We haven’t slept in three years.
Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining but let’s face it, I want to. And if you’re reading this, you can probably relate to what I’m about to talk about. Can you remember the last time that you slept a full night? Do you spend outrageous amounts of money on products to conceal dark circles? (I find Chanel concealer to be my new best friend). When other parents approach you with blissful, circle-free eyes, raving about the wonder that is parenthood, do you have a rage boiling up inside you that equates to the fire of a thousand suns?
You, my friend, are not alone.
The not sleeping started when I was pregnant with our twins. Sure, I had the common pregnancy ailments like back pain and having to pee every five seconds, but I also had the pleasure of experiencing the worst heartburn anyone has ever experienced. Like, it felt like I was back in college taking a shot of Bacardi 151, but it was every time I ate and it was ALL THE TIME. Also, not as fun. I kept telling myself that being awake at all hours of the night was good practice for when I had the twins, and that was partly true. But nothing could have prepared us for what was to come.
At first, getting the kids to sleep without screaming was next to impossible (see my previous post in which I describe low-crawling out of a child’s room). Once we decided to cry-it-out, it was a string of nights during which there was more crying than sleeping, and more sleeping on the floor of their room (thanks, husband!) than sleeping in our bed. But, slowly, the fluke nights of 8-hour uninterrupted sleep became regular, and those sleepless nights became flukes. We had a good thing going — bath, relaxing story time, cuddling up with blankets and pacifiers, then lights off and we were home free.
Sounds like we accomplished the impossible, doesn’t it? Well, we’re not there yet. During our routine 2-year old well visit at the pediatrician, she mentioned that the twins’ palates and teeth showed signs that they were slightly misshapen because of pacifier use, and she recommended that we discontinue them as soon as possible. Wait, what? You want me to take away the only thing that has allowed us to get ANY sleep in the past 24 months? We looked at her as though she had just sprouted wings and told us she was the Tooth Fairy. On the way home, we contemplated what she had said and came to the conclusion that braces are expensive, so we might as well just rip the band-aid off.
Ripping the band-aid off actually took us six-ish months, and we very recently just took the beloved pacifiers away. Now, bedtime has been turned upside down and night wakings are slightly harder to deal with. They won’t sit still for a story, they talk constantly, there are tears whenever they’re told it’s bedtime, and it feels like this phase is going to last forever. The good news? It’s not going to last forever. I’ve done an incredible amount of research on the topic of infant and toddler sleep and here is what I’ve learned:
Reasons Your Child Isn’t Sleeping:
1. Monsters under the bed
Your toddler is going through an insane amount of change, all in a short period of time. Their imagination is waking up, their little minds are racing, and they aren’t able to turn it off as easily as we are. The shadow on the wall that comes through the curtain isn’t a shadow, it’s a monster trying to get in. The dark isn’t comforting, it’s scary because they can’t see anything. They call out for you, or cry intermittently, because they need your comforting presence to reassure them that all is right in the world. And while you don’t want to reinforce crying out, you do what to reinforce that you are there and will keep them safe. My advice: don’t go up after the first cry. Wait a few minutes to see if they calm themselves. If it sounds like it’s revving up or they don’t let up, then go up and briefly reassure them. You want them to learn to soothe themselves, but you also want them to know you’re there. Also — buy a nightlight. We love the Hatch Baby Rest, because when you’re in the middle of that Netflix binge and you need to turn the night light back on, all you need to do is click a button on your phone. Win!
2. They really want to watch The West Wing too.
Is anyone else re-watching The West Wing and reveling in its ability to be relateable, even 20 years later? Anyway….
Your child has FOMO (fear of missing out), and it’s the worst at night. They don’t WANT to stop playing and rest, and they’re worried that you’re having just as much fun without them. They want to be smack dab in the middle of the action, and you want them to miss it! No way, I’ll just scream til they come get me! Don’t worry, your little one will eventually get the idea that the fun will continue tomorrow (even though I still have major FOMO sometimes, and I’m 33).
3. They miss you!
Your toddler is a stage 4 clinger, and it’s going to be like that for awhile, even in the middle of the night. It’s understandable really, although it may be beyond comprehension at 3am when you’ve been ripped out of a deep sleep. You’ve spent your child’s entire life attending to their every need, and now you’re trying to teach them independence. You’re trying to teach them that they can put themselves back to sleep without you, and it’s a concept that’s likely going to take a little while to get used to. My advice? If your toddler starts wailing for you, wait. Wait five minutes and see if they will soothe themselves. If you absolutely must go into the room, go in and silently soothe them for 30 seconds, then bolt. Do this as many times as is necessary, and DON’T GIVE IN. They’ll get it eventually, I promise.
In closing, parenting is hard — especially when your kid can sleep for 4 hours and have energy for the next 18. Just remember that sleep will happen again sooner than you might think, and in the meantime….. coffee.