By far, when moms send me emails, it’s to talk about their new baby’s sleep issues. My #1 blog post is my High Needs Babies – My Experience Raising a High Needs Toddler, where I share my struggle raising a baby who never, ever wanted to sleep.
At the time, I did not know if I was doing the right thing. Franklin was only a few months old when my well meaning neighbor knocked on my door and handed me a copy of Ferber’s book on controlled extinction (you gradually stop checking on your kid until he finally gives up and sleeps without you), and then Weissbluth’s book on Cry It Out (leave them in the crib and let ‘em wail until they give up.)
No, I did not know if I was doing the right thing by not sleep training him, by breastfeeding him on demand, by sharing my bed with him. But I felt, in my gut, that he needed it. If I turned out to be wrong, I would have at least known that I followed my instinct, that I acted out of love. If I had sleep trained him, I would have acted out of fear and against what I felt was right, and if I somehow had harmed him the process, I never would have forgiven myself.
3 years after he was born, I got pregnant again. During my pregnancy, when people would ask me if I wanted a boy or a girl, I would laugh and say I only want a baby who sleeps, and gender really did not matter. I still remember breathing through contractions in the early hours of the morning trying to get through them while putting Franklin back to sleep, since he wasn’t sleeping through the night yet.
When Nicholas was born, I was determined to raise him the same way I had raised Franklin, except more relaxed. There would be no sleep training of course, I would breastfeed him at least until age 3, and he would also share my bed (Franklin had moved into a big boy bed by then.) I also purchased an electric baby swing, so that Nicholas could swing away during naps if he needed it. Gone were the days when I would obsess over the quality of their sleep. Will they learn to sleep on their own if they fall asleep at the breast? Will they get low quality sleep if they are in the car or in a swing? Do they have to eat before or after? Should they go to bed before 7? Do they need 2 naps a day or more? Should I let them sleep as much as they want, or limit their naps so they sleep better at night?
UGH. I wish I could hug each and every new mom out there who is spending those stressful first years stressing even more because of everyone’s contradictory advice. I went with my gut, and my gut told me this:
If sleep is associated with pleasant memories, my kids will end up loving it. If sleep is associated with increased stress hormones, crying, and fear, they will fight it even more. And so I made sure that naps and bedtime were filled with kisses, cuddles, warm milk, and peace.
And guess what. My boys are now 4 and 8. Bedtime is lovely. Mornings are lovely. They both sleep all night. And they love sleep so much that I have to wake them up in the morning to go to school, otherwise we end up being late. One night, I woke up with food poisoning, and threw up until 5 in the morning. But I was able to sleep in in the morning because they also did. On the weekend, I curl up on the couch with my favorite blanket, sip a cup of tea or Bulletproof Coffee in the dark, and get some alone time because they’re still snoozing. And when they wake up, I slide in the bed with them, and we snuggle for a long time. Beds are so comfy and warm, they look forward to being in them now!
If Franklin wakes up first, we cuddle for a little bit until he decides he wants to read. When Nicholas wakes up, I get in his bed, and he wraps his little arms around my neck. Sometimes, he falls asleep again for a while, or he just lies there with me. “Let’s cuddle,” he whispers. When he’s done, he will then pick our roles for the day.
“Mom, how about I’m Baby Mario and you’re Princess Peach.”
“OK. Hi, Baby Mario!”
“Hi Princess Peach. *sigh* It’s nice to have a mama.”
I’m not making this conversation up, by the way. He really is this stinkin’ cute!
As for bedtime, it is filled with cuddles too. All 3 of us live in a one bedroom condo (my choice right now as having a house would add nothing but more stress and clutter,) so we go to the bedroom where Nicholas sleeps (it’s darker and he’s a lighter sleeper.) I send them to bed, and come in a few minutes later. They make me pretend to lie down on them as if they are a mattress, after which I have to act surprised and say: “This mattress is so lumpy! What’s going on here?!” They giggle and start making weird noises. “What! Is there a cow in the bed? My goodness!” or they say sweet things like “I love you mommy!” to which I have to say: “Aw! What a sweet talking mattress!”
When we’re done getting our giggles out, I lie down between them. If Franklin can’t settle down, I send him to our bed in the living room, and join him later. Sometimes, we’ll all fall asleep and I’ll carry him to our bed when I wake up around 10 PM.
Yes, sometimes I wish I could put them in their beds, close the door, and do adult things. But the truth is that I’m tired by then and I’ll just go to sleep too. Besides, the time will come when they don’t want me in their beds anymore. One day, they’ll be so big that they’ll go out and party with their friends and come back when I’m asleep (right, like I’m going to be able to sleep until they’re back!) They’ll do homework late at night and put themselves to bed. They’ll wake up and dress themselves and go to school. One day, they will move out. I won’t be the center of their world anymore.
But believe me, mama. There is this sweet little period of time between babyhood and teenage years when children both sleep all night and think you’re the best thing since sliced bread. It’s only a few short years, but they are real. I’m there right now, and I go to sleep every night and wake up every morning trying to hold on to them and cherish them.
They are my reward for following my gut.
Joanna Steven is an Amazon best-selling author, the creator of the Nourished Village, a supportive community for health conscious attachment parenting moms, and mama to 2 loving boys she is raising by following her heart. You can follow her on her blog, Facebook, and you can buy her books on Amazon here.
Image owned by Joanna Stevens