Sleeping like a baby. It’s great. At least it should be. That’s what ‘they’ say..
I am firmly of the opinion that whoever invented that phrase didn’t have children of their own. (I wish I could take full credit for this observation. Sadly I can’t. I saw it on a Nando’s toilet wall. I know. You wish you were this classy.)
In reality, ‘sleeping like a baby’ means sitting bolt upright as soon as someone closes your bedroom door, even though you were fast asleep five seconds ago. It means teasing your parents with a couple of nights of unbroken sleep, only to completely lose the plot for no logical reason. Every few months.
In our house it means napping for no more than thirty minutes at a time, for fear that you might be missing out on the best time ever. Which is invariably a semi-comatose Mummy trying to finish a cup of tea on the sofa.
There are other challenges too. For us, problem sleeping has always resulted in Wes crashing around, muttering about how he “refuses to live in a silent house.” While I curse him, mostly under my breath. Because noble and idealistic as they undoubtedly are, those words alone will not stop the baby waking up when a saucepan falls off the draining board, or the front door gets slammed too loudly, or someone dares to have a conversation in the upstairs hallway.
I would venture to suggest that, for us, those days are done. For now. We’re over the worst. Yes, there are night terrors every couple of weeks, but as a general rule that happens before 9.30. Even I’m not in bed by then. Yes, last night I was up three times; a combination of Joel needing a cuddle, Elvie convinced that I’d forgotten her bedtime prayers and an inexplicable 3am tantrum. Hers, not mine. In spite of all this, we’re sneaking up on a place where we can go to bed and expect a decent night’s sleep.
Unless of course Elvie “loses her squeak up the chimney,” as she did on Wednesday night. And absolutely has to “go for a drive in the car to get it.” Seriously. I have no idea.
It feels good, almost three and a half years into parenting, to finally be approaching something that resembles a sustainable sleeping pattern. To have some confidence in what we’re doing. And how we’ve got there. To feel like we’re getting something right.
Last night, I made a mistake.
One I’ve made many times before, and always pretend I’ll never make again.
It all started so innocently. An article by a blogger I love, about how she’d managed to sort out their daughter’s sleep issues. Informative, fun, well balanced and, whilst obviously favouring her own particular style, not passing judgment on anyone else. So far, no problem.
But there was a link, I clicked it. Which led to more links. I clicked those too. Twenty minutes later I found myself deep in the land of militant American homeschoolers for whom any kind of bedtime routines are tantamount to a removal of human rights.
Hey presto. Instant guilt. Confusion. The feeling that perhaps, after all, we’ve done everything wrong.
Nothing stirs up parental emotion so easily as sleep problems. Probably because there is literally nothing else that we’re so fixated on. It starts before the baby is even born. I read three pages of Gina Ford’s “Contented Little Baby Book” and felt like a failure before Elvie had even arrived. There was no way all those routines and timings and exact measurements were going to fit with my personality or my life. The book went straight back to the charity shop. And I was left to find another sleep-training tactic.
Elvie was never a fan of sleeping. From the moment she was born. Unless it was daytime, or she was feeding. Or being bounced up and down.
By the time she was four months old, the only thing on my Christmas list was sleep. Preferably in blocks of more than an hour. A friend pointed out that it was no wonder I was tired, as I’d basically been napping. For four months.
I was beyond it. I woke up on Boxing Day, in my parents house, and cried for hours. Proper snotty, sobbing tears. I couldn’t face going home and having to cook, and do washing, and look after a baby. I was just too tired. Too tired to move. We stayed for a couple of extra days, and eventually made it back. By which time, depression’s claws were well and truly in.
By the time she was six months old, Elvie still wasn’t sleeping. And we were desperate. I was depressed and Wes was exhausted. So we let her cry it out. For 3 nights. Which isn’t the kind of thing you’re supposed to admit in public.
It worked wonders. She’s been a good sleeper ever since. Apart from when she loses her squeak. Obviously.
Joel has been different. And so have we. He’s much more tactile. Much less independent.And much more likely to fall asleep in his highchair.
He’s spent a lot more time in our bed. Even now, at 13 months, he gets cuddled to sleep every night and every nap time. And we’ve slept a lot better. I think. It’s possible we’ve just been less stressed.
I’ve devoured sleep tactics over the last three years. I’m sure every parent does. Desperate for something that will work. But honestly, it’s just made me feel guilty. The attachment parenting advocates tell me that I’ve destroyed Elvie’s trust and her ability to form emotional bonds. The hardcore disciplinarians tell me that I’m spoiling Joel. That he’ll become a clingy, needy Mummy’s boy who’ll never leave home.
I understand that these ‘experts’ need to hold strong positions. Otherwise they won’t sell books. But scaring parents into following your sleep plan doesn’t seem fair.
No two babies are the same. No two parents are the same. No two situations are the same. Even the same baby can require wildly different tactics in the space of a few weeks.
Sometimes it will be fine to rock your toddler for hours. Sometimes you desperately need to sleep. In order to be a better Mummy during the day. Some nights your baby needs a bit more comfort. Some nights Mummy needs a bit more space.
I wrote a sleep training book today. It goes like this…
Do. Whatever. You. Need. To. Do.
That’s it. Seriously. Sleep is important. Do what works for you. Be kind to yourself. And your baby. Do it deliberately. And do it with pride.
And please. No late-night googling. That stuff can really keep you awake.