I have twins. Like many babies, when they were little they never slept very long. And like many twin parents we became obsessed with the need to get them to sleep… so we could sleep. We worked slavishly to get their nap times and sleep times in sync. We sleep trained and stuck to rigid napping-at-home and a tight sleep schedule for a long, long time. It helped enormously. Parental sleep was better. Not good, but better. My daughter became the “good” sleeper but my son continued to have troubles. As he got older he had growing pains that would wake him in the night. He’d be crying inconsolably, pacing, and holding his leg. At first he would refuse the ibuprofen that could help him. At other times it wasn’t clear what had awakened him. Many times he was confused and not coherent. Probably he was not fully awake. He didn’t want me in the night so my husband became his consoler during these exhausting hours. Night after night, then a few days break, and then again almost every night. Massive crying night fits off and on for the first few years of life. And then, he just started sleeping thru. Wow, what a relief. Then my daughter hit the nightmare stage. Sigh.
She’d show up at my bedside crying. I’ve had nightmares before and I can’t bear to be alone in my bed afterwards. So, I let her climb in with me. Eventually, I was able to teach her that if she wasn’t really upset and needing me she could just climb in without waking me up. Sometimes her brother would also be awakened by her crying. Then I’d have them both sleep on the floor in my room. I need space! And they are both undercover kickers in the night! Time moved on and this phase passed too. But I’m perimenopausal and don’t sleep well these days anyway.
Now the kids are 8 years old. Summer is here. The days are long and don’t cool off until well after the sun is down. So we let them stay up a bit late. They jump in the pool, play soccer with Dad, ride their bikes around the yard. And at bedtime they love to read in bed. My daughter will tire and put down her book to sleep. My son hides extra books under his pillow so that when we take one away he has others to sneak out! He was definitely staying up too late. This seems to have led to a strange new sleep issue. He falls asleep then wakes up and insists that he hasn’t slept. He’ll try to sleep again for about 1 minute and then come out, crying and distraught, insisting he can’t “get to sleep.” He seems to uniformly wake up just, just as I finally fall asleep. And the commotion wakes up my daughter who is then also upset. My husband now sleeps with earplugs so he was undisturbed. I on the other hand went ballistic. All day long I practice endless patience. But the first few nights of this new nocturnal craziness sent me from asleep to raging in no time. I was not at that time capable of calmness and rationality. So I woke up Daddyo. “I can’t handle this! You deal with it!” I said and stormed off down stairs to watch mindless videos on You Tube. I have no idea how he got them to calm down but it took quite awhile. After a couple of nights of this we realized that letting them stay up for the late summer evenings and the late night reading was a mistake. So we pulled back bedtime a bit, let them read in bed for only 30 minutes, and then began confiscating ALL the books. This helped but every few nights my son was still having these bedtime or middle of the night sobbing scenarios. “I can’t get to sleep! I can’t sleep!”
My go to book for sleep help when they were young was “The Sleep Easy Solution.” It is the best, best, bestest book for sleep problems (theirs and yours) when your kids are young. I had read everything I could get my hands on and even hired a sleep trainer. She left after a few hours saying, she was “really sorry” but she didn’t think there was anything she could do for us! Whaaat? At that point we had 7 month old twins who didn’t sleep well…at all. We had tried every method we could think of to sooth them to sleep yet they cried and cried and cried. Wow, just thinking about it brings back feelings of panic!
Then “The Sleep Easy Solution” arrived in the mail from a sister-in-law. We followed the instructions to the letter…and it worked!!! There was much, much less crying with this sleep training than there was before when we were trying to “sooth” them. Glory! Glory! Trumpets! and Glory! We were deeply grateful for the careful, loving, and informed advice from the experts who wrote the book.
So, when my now 8 y/o boy started with his new nocturnal “activities,” I went on-line for expert ideas and sleep information about kids. Everything I read said, “could be anxiety, could be disrupted sleep routine, walk him back to bed so he can learn that it’s safe to sleep in his own bed etc. etc.” Well, yeah, we clearly needed to get the bedtime routine back under control. But… walking him back to bed? It just didn’t feel right. I believe in sleep training if a child has never learned to sleep in his own bed. But some how it just didn’t feel like the right thing to do in this case. I realized I wanted to find some helpful advice but what I really needed was to sit back and listen to myself. I once had a neighbor who had 4 kids ranging from about 4 to 10 years old. Constance put her kids to bed every night with the full knowledge that there was no way to know where everyone would be in the morning. By the time the sun came up her family would be strewn about the house. Dad on the sofa. Mom in one kid’s bed. One child in the parental bed. The others might be in the guest bedroom. Two of them in the bed and one sleeping on the floor beside it. Almost every night they wound up in different locations. But basically, they all slept. At the time my kids were much younger and I thought my neighbor was crazy. Much later I would come to understand the wisdom of just tucking a wandering child in where ever they wanted to be so that everyone could just relax and go back to sleep. And now I found myself looking at the professional sleep advice and thinking instead of Constance.
My son certainly wasn’t rational about being able to go to sleep. He would argue and fight, and cry, distraught, and insisting he couldn’t sleep. My gut said, let him join me in bed. So the next time he woke crying I just told him to get in bed with me. He was asleep in 30 seconds. Maybe he was never fully awake before. He remembers it all the next day but he’s not very rational in the middle of the night …even for an 8 year old. It’s been a couple of weeks now and it seems to be working. If my daughter wakes up too she goes on the floor. When my son was kicking too much I started putting him on the floor too. Everyone is sleeping better. And it’s a phase of course. It will pass.
So, what’s the point? Sometimes in this crazy thing called parenting we need to trust our gut more than our “experts.” Sometimes an experienced mom is more of an expert than anyone else. Sometimes our kids don’t need “training” they just need our presence.