Sleeping big - FamilyEducation

Sleeping big

November 25,2008

I haven't written anything about this, for fear of jinxing things, but for weeks now T. has been going to sleep by herself in her bed! She is still waking up every few nights to come running into bed with us, but I am no longer lying down with her until she sleeps, disengaging myself from the choke hold she has on my neck--even in sleep--and tiptoeing out of her room. I have those mixed feelings about this, although I thought I would feel more teary and nostalgic about this new milestone. T.'s been going to sleep with me (or Scott now and again) for four years and some months now, and it feels strange to not be there at the moment she slips off to sleep, and her breathing evens out, filling the dark around us. But lately it had been increasingly difficult to get her to go to sleep quickly. I'd lie in the dark, thinking about all the work ahead of me, and she'd chatter and thrash around and do upside down somersaults against the wall. And you know what they say about sleep issues--do what works for you, and when it stops working, fix it. Well, it stopped working--big time. I was emerging from her room well past 8:00 and then had to still read to L., lie with him the requisite minutes (not until he went to sleep, but it still amounted to a solid 10 minutes). By the time I was done with all that bed-hopping in the dark, I was grouchy, sleepy, and not in any mindset to grade a stack of papers.

But now T. is doing it on her own. I tuck her in, sing her three lullabies, and she'll sleep--not until she's popped up three or four times in a twenty-minute period--but still, she's doing it. She has remarkable self-soothing skills--skills L. has never, ever possessed. She'll pile up her stuffies around her and, when she's really worried about the dark, she'll do as I did when I was little: cover her head with her blanket and shut out the world around her.

How did we do it? I can't say we employed any kind of formula to this process--which is lesson #1 in sleep teaching. All those books you read when you're an overtaxed, sleep-deprived, teetering-on-the-edge-of-psychosis parent try to convince you that there is truly only one good way to get your child to learn to sleep. The lesson we eventually learned is that you just can't find a magic formula, and if you spend too much time looking, you'll do yourself and your kid a huge disservice. For us, the turning point happened one evening, after lying in the dark with T. for 40 minutes. I lost patience with the whole process and, stifling my desire to storm out of her room melodramatically, I suggested to T. that she could very well do it on her own.

"Noooooo!" T. wailed at first.

"You can do it T.," I said firmly. We promised her a trip to the Disney store if she could put herself to sleep for one week straight, and then I tucked her in and walked out.

I stood outside her room that first night, holding my breath. Had I really done it? Had I left her in there to fall asleep on her own? Would she feel betrayed and abandoned? What would happen?

What DID happen was that she...fell asleep. True, she popped up twice that night, looking for me. When I told her I was right next door folding laundry in our bedroom, she seemed satisfied and disappeared again--both times. So while we didn't do anything particularly special to get to this point, we are allowing ourselves a pat on the back for having stuck by our attachment-parenting principles, and parented the kids to sleep all these years instead of forcing T. to be independent before she was ready.

We didn't do anything special to get to this point. But as with all milestones, kids reach them when they're ready, whether you are or not. Sometimes all you need to do is be there, standing with that lump in your throat, as you watch your littlest one turn impossibly big, almost right before your eyes.

It will happen.