People have a lot of advice about raising children. A lot.
This is especially true about sleep. All the sleep books that I read were guilty of using scare tactics couched as evidence to convince sleep-deprived parents to stick with a particular method. Using an opposing method either meant that you and your child would become so unattached that he or she would become a sociopath, or you would become so attached that he or she would never ever be capable of independence. Either way you’d be screwed in the long term, and still so sleep-deprived in the short-term that you would be a complete jerk. I speak from experience on the jerk part. Then there are the well-meaning advice givers who parrot back advice from one of the books you recently hurled into a wall. They have the added benefit of telling you long-winded, unsolicited stories about their own children’s sleeping (or lack thereof) habits. As parents we’re almost all guilty of this. I know I’m guilty of this because reliving the trauma of sleep deprivation is very cleansing for me. Less so for the poor schmuck, like you, stuck listening to me.
The thing sage advice givers and slick books don’t tell you is that whatever method you choose probably won’t work forever. Babies grow into kids. Needs change. Expectations change. Suddenly, the dark is scary. Night terrors happen. Extra books will need to be read. Pre-bedtime extreme dehydration, which can only be resolved by a cup of water that should be from the fridge and served in the Monsters, Inc. cup (which is most certainly dirty and likely missing) because only an ass would bring it in the plain white cup, will need to be addressed.
In our house we sometimes fail to stay ahead of the curve of evolving needs and wheedling. We give into some request for a short-term gain, but that leads to a long-term loss.
When it got colder here and was dark by dinner it was so easy to give in to the kids demands for extra snuggles at bedtime. It was warm under those blankets and they were finally quiet and still. What could it hurt this one night to stay a little more? It couldn’t for that one night, but then one became two and two became three and three became a week and a week became a month and a month became an expectation on the kids’ parts that we would always stay with them until they were asleep.
After a while it felt like all we were doing was getting children to sleep or rousting them out of bed in the morning for school. Staying with the kids until they were asleep also meant that I was asleep, which meant that Nathan and I saw each other alone approximately never. It’s not that I don’t love time as a family, but trying to have every household conversation in the presence of the Why-Monster and the Interruptasouras Rex is maddening. Also, never spending time alone with your partner can mean seeing them more as an amalgam of all their annoying habits than as the person you do actually love and respect. So I was a pile of clothes on a chair to Nathan, and he was his shoes left in the middle of the entryway to me.
Finally, we decided enough was enough, and one Friday night over dinner, all Bearenstain Bears style, we had a family meeting. We laid out the plan, which was clear and simple. Read. Brief snuggle. Leave. Children sleep.
The girl mulled this over for a bit while picking her nose. The boy immediately began to look for loopholes. Do you mean every night or just once? How long a snuggle? What exactly do you and Papa need to talk about? The girl continued to pick her nose.
We held our ground because consistency is important, because children need boundaries, and because we really wanted to finish watching the third season of Sherlock, which we had started long before we got ourselves into this mess.
Now it’s 9:30 on the first night under the new regime. The kids have moved through the stages of denial and negotiating. They are in their beds with the lights off, but they’re still awake.
The music ostensibly lulling the girl to sleep suddenly switches, meaning that she has again stood up in her bed to retrieve the iPod off the shelf. The boy is groaning as he flops from one side to the other. When no one immediately responds he increases his volume.
The new music hits a crescendo and the boy reaches his breaking point. “Does anyone think I can sleep with that wailing music?” he yells, sounding much like a Florida retiree annoyed by the teenagers on his lawn.
We intervene to negotiate the lowering of volume, the partial closing of doors, and to offer a gentle reminder that the girl is not to play club DJ at bedtime.
There is relative silence.
“Paaaaatito,” comes the forlorn cry from the girl’s room. “Want Paaaatito.” The stuffed duck is procured.
“Ow. Ow. Ow. Ooooooow,” howls the boy. “My foot. It hurts. I can’t sleep. Ow.”
We can only hope this is a last ditch effort because he can’t help but slur his words.
Silence. Then snores.
One and half hours from bedtime to sleep.
Nathan and I then spend ten minutes alone together (mostly talking about the kids) before I fall asleep mid-sentence. It’s not much time, but it’s enough to make him look distinctly less like a shoe.
This night has been an unmitigated success.