. But kids learn and grow in their sleep and this stuck with me. There are many different ways to parent, and lots of alternatives for sleep training or lack there of but I followed some very simple rules with my little ones and lucky for me all three of my kids sleep from 7PM to 7AM and most importantly they find sleep on their own. With my first child the schedule was probably not as important as it is now with 22-month-old twins. With two sharing the same room, a routine is a must for mommy survival.
I followed E.A.S.Y from a book called The Baby Whisperer, a book that I will forever keep a copy of for my children’s children. Eat, activity, sleep, you time, this is the basic structure I followed with babies. The rule is not to feed them to sleep because they then become reliant on another person or thing (bottle) to help them sleep, the concept is for babies to find their own sleep so that they will never have to struggle with bedtime. I have enough trouble getting myself down at night and sometimes need to be coaxed away from my thoughts by a mindless television show. I wanted to do them a favor and allow them to fall asleep like my wife does. I swear, the minute her head hits the pillow, no matter the time, she is out. Lucky girl.
The trick is to start a routine, one that tells the child’s brain, it’s bedtime, get ready for it. So we always begin, even at 2-days-old with pajamas and sometimes a bath, after this we read a couple books and then a song. When I begin to sing, they start yawning, their little bodies melt into me as I rock them. One song, then, put them down in their cribs and say goodnight. We never stray, same thing every night no matter who is watching them. We once had a sitter tell us that the minute she put on the bedtime song, it was Pavlovian, our daughter’s eyes began to close and she made her way to the bed. It works but you have to maintain consistency. This is easy for me, I’m a rules girl, I have methods and practices and discipline. My wife on the other hand changes things up daily and routine is not in her nature. She fought it but ultimately realized that kids like to know what’s coming, they like to feel in control and the more you can set them up for success the more secure they are.
By: Melissa Mensavage
Will this ever end? Or is this cyclical like the seasons? Because when this started up again, I became rather annoyed with it.
I’ve written about sleep training with my oldest, Max, a couple of times previously. He was just a baby and a toddler and we had a bad habit of sleeping in my bed. I did break it. Then we had this awesome long stretch of him sleeping all by himself in the crib.
Then my youngest, Theo, came along and I took Max out of the crib and put him in a twin bed. Thankfully I was smart and transitioned him before the baby arrived, though it was a rough month or so. Once Theo arrived, we had some adjustment issues altogether, so I was patient (or as much as I could be with post-partum depression).
Fast forward a year and now that Max is potty trained he’s gotten the idea of getting up in the middle of night and going to the bathroom – KUDOS!! to him for recognizing that while sleeping. However he has to come into my room and tell me. Then there are the nights when he doesn’t make it to the bathroom and the bed is wet. When I check it I am so tired I just tell him to get in my bed and go back to sleep.
I should be changing sheets at 2, 3 in the morning??? I probably should be. But I don’t. Any maybe I might start. See, I can’t even make a decision on this.
Have you noticed that Theo has not even made an appearance in this conversation about sleeping? In his crib by himself, without waking throughout the night? Yeah, he’s my sleeper, has been since he was 7 weeks old. (Is it bad I called him my favorite in my PPD?)
What kills me is the crying. It killed me back then, still kills me now. And I know why they do it, they just want to be with me, but I need my rest. I cant be a happy single parent who handles everything possible – job, chores, parenting – if I don’t get my rest. I do send Max back to bed most nights and he will cry or stall (saying, ‘I have one question.’) and then I get annoyed with him. Then I get annoyed with myself for getting annoyed with him.
All the waking up makes Max a very tired boy, so he takes a pretty decent nap during the day. This then causes a later bedtime. Another vicious cycle. Just thinking about all the changes I need to make makes me want to go back to bed and pull the covers over me.
I can do it. I can get back my evenings to myself. I can have a peaceful bedtime routine (did I ever mention that bedtime is almost a nightmare and I dread it?). This is tough for any parent – single or married. I think its just a bit harder for a single parent because there is no one to trade nights with or basically help. Did I know about this when I became a single parent? No. Would it have swayed my decision? No. These two little people are the absolute joys of my life – sleeplessness and all.
Time for another cup of coffee.
By: Brandy Black
By: Jordan Gill
My husband and I decided to teach our five-month-old baby to sleep through the night. We both agreed it would be better if I was out of the house so I wouldn’t sabotage our efforts by racing in and rescuing her from the solitude of her crib while weeping wildly. So, my husband held down the fort and wrote me a nighty email account of his experience so I wouldn’t miss out…
First Report (For Posterity’s Sake)
I played with Goose for a while. When she started to squawk a little, I decided that is was time to initiate the sleep routine. It was right around 5:55 PM. I warmed the bottle and gave it to her on the couch in the living room. She took nearly the whole thing, around 4 ounces. The bottle giving was weird. The last couple of bottles I have given to her she has pushed and pulled at the bottle, pulling it out of her mouth and shoving it back in. By the end of the feeding, around 6:16, she was rubbing her face a little and getting fidgety and fussy. I left the bottle on the coffee table and took Chloe back to her room. I changed her on the table and then I held her and sang “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. When I was done, she was still awake with eyes wide open. I told her that I really loved her and that I was putting her to bed. I let her know that I really hoped that it wasn’t so difficult a night for her. I put her face down in the corner of the crib with her pig blanket and closed the door behind me. The clock read 6:21. She began crying around a minute and a half after I left. And went through cycles of more and less crying. Some real screams and some just burbling. The sounds of cheering are coming in through the window in the living room. I can feel a breeze at my feet but my shoulders are sweating, and I can’t tell if I am woozy from the pizza at lunch or if I am just nervous that this will last a long time. Each time she quiets for a minute, I think that we have won the day. That this whole sleep training thing is unnecessary because our daughter, who is mostly perfect in all other ways, has been putting us on this whole time. A joke. A repetitive and loud joke at all hours of the night. But these are small lulls. Calms before storms, and the more excited I get in the quiet patches the more my stomach aches when she screams again. Although, when she is quiet I will be worried that she is no longer breathing. So is life for a first-time dad, I guess. I am about to open a bottle of wine. I love you.
It is Night Two of this journey called sleep training and our daughter is still not so into sleeping. We read books, we danced and we laughed. Then it was time for her to go into her crib and for me to leave. I feel badly, because there are a couple of minutes before the crying starts where I imagine her thinking, “what a lovely rendition of Hallelujah my dad just sang to me, and then he told me he loved me so much, how sweet.” Then, by the time I have made it to the kitchen to pour my first glass of wine, she realizes that she fell for it again, and she begins to weep. In that moment, I am sure that the tears are fueled by her confusion and anger at a father who would sing so tenderly and then immediately abandon. She doesn’t even know that I am just down the hall while she wails, indulging my twin vices of red wine and Law and Order SVU. She played the bottle game again, and I think that it has something to do with the nipple letting the milk out too fast or with her sucking harder than she can swallow. At least that is what the evidence (her coughing when I tried holding the bottle in there – only done once, stop your worrying) would suggest. And another thing, she blasted such loud and forceful farts into my arm while I was holding her that I stopped feeding her to change her twice, both times to find that I had been mostly duped. I think that when she can put herself down and we can regulate the time and amount she eats, it will be better for both of you. She went down at 6:32. We are at the twelve-minute mark and she has started with the periods of quiet again. I would settle for more crying on the front end in exchange for her not waking up so soon after she is done. Letting the most amazing person you have ever laid eyes on scream as if she is being beaten in the next room once, dayenu. Getting the privilege, for longer, thirty minutes later, dayenu.
This is different. I have not been relaxing the whole day and saving up my reserves to deal with this unfun task. I have left the office, with a stomachache and a case of mild annoyance, and now, the prospect of sitting and listening to the tears is even less appealing than ever. There are both positives and negatives at this point. She wasn’t feeling the bottle. Maybe it was the late feed you gave her, maybe she was pissed off because she felt herself on a slippery road towards being alone in her crib, but she was snippy and fussy throughout the feeding. Where she usually pushes the bottle away and stares at me, this time she would push the bottle away and cry a little. She took in just over an ounce before she refused to take any more. So, I sang her our song, bounced a little as I sang and patted her back to try to get the burps out. And when the song was done I turned her toward me and looked her in the eye and told her the things I was feeling. “I love you, I said.” “I hope that you go to sleep easily and that you do not have a difficult time in here,” I continued. I finished with, “I’m sorry.” That she seemed to understand. She gave me what can only be described as a look of disappointment, and when I put her in her crib she rolled onto her side and shot me one last nostril-flared look of condemnation before she started to cry. She didn’t let me get out of the room with the hope that this might be her day where she just goes down. She let me know immediately, “Dad, you have double crossed me for the last time.” In good news, the tenor of her screaming is less emphatic than in previous nights. Her quiet moments have been more frequent. I would have to say that I think this is an improvement (slight). We will see what the rest of the night holds for us. She went down at 6:34 PM.
I love you,
This is the chosen equivalent of Groundhog’s Day. Here I am with my wine writing you an email while Little Goose wails in the background. A bunny doesn’t quack. That would be funny. Good night old woman whispering, “Hush.” Feed. Hallelujah. I keep waiting for Ned Needleman to come around the corner. I keep telling her, “you’ve got this.” She keeps looking at me like she is not sure. She sure sounds unsure. I will continue to drink. I may pour the wine in my ears. On the up side, I really belted it out tonight. I think I thought I was Leonard Cohen himself in there. I was FEELING that song, and before I knew it I was arranging the song hitting some pretty aggressive notes. Hallelujah. Oh, hallelujah. Chloe and my bottle time were pretty comical tonight. She had the same bug up her ass as last night, but I would not be denied. One position wasn’t working, we tried another. This room sucks, let’s try in there. Her head turned this way. Her head turned that. Oh, she drank most of the 3 ounces (that being said, there is good reason to believe that she will need another bath tomorrow. Every time she decided to pull the bottle away, a thin sheet of milk spilled over her lip and down her chin. Also, some in her hair, but no matter), but she would stop feeding and cry a little and then when she stopped I showed her the nipple and she let me put it back in her mouth. Suck, suck, suck, reject, cry, repeat. And so on. Wait a minute… sweet silence. 11 minutes. She went down at 6:35. The cacophony died down at 6:46.
Too early to get hopes up too far.
I love you.
I am expecting big things after last night. Did you see that? I just set myself up for disappointment. I know better than anyone that expectations are a fool’s game. I once got a fortune cookie that said, “Expect nothing and you will never be disappointed.” But here I am. I expect her to cry less than last night for sure, but I really want her back to how it was when she was on a linear progression towards being okay with sleeping. The bottle went really well, and from what you say about how much she ate today, she is stuffed like a sausage. She should be happy, right? I would be happy. Anyone would. I think the only person who wouldn’t flinch if I told them that I was putting away a half bottle of wine a night would be my mother. Wait… quiet. Ten minutes. Could it be? I will check. Two things I just learned. Our Goose is insistent on being awake. She is scooting all over the place in her crib, head up, butt up, scoot. She is not really crying though, which is good. The other is that I am incapable of a soft step. I know people much larger than me who execute their ordinary steps with not so much as a floorboard creak. My steps bend wood until it shrieks, and I have lost weight. She is still at it. She actually smiled at me when I went in which is nice, because I am pretty sure it means that she doesn’t hate me for doing this to her, but it also seemed like she was pretty awake. I don’t get the feeling that this will be a short night. Shit. Patience. Right.
I love you,
Night 1000 (Really Night 10)
She knows that the song leads to the crib, so as I sing she tries to escape over the side of my arm. She doesn’t try very hard. I don’t think she has the energy to really make a go of the escape. I don’t think she is aware enough to understand that my arms are the only thing between her and the floor. That theory was bolstered by her leap off the bed the other day. So I sing while she cries. Not the truly strained screams of betrayal that push out from under her door once I have left the room and shut the door behind me, but a more resigned, “Oh, this again?” type crying that makes me wish there were fewer verses, or that I had a better and more soothing voice. This has to get better. Right? I mean she is crying as aggressively as Night One. For sure. So…it continues to beg the question, will she get this? I think I would be satisfied if the tenor of the crying were less desperate and accusatory. I checked, there is not glass in there, no hot coals, no snakes. Someday she will understand the word “perspective.” I assume I will have to explain it over her first heartache – some boy with a thin mustache and the keys to his father’s car. I will fight through the enormity of her sadness, filling up her room and spilling into the hall, and I will tell her that there are better times around the corner, and that this guy, this clumsy, stupid boy who accidentally kicked my little girl’s heart, is destined to die alone. He will almost certainly develop a limp from an accident designed by G-d to show him that he fucked with the wrong girl, and she, princess that she is, can rest easily knowing that happiness is hers to claim. I will tell her to have a little perspective, to raise her line of vision past today and look more toward what is on the horizon. I will tell her a story about Night 10, when I had to listen to her screaming in the next room, and that when it seemed like it would never end, and when I had to fend off the competing urges of putting on headphones to drown her out and sweeping her up out of her crib and rescuing her like a fireman, when I was angry and watching the clock hands executing painfully slow circles, that I remembered the sweaty impression her head made on my shirt as she napped in the space between my arm and my side earlier that day, and in that moment I knew that not only would she eventually figure it out, but that until then I would still love her completely.
I love you. We have an amazing daughter. Soon, she will sleep.
At some point it will not be training anymore, it will just be sleep. I cannot wait for sleep: Night One. For TRAINED. It will be so freeing to be able to give her her bottle without knowing what comes next. It will be a new day when she hears the song and goes slack in my arms. When she allows me to gently guide her into her crib and then slides to her preferred position when she feels the mattress beneath her. She will take her pig blanket in her arm, put her thumb in her mouth and without anger or difficulty, she will let sleep embrace her. She will seek it out. She will know it by feel and she will place herself in sleep’s gentle arms whenever she is ready. May this be the hardest lesson she has to learn. I do not know why but I feel like we are close. I feel hopeful that she will get this in the next couple of days or week. I feel like she is catching on. Her cries have been much much quieter tonight, so quiet that I have allowed myself to believe that she has fallen asleep twice already. Wrong both times, but also quiet both times for prolonged periods.
I am tired tonight so I will be brief. I love you.
She did it. I am sitting in the living room, weeping. My shirt is a war zone, a mix of drool and tears, hers, and mine but in the end we did it – she did it. 13 minutes, no crying. And now I am having a hard time getting a hold of myself. I think that I numb myself a lot, let my mind flutter off or get lost in the duh duh duh of Law and Order so that I won’t think about the fact that Chloe needs me and that I could stop her crying by just picking her up. It was really hard to do this with her. I knew it was but I don’t think I let myself feel how much I hated letting her cry. I know that it may not be all done. I know there will be setback, teething and sickness and assorted other distractions. But I watched her do something incredible tonight, and I think I could feel it before it happened, because I stood in the doorway the whole time. I cracked the door just a bit and I watched her the whole time. She cried a little during the song, but mostly she put her head on my shoulder and sucked my shirt. At the last verse, she got a little restless. I sang the final Hallelujahs as I lowered her into the crib. I told her I loved her so much, and I wanted her to go to sleep easily tonight, to not fight it. She whined a little at first when I closed the door most of the way and waited. She rolled around the crib, sucking on her pig for a while, at one point getting on all fours and rocking back and forth over it. She went from one end of the crib to the other, but she was silent for 9 minutes. Then she started making noises, whines and grunts, little shouts. And then she stopped. Her head went down, then up again, just for a second and then down. I knew it was done but I waited. One, two minutes. No movement except for the rise and fall of her back on the exhales. And then I started to cry. The beautiful silence. The echoing absence of tears. She wrestled with the sleep but she didn’t fight it. She danced with it, apprehensively at first, but then she relaxed and let herself be taken by the heaviness of it, the weight of her tiredness.
I know it may not be like this tomorrow, but today I will celebrate. I love her so much and I think she is totally incredible.
And, I love you.
By: Melissa Mensavage
I am so glad I wrote about the sleep issues we are experiencing here in my house. The comments received on my last post couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve been feeling pretty bad about all of this sleeping, not sleeping, picking him up, not picking him up or letting him sleep with me. I felt like I was in a battle that one, I didn’t need to be in and two, was only causing pain to both of us.
It’s high time to pick the right solution for us, and the commenters only supported that: “do what is right for you”.
By far this has been the hardest thing I’ve done as a parent. The hardest. The nights that Max would cry almost hysterically were killing me. I can’t sleep when that happens. I’ll go in to his room and try to soothe him. I’ve learned that he’s becoming attached to a certain blanket. I’ve found him several times clutching the blanket for dear life. That breaks my heart. He wants me, and I am not following through with his request, so he is finding comfort in a blanket, hopefully not thinking that is all he has!
I seem to be a lot more lovey-dovey during the waking hours to help with my guilt. Overcompensate, maybe? Ugh.
And so, when I read Madge’s comments about old school, just let him cry it out, the over-tired-all-I-want-is-one-night-of-sleep me can’t help but agree. There is something to be said about letting your kids sleep on their stomachs, crying out, getting vaccinations, etc. I mean, I think I turned out okay.
Barb’s comments were like a giant virtual hug. That made me feel better to know I am not alone and she struggles too.
Stacie’s comments offered an educated approach.
I’ve forewarned Kerrie with this nightmare. Well hopefully it’s not a nightmare for her.
And Tashia is right; maybe Max just needs an extra hug or five minutes to fall back asleep. And the only way to figure it out is determine what plan I will be using and applying it.
I think I have a combination approach. He will still have to learn to soothe himself, so that means he will cry, but there is a threshold that I will not cross because in my mind there is no need for a child to cry for more than 30 minutes. After that I will go in and see him. I will not pick him up. I will show him his books, the musical crib toy, and offer him his blanket. I imagine this will take a couple of weeks.
Today, as I left daycare earlier because Max was sleeping standing up (last night I let him cry it out and I think he protested by not sleeping at all!), I ran into the teacher who was his infant primary caregiver. She gave me a big hug and said ‘it gets better, you are doing the right thing.’ Standing next to us was the Assistant Director and she gave me credit because her three-year-old is still sleeping with her.
I pray (pretty damn hard) that I am doing the right thing.
And to the commenters of my last post, big hugs to you and thanks for sharing.
By: Kacie Bernstein
I have lost complete control of my children. I am actually writing this while my kids are fast asleep on the couch. I should be thrilled, but this was almost a two-hour battle…and I lost. After screaming, banging on the door, and taking away my son’s pacifier (his prized possession), I finally took them out. I just wanted one hour of quiet time and resorted to the second best thing, Yo Gabba Gabba. They actually listened and were resting on the couch. I came back five minutes later and they were both fast asleep.
What happened to the parent being in control? Since day one, my kids have been on a very strict schedule, when you have two kids it’s the only way to keep your sanity. Everyone always says that it’s all about consistency, but sometimes I feel like it’s more about survival of the fittest.
We recently signed up for a music class. My kids love listening to music, dancing and playing all kinds of instruments. What should have been an hour of fun has now turned into pure dread. Every time a song ends my son is at the door saying bye-bye, plus he is the only child who refuses to sit…and now my daughter is beginning to copy him. My husband and in-laws took them and everything was fine –the teacher confirmed their story –but for me, it is torture.
Why do children always act differently around their predominant parent? I have actually set up a meeting with our pediatrician to find out what I am doing wrong or what I can do differently. I called both my husband and mom in tears today while my kids were clearly not napping in their room. In an ideal situation we would separate them, but right now that is not an option, so I guess we will just have to see what happens.
Please know that you are not alone…if you need any reassurance just come to my house for a visit, it might just make you feel better!
By: Amy Forstadt
Articles like this one in Slate Magazine, really piss me off. The author discusses co-sleeping and is all “to each his own,” but then goes on to say how co-sleeping is totally natural, and how if you have your kid sleep in his/her own room, you are basically making him a learning-disabled sociopath with abandonment issues. But to each his own, of course.
The reason I’m feeling extra-sensitive about this lately is because Benjie’s been having sleep issues. This situation is happening after some hard-core sleep training early on, followed by almost three years of a son who happily went to bed at the same time every night, and slept peacefully in his room for eleven hours. For these past almost-three -years, I’ve been well-rested, well-informed, and pretty freakin’ proud of myself.
Until last week. Suddenly Benjie decided that no, he wasn’t tired and no, he didn’t want to go to bed, and no no no he REALLY didn’t want me to leave the room at bedtime. I’d untangle myself from his sweaty little grip and try to maintain my stalwart CIO stance, but listening to your kid cry at six months is really different than listening to him cry at thirty-six months. Now he can pound on his crib. Now he can cry out “I pooped!” because I’ll fall for it the first few times. Now he can even lean out of his crib and open the door to his room. The decibel level of “Mommy! Mommy!” has quickly risen to “MOMMMY! MOMMY!” now that Benjie understands the basic mechanics of doorknobs.
I tried to be tough. I tried to explain to him. I tried to hug him and love him and be reassuring. But nothing worked. Only my actual, physical presence would do. Finally, I gave up and brought him into bed with us, something I swore I would never do. But damn, it was two a.m. and I was tired.
You know, I have no doubt that sleeping with your children is a totally natural instinct and even a strong biological drive. When I was nursing, Benjie and I would both get blissed out and sleepy and I don’t think that was a coincidence. I’m sure Mother Nature wants you and your baby to sleep together for bonding’s sake, not to mention protecting your young from roving mastodons. I totally believe it’s a human instinct.
But guess what? There are lots of instincts I fight against every day because I have to exist in a modern world. Like the instinct to nap at my desk every day around 3 p.m. And the instinct to have a second or third cupcake-with-the-pudding-in-the-middle, because my body wants all that fat and calories. And what about my instinct to jump my neighbor’s cute young pool boy? My biology might demand that I procreate with his sweaty, supple, probably sensitive-guitar-playing self, but society just won’t allow it.
And that’s why I put Benjie back in his crib and just toughed it out. It was bad, and it was stressful, and my instincts kept poking me in the shoulder and saying, “Oh, come on, just bring him to bed. It’ll all be okay. Everyone’s doing it.” It was like biological peer pressure. But I didn’t. And after a few nights, it went back to normal. And by “normal,” I mean, what’s normal for us, what works best for our family. Waking up at five a.m. with a tiny foot in my eye just doesn’t work for me. Being tired and cranky and resentful makes it a lot harder to be the kind of mother I aspire to be during daylight hours. I need to follow my instincts for making sure my son gets enough love, food, shelter, and Elmo. But I also need him to sleep in his own bed, so I can sleep in mine.