Nothing is more humbling in parenthood than this simple fact:
You cannot force your kids to sleep.
There are lots of things you can physically force your kids to do, like take baths and get dressed (both things I had to physically force Phaedra to do this week). You can also trick or manipulate your kids into doing things, like eating healthy (sorry, Phaedra, you’re not always eating JUST spaghetti sauce) or using the potty. But no amount of strength, asking, pleading, yelling, or ignoring will force your kids to sleep. It’s one area where they are completely in the driver’s seat. You can lead a kid to a Mickey Mouse sheet-covered bed, but you can’t make them sleep.
F*** you, Mommy! Sleeping is for nerds!
I know what some of you are thinking: oh yes you can, Janel. I know. But I can’t do it. I can yell, argue, and behave in all sorts of ugly ways when it comes to the bedtime showdown, but I cannot put my kid in a dark room, in a comfortable bed, say, “Good night”, shut the door, and listen to the inevitable crying. Some people can. These people always report that after they employed this method, they began sleeping fabulously. They tell tales of this mysterious land called Eight Hours of Sleep-onia, where the babies go to sleep AND STAY ASLEEP at reasonable hours, sleep all night, and wake refreshed and happy. The parents do this weird thing called “sleep in a bed ALL BY THEMSELVES”, and likewise sleep the whole night through, feeling like a human being come 9 am. It sounds beautiful. I am jealous. I am envious.
I want to visit this magical place.
Does it look like this? In my head it does.
But I can’t. Not if it means “crying it out’. I just personally can’t do it. I always say that people should do what feels right for them and their family. I know people whom I respect and love that have used this technique, and their kids seem like great kids. It obviously works for them. This isn’t me passing judgment on this technique or those who employ it; it just doesn’t work for me, so I don’t do it. Maybe I’m too empathetic: when I hear them crying out for me, I can’t help but put myself in their shoes, feeling sad and scared and so desperately wanting my mom to come and hug me, and wondering why she won’t come and help me. I tried it with Phaedra when she was a baby once out of desperation; I lasted all of about 3 minutes before I rushed in, hugged her tight, and promised to never do that to her again. Have I wanted to? Totally. But I never have. And I never will.
Which brings us back to where we’re at right now: whatever lame-ass technique I’m using right now which is obviously not working. The bedtime situation in our house right now is a hot mess. It is a disaster, a train wreck, insert any other analogy that compares our situation to a situation so FUBAR that there’s no way to repair the pile of suckage laying in front of you.
I have one kid that treats sleep like its fucking Kryptonite: she avoids it at all costs, making her interactions with it as brief and far apart as possible. If Phaedra takes a nap during the day, at any point at all, she will be awake until at least 11pm. I’m not talking about a two hour nap at 5pm; I’m talking about a two MINUTE nap in the car at 10:30 am. Even the days that she doesn’t nap have gotten ridiculous: she sleeps for an hour and a half, and then comes downstairs, like she just took an awesome nap and is ready to party all night (like RIGHT NOW OH MY GOD WTF PLEASE MAKE THIS KID SLEEP). She is appalled at the suggestion that it is late and she needs to return to bed.
“First question, Mom: How dare you? Second question: Who do you think you are?”
Then there’s the other kid, who might sleep 45 minutes on her own at bedtime, giving me just enough time to squeeze in a shower and perhaps a quick child-free conversation with my husband before she wakes up. The rest of the night is spent holding/nursing this kid, because she can’t sleep without her pacifier, who happens to be ME. Ignoring her demands are pointless as well, because a) she’s too young to understand what the hell I’m trying to tell her/ask her to do, and b) she doesn’t give a shit what I’m trying to tell her/ask her to do; she’s just going to go ahead and c) screech at the top of her lungs until I give her what she wants.
She has strong baby lungs.
We’ve tried the laid-back tactic, where we just try to adapt to this new schedule they’ve apparently decided is the new norm in our house. We reasoned that you can only fight for so long before you just say, “Whatever. I’m tired of getting mad at this. Getting mad does no good at all.” After awhile, though, you realize that this is daytime reasoning, not tired-at-1am-reasoning. When you hit week 3 of watching Antiques Roadshow at 2:45 am with your three-year-old, you’ll decide that you’ve had enough of this approach.
Sometime last week, I opted to switch gears and go with the “completely lose my shit and transform into Mommy Dearest” technique. Guess what? It doesn’t really work. For anyone. At one point, everyone in the house was either yelling, screaming, or crying. Which kind of worked against my goal of getting the girls to sleep.
My newest nighttime parenting role model.
After my husband came home one night and talked me down off the ledge, we all went to sleep — one medium-sized, disgruntled, sleepy family — at the perfectly reasonable time of 2am. Because doesn’t every preschooler and toddler go to bed at 2am? What? They usually go to bed way before then? Incredible.
Every time the sleep bomb explodes in our house, it reminds me that it’s easy to start believing that you’ve got this shit figured out. In reality, you know NOTHING about parenting except for what you figure out moment by moment. Sure, some fun facts you can file away for future reference: don’t give a toddler a regular cup with juice and walk away from her; a quiet kid is a kid happily playing in the toilet; never dress a baby more than 15 minutes before leaving the house if it is a nice outfit. These are rookie mistakes that you can take pride in not repeating the second time around, or even a couple of years down the road with one kid. However, when it comes to sleep, you are periodically reminded that you know absolutely dick about this whole parenting gig.
So, what can you do? What all the best military generals and mothers do: you regroup, rally the troops, and come up with new strategies. For Phaedra, I am going with my husband’s newest strategy (since my strategies obviously suck and result in less sleeping, not more). We’re putting a TV and DVD player in Phaedra’s bedroom. His theory is she can watch movies after bedtime stories don’t work, and fall asleep to the movies. This does work in the living room quite frequently, and she’d be staying in her bedroom, quiet, by herself. (Remember all those things you swore you’d NEVER do with your kids? Yeah, here’s another one I can cross off the list.) For Bellatrix, we’re going to try to get a regular-sized box spring and mattress. She seems to sleep pretty well on her own when she has the room to move around in her sleep, so maybe this next step will help her gain a little bit more bedtime independence.
Keep your fingers crossed, people. If this doesn’t work, I’m probably just going to look into starting an after-hours nightclub in my basement. It can’t be THAT hard to get a liquor license, right?