A friend just wrote a blog post about her baby and his sleep routine. Their life requires a flexible sleep schedule and their easy-going little guy is pretty good at going with the flow. But when he has a bad day (or night) of sleep, she second-guesses herself, and all the books and blogs that demand a strict bedtime schedule have her doubting her parenting skills. Which is a BAD head space for a mom and almost always untrue. My friend is a stellar parent. Strict bedtime schedules just aren’t going to work for their family right now. The parenting lesson she needs to learn (which she blogged about) is to lower her expectations and let go of the guilt-tripping “expert” advice she reads.
My parenting-as-it-relates-to-sleep story is almost the opposite. My life right now lends itself to routine. Nick has a regular work schedule (her husband is a pastor and has the corresponding crazy schedule), and all our extracurricular demands end long before baby’s bedtime. When we do have late-night commitments, we have a community full of (free!) babysitters in walking distance to help us out. Despite this accommodating schedule, for a few months, we watched Charlie battle sleepiness and let him have a wacky schedule, assuming he would sleep if he really needed to.
It got to the point where he regularly woke up 5 or 6 times at night and skipped naps, resulting in inconsolable meltdowns. Despite my best efforts to nurse him to sleep and never let him cry at his irregular bedtime or nap time, he cried anyway because he was so overtired and over stimulated. No rocking, singing, cuddling or nursing could get him to sleep. Only exhaustion, and that is a miserable way to get shut eye, for anyone, let alone a baby.
I realized that he needed my help to get to sleep and that meant giving up my awesome flexible schedule and adhering to a pretty strict nap and bedtime routine. So even as an extreme extrovert, I had to choose to bow out of opportunities to see people in favour of staying home to let my little guy rest. And lo and behold, after 3 days of scheduling (which I never dreamed I would be so into, I thought it was for other, “less connected” parents and children – what a jerk!) Charlie was taking regular naps and only waking up twice a night to nurse and go straight back to sleep.
Admittedly, there are a few tears at bedtime. But we never leave him alone to cry, we sit in his room and sing to him or reassure him that he is not alone. He is so happy and well-rested and Nick and I began to regain our sanity as we slept for more than two hours at a time.
The lesson I had to learn about parenting was to let go of my prejudices, in this case that parents who schedule their kids are too strict and they are monsters for letting their kids cry at bedtime. I was a huge, self-righteous pain in rear with that attitude and it only hurt my family because it made me too proud for awhile to embrace what my little guy needed – a schedule!
The other lesson I had to learn, is to sacrifice for the well-being of my family, and to do so cheerfully, willingly even. Yes, there are moments when my kiddo is tired that I would rather go to playgroup or meet a friend for coffee or even just go outside with the dog. There has been more than one party or event that only one parent could go to because the other one was at home doing bedtime. But in the long run, its better for me to sit quietly next to Charlie’s crib while he falls asleep for his third nap of the day and get some chores down while he snoozes. And sleep begets sleep, so if I want my husband, who works SO hard all day long, to get a good night’s rest, I need to invest in Charlie’s naps so he continues to sleep long stretches at night.
It would be easy for me to be frustrated about our new routine, to feel imprisoned by the rigid sleep-eat-play-sleep rhythm of my days, when I only have 45 minute windows in between feedings and naps to get out of the house. But the reality is, my baby and my husband and I need the routine in order to be healthy physically and to find peace and contentment in our days. Once I gave in to the routine, I also found freedom, to have evenings with Nick; to learn to be alone and pursue my artistic projects; and to enjoy this season with Charlie because too soon he will be grown up and I won’t get to spend hours sitting by his crib or feeding him in his high chair.