Do you hear that? That’s the sound of a toddler soundly sleeping through the night…and it’s HEAVENLY!
For three years we haven’t had a night of uninterrupted sleep in our house. We haven’t had a night without a 2-4 hour bedtime struggle. We haven’t had a night that one or both of us wasn’t curled up on the floor or bed next to Avery.
Until last week.
What changed? We FINALLY stuck with sleep training. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t fun. But we stuck with it and it worked!!
We followed the recommendations of our preschool director. We found a week where both Micah and I could be home at 6:30 on the dot. We made bedtime routine consistent – 2 books from mommy and 2 books from daddy. We left his room at exactly 7pm with the door wide open and we waited.
When he ran out of his room we calmly, without any emotion, as boring as humanly possible, scooped him up and put him back in his bed. We calmly answered his questions without engaging too much. When he asked for mommy and daddy we told him we were right outside his door. When he said he didn’t want to be alone we told him that we were helping him sleep in his bed so he could get the best sleep to be healthy and have energy during the day. When he cried we reminded him that learning new things is hard, but he can do it.
The first night was actually not that bad. He ran out of his room 5 times, then stayed on his bed throwing stuffed animals out the door for about 15-20 minutes. Then talked to himself until he fell asleep.
Night two was miserable.
We had about an hour of him running out of the room. He screamed and cried when we brought him back. He koala clutched his little body to ours and we had to pry him off. When we tried to leave the room he grabbed at our arms, hands, anything in desperation to get us to stay with him. It was heartbreaking and awful. I wanted more than anything to say screw it and snuggle him up. But I didn’t.
He woke up in the middle of the night and did the same thing. I stood outside the door of his room crying just as much as he was. For five of the longest minutes of my life I stood there, crying and repeating to myself the mantra that this is good for him. I’m being a good parent. I’m doing what is best for him. I am helping him get sleep that he so desperately needs to be healthy and happy during the day.
I emailed our preschool director insisting this must not be working. She reassured me that this would be the worst night and it should get better.
Despite the awful night, he came running into our room happy as can be at 6 am the next morning and we told him how proud of him we were that he slept all by himself. He beamed with pride and happily snuggled up with us. It felt great to know that the next day he didn’t hate us for making him sleep in his room the night before. It was incredibly reassuring that as upset as he was in the moment, it didn’t stay with him.
The next night was a little better. The night after that a little better. Then he stopped waking in the middle of the night. He even stopped screaming and crying when we left his room.
Some nights he still tells us that he doesn’t want to be alone. We remind him that we are right outside his door keeping him safe and sound. We remind him that he is never alone because we are always in his heart. He protests briefly then quietly talks to himself until he falls asleep.
Some nights he asks for water. Some nights he says he has to go potty. But even with the delay tactics, we leave his room at 7, keep the door open, and he stays in his bed. He either falls asleep right away when he’s exhausted, or stays up chatting with his stuffed animals until he falls asleep.
We have evenings to actually spend time together, talk, sort through baby clothes, get some work done, clean up the house, or just sit and watch tv. And what’s even better is that Avery is getting 11 hours of much-needed sleep a night. He isn’t nearly as miserable during the day. He has less meltdowns. And in general he is a much happier little boy.
I know that once the baby comes, chances are all this will fly out the window and we will be all curled up collecting massive amounts of sleep debt in the same bed again. But for now, it’s really nice knowing that not only is he getting the sleep he NEEDS, but that I was able to be strong enough to help him learn to do it.
Parenting is tough in so many ways. And the older he gets, the more confusing it seems. When they are itty bitty it’s overwhelming in a different way. You have no idea what you are doing, your whole existence has been rocked to its core…but the rules are pretty cut and dry. Feed them, bathe them, change diapers…repeat.
Then they get older and it gets more complicated. You have to do things that they very adamantly protest. You have to be willing to have them be mad at you. You have to be the “bad guy”. This was probably the first time I have had to truly be a parent. Not to say that the past three years have been devoid of parenting, but I’m talking about the “real” stuff. The hard stuff. The times you have to be the bad guy because it will make your child healthier, stronger, safer and a better human being.
When Avery was younger I never could stomach hearing him cry. I couldn’t justify the importance of sleep training. So we tried and failed several times. But when his sleep went from simple co-sleeping to a night long struggle where no one in the house was getting the sleep they needed, we had to make a change. I had to force myself to let him cry, to hurt his feelings, to let him be unhappy so that he could get what he needs. And I’m so glad I did. It’s never easy hearing your little one sad or mad or upset. Your first instinct is to make it STOP, to run in and comfort them. It’s even worse when you know that your actions are causing them to be upset. But the older our little ones get the more we will have these tough parenting moments. The ones where you have to allow your kids to be really upset because you know, as their parent, that it is what is best for them. In the moment it feels like torture. You feel like a terrible person, a terrible mom, a terrible parent. You may even feel like you are doing the wrong thing. But I promise, if you know it’s what’s best and you tough it out…everyone will be happier in the end.