Since the day Joel was born sleep has always been difficult. It all started out normal enough. As a baby he was a classic “cluster feeder” and woke often to nurse. We couldn’t get him to take a bottle so, being a new mom and a FTM, I just fed him on-demand OFTEN.
For the first year we tried all the sleep tricks in the book. We tried the dream feed, the magic Merlin sleep suit, baby massage, the best sound machine money could buy. Nothing worked. We drank lots of coffee, we survived on fumes.
A lot of experts out there that will tell you that a “full belly” is the secret to getting your little one to sleep through the night. I remember that moment of panic before bedtime when Joel was still new to solids. Did he eat enough!? If we can just get him to eat a little bit more he’ll definitely sleep a solid 10 hours. Quick! Let’s stuff him like baby goose and send him off to bed! He ate well. He (still) didn’t sleep well. A full belly is important for quality sleep, but (in our experience) it is not always the answer.
For the first two years we had the kind of gut-wrenching sleep problems that can only be described as torture. We worked with 5 sleep consultants, I read all the books I could get my hands on. We tried all the gentle approaches. We tried CIO against my best judgement. It was horrendous. We were frustrated. He was exhausted. Not. good. Yet the struggle went on and on and on
The experts said sleep is sacred. Be consistent. Keep trying. You’ll get there. But when the results are just tears, vomit, and arguments you start to lose hope. We hit rock bottom when Joel threw himself out of his crib head first (in a sleep sack) just before his second birthday. I cried myself to sleep that night and swore I’d never let that happen again. Quality sleep is so important so what do you do…
So we gave up “trying” and decided we would comfort him to sleep until he was 20 if it would keep him safe and calm. Even if it took 2 hours every damn night. Even though we were exhausted. Even though we can’t get a babysitter because bedtime is such a nightmare so we just never go out. When we do finally get him to sleep he still wakes go in the night at least twice. To this day I can count the number of times Joel has “slept through the night” on one hand. And he’s nearly FOUR.
Through it all we learned a lot about ourselves….How it’s hard to be consistent when you’re exhausted and emotional. We learned a lot about our kid. That he’s determined as hell and super sensitive and has a hard time switching off his very active brain. Though I was getting closer to acceptance, sleep continued to be our downfall. Our kryptonite. Our achilles heel.
But the other day I had this major breakthrough. Until now, Mark and I have always viewed bedtime as a “battle” – see the problem here? It’s a parent 🆚 kid mentality.
Of the dozens and dozens of parenting books I’ve read, there is one very consistent theme. When caring for kids, no matter what you do make sure they know you’re ALWAYS on the same side. It took me nearly 4 years to fully understand this concept as it relates to sleep specifically and see the power and the simplicity of this subtle shift in mindset. The same goes for any parenting issue you’re emotional about, be it food, discipline, whatever. First comes acceptance then comes acknowledgement. I needed to stop trying to FIX it and truly accept and acknowledge that sleep is really hard on our son. And on us too.
So we came up with the idea of the bedtime contract to all get on the same page and try to eliminate the squabbling. Every night before bed we write up a contract of every step of the bedtime process. We negotiate. We all sign it. And we all have to follow through.
It usually looks something like this – the parenthesis are Joel’s additions:
1. Use the potty
2. Shower (no hair!)
3. Tick check
5. Bedtime snack (strawberries with salt)
6. Cold water (extra ice)
7. Brush teeth
8. 3 books – lots of negotiating here!
9. Goodnight kisses
10. Acknowledge that Joel does not like sleepy time (one bit!) —he always smiles at this part. It’s the most important point in the whole process.
11. Lie quiet & still (eyes open!)
Some nights bedtime is a lot easier. Some nights it still takes a while and is tough on Joel, but that anxiety and stress is gone. He stopped resisting when we stopped pushing. Funny how that works isn’t it?
As parents it feels so good to know we’re on the same side and working together to help our kid with something that’s really difficult for him. I’m so thankful for all the books I’ve read that finally gave me the insight to figure this problem out before it consumed our family whole. If you’re having sleep struggles hang in there and please be in touch. I’m always down to talk food or sleep!!!