“Sleeping through the night”

Whenever we talk with other parents of babies, I’ve noticed a pattern of conversation. It can pretty much be summed up in the following questions:

What’s his/her name?

How old is he/she?

Is he/she sitting/crawling/standing/walking?

Is he/she sleeping through the night yet?

The last question is asked, at least by me, out of desperation. I’ve been SO TIRED for SO LONG and all I want is just 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Heck, even 6 would be amazing. No matter how delicious and life-giving coffee may be, it only helps to a point. Even a triple-shot tall latte is no substitute for a good night’s sleep.

This situation has caused our little family much anxiety. My now one-year-old son still does not sleep through the night. He wakes up an average of twice a night and starts crying. Sometimes it’s a legitimate reason: he doesn’t feel good, he’s too cold/hot, his diaper leaked. Nine times out of ten, though, there’s no reason. He just dropped his pacifier, or woke up and realized he was alone. On the good nights, my husband or I stumble in, give him his pacifier, and he’s asleep again in no time. On the bad nights, one of us is walking him in circles around his room for the fourth time in three hours, on the verge of screaming, because he WILL NOT SHUT UP AND GO TO SLEEP LIKE A NORMAL PERSON.

I recently reached breaking point on one such night, and it prompted some changes in our family dynamic. These changes only occurred because I finally realized three things:

1) I cannot do it all, and THAT’S OK.

It turns out, if I let someone else help, this does not make me a bad mother. This may sound like a silly revelation to a lot of parents, but I really have to consciously struggle against the thought that I have to be able to do it all. That I somehow don’t deserve to be happy if I’m not personally overseeing every aspect of our domestic lives.

I’m really no sure where I get this compulsion to be Super Mom, especially since I’m so bad at it. I think it’s partially because of my personality. I’m a perfectionist. I have to to everything right the first time, and I HATE making mistakes. When I do make mistakes, I beat myself up over them until I get it right. Which has made the last year incredibly difficult, mentally and emotionally. Because I’ve made a LOT of mistakes.

Also, I think it has to do with the fact that I have such amazing role models in my life. Both my mother and my husband’s mother are two of the smartest, most nurturing, hardest working women I’ve ever met in my life.  I’m always trying to live up to their example, and I’m always falling short. What I have to continually remind myself, when I get really down and full of self loathing for not being perfect, is that they’ve each had 30 years more experience than me. Of course they are better mothers than I am. They’ve had more practice.

2) If I don’t take care of myself, I cannot take care of my child.

Again, this may sound pretty obvious. I’ve read this is pretty much every baby book or magazine out there. But no matter how many times my doctor, mother, fried, husband or favorite child-reading tome said I needed to take care of myself, I didn’t understand how important it was until I practically had a nervous breakdown. I thought if I took care of myself, I was being selfish, but that’s not entirely true. If I don’t take care of myself, it turns out I’m even less equipped than usual to take care of my child.

Also, taking care of myself isn’t all sleeping late and pedicures (I actually don’t get pedicures, but you get my drift). It means eating right (blah), and exercising (double blah), going to bed early, and limiting my intake of alcohol and caffeine (I just cried a little). Which, in case you can’t tell by my comments, are things that are not always fun to do. But they are necessary, and I have to try.

3) Not all babies (or toddlers, or older children) sleep through the night.

When my son was first born, and we took him to doctor for his one-week checkup, our paediatrician gave us a book written by one of his colleagues at the practice, all about how to get your baby to sleep through the night. The book laid out The Schedule parents should follow in order to get their children to sleep through the night. If you followed it exactly, the book claimed, your child would sleep soundly through the night at some point during the first year. If your child WASN’T sleeping through the night, well, then you must not be following their suggestions to the letter. The intentions behind the book were good – our pediatricians wanted to promote breastfeeding by creating a steady, predictable schedule for mom and baby. And a lot of the suggestions in the book were very good. But my baby wasn’t sleeping through the night, and I was OBSESSED with following The Schedule to make it happen.

As it turned out, it was almost impossible to follow the book’s suggestions exactly. For one thing, my son was either being taken care of by my mother-in-law or in daycare, and they all had their own ideas (or just not enough time) to follow The Schedule exactly. Also, setting a schedule is one thing. Getting baby to follow it is something else entirely. I would practically hyperventilate whenever I thought about The Schedule and our failure to follow it exactly. In hindsight, I probably should have just taken the books suggestions with a grain of salt and moved on (which is what we eventually had to do anyway).

Recently I had a conversation with some coworkers where, for once, I wasn’t the person asking, “Does your baby sleep through the night?” As it turned out, EVERYONE in the room with children had at least one baby that did not (or still does not) sleep through the night. Suddenly, I was just flooded with this huge sense of relief. All this time, I’d thought I was the one doing something wrong. That my son’s failure to sleep through the night was somehow a reflection of bad parenting. As it turns out, it’s perfectly normal; this one thing does not singlehandedly brand me a “Bad Mother.” This sounds awful, but it really made me feel better to know I wasn’t the only one suffering through prolonged child-induced sleep deprivation.

So, the bottom line is, we’re making some changes. They may work, or you may get another post from me in a month bemoaning the state of my bleary-eyed existence. Either way, it won’t be boring.

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One thought on ““Sleeping through the night”

  1. I don’t know if/when Tabby actually started sleeping through the night, because there wasn’t really just a day it happened and STUCK. She’d have a good week or two, then something would change, illness, vacation, lunar eclipse, and she’d be waking up again. Part of the problem was that she would be in bed something like 10-12 hours a night, but I wouldn’t go to bed until much later, so by the time I had gotten into bed, I’d get to sleep maybe two hours, then she’d be up, then I’d have to get her down again.
    I do know one thing that was especially hard was setting limits. Sometimes she had a real reason for waking. Hunger/diaper/nightmare but when she woke up JUST because, and then REFUSED to go back down, we had to teach her to self soothe. Ie, we checked on her, we realized nothing was wrong, we tucked her back in and we left. She’d cry, and I’d check back after a few minutes, staring at the clock, while every second felt like an eternity… But after a little while, she’d get herself back to sleep, and she’d stop expecting me to entertain her at 2am because she was bored.
    Now, every baby is different, every parent is different, and this might not be something you want to do. You don’t have to! It worked for me, b/c she was intelligent enough, even at 12-18 months, to realize, “If I cry, Mommy has to come. I’m bored, so I’ll cry.” She also learned that “Mommy will feed you, change you, and tuck you in at 2am, otherwise you go back to sleep when you’re bored.”
    Some kids it works. Some kids it doesn’t. We had it down pat for over 6 months, (to where her wakeups were quickly dealt with) then she had a trauma at the Doctors, started having nightmares, and we had to start from scratch making her feel safe and secure again. It was brutal.

    But whatever you do, remember to breath, remember to sleep. Heck, if you NEED it, take a sickday off work, drop baby off at daycare, and GO HOME AND SLEEP. Sleep=sanity, and crazy moms help no one. 😉 You can do it!

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