There are some things you are taught before you become a parent. “Facts” that you innocently, and quite unfortunately begin to take at face value. Snippets of so called truths that eventually make you feel you have failed at parenting. Some of these “facts”, to name just a few, are:
“A baby starts to sleep through the night at around 6 months, maybe even sooner”
“A baby should start to eat solids at 6 months”
“Between 18 and 24 months, a toddler begins to talk”
“Babies take their first steps between 9 and 12 months and are walking well by 14 or 15 months”
“A child can be potty trained in 3 days”
“A preschooler should have enough self control to behave in public and focus on any one given activity for a significant amount of time”
“Children enjoy the playground, water play, and birthday parties”
“Children love Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc.”
And my personal favorite:
“Babies should be put in bed when they are drowsy and learn to fall asleep on their own; an older child should be tucked in and left alone to doze off on his/her own”
I know these facts are meant to serve as guidelines in that most children, maybe, should follow these rules without much of a problem. After all, parents, new or old, need guidelines for every stage of their child’s life in order to get some kind of direction, reassurance and, well, guidance. Sadly however, society has found a way to make parents feel like failures should their child fall short of anyone of these requirements, these rules, these expectations. Sometimes there is need for special attention, and maybe even some professional help, but more often than not, there isn’t. Sometimes a child just needs a little more time than most to perfect a certain skill. Sometimes a child may not enjoy activities which are enjoyed by most. Sometimes, a child might not fit into that ridiculous mold that society and schools have made for them. And instead of recognizing the fact that children, or rather people are all different, we get awful looks, we get judged, and worst of all, we are given advice.
I can’t count the number of times I have heard useless statements like:
“You’ve spoiled your child, no wonder he’s so demanding”
“Maybe he’s just too lazy to (do whatever it is he’s supposed to be doing at his age)”
“Why is he like that?”
“Oh, I got my children used to (doing whatever your child is not or not doing whatever your child is); you should have done that too”
One of the requirements my four-year-old has never been able to meet is that “sleeping on his own” one. He has never, ever, been able to fall asleep on his own. Even when he was a baby, when I believed in the “truth” that all babies should be able to sleep on their own, and I tried several awful techniques to make it possible, it never happened. Some “experts” will make you believe that if this doesn’t actually happen… Well it’s not supposed to not happen! And that’s that! One of my least favorites is Gina Ford who is so confident about her methods that she claims that she has never cared for a baby who has suffered from colic. Wow! Never? A nurse with over 12 years of experience, having cared for more than 3,000 babies has never had one of her babies suffer from colic, which affects 20% of babies, and for which the reasons are still unclear. She leads you to believe in her book that her discipline is so good, that she has dodged the colic bullet every single time. So basically, what you are led to believe is if your baby does cry endlessly because of colic, it’s your own fault. And if your baby still doesn’t sleep on his/her own and through the entire night, that’s also your fault.
Sleep deprivation is a killer, I have to say. My husband and I suffered chronic sleep deprivation with our first-born for 3 years, yes, three years, and now with our second for about 10 months. So there was a time when we were so desperate that we tried the cry-it-out sleep training method. We were convinced that we had ruined our son and that it was entirely our fault that he couldn’t sleep on his own or through the night, that we were at it night after night after night, until our baby, less than 12 months old, taught himself how to vomit on cue. Unbelievable, I know. But it happened, because he knew that if he were to vomit we would throw in the towel immediately, hug him and kiss him and let him sleep in our bed for the rest of the night. He did that because he was desperate. Because he simply could not fall asleep on his own. And today, at the age of 4 years and 2 months, he still cannot fall asleep on his own.
A friend of mine emailed me last month. I thought the email was equally humbling as it was amusing. Humbling because my friend wrote to ask for advice on how to help her little one sleep on her own; she came to me for help! And amusing because here I am, four years of experience later, still trying to figure out how on earth I’m going to get my son to sleep on his own. She actually asked me this because there was an event she desperately wanted to attend a few months down the line, which, as most adult events do, takes place in the evening. And the only way that would be possible was if her child would accept to be put to bed by a babysitter. Reading her story made me giggle, and it also made me a little sad. Oh the countless times we have missed out on events we have desperately wanted to attend, from concerts, to movies, to dinners… Dinners are actually the trickiest because no one starts dinner at 9:45 PM, which is as early as we can show up. Most restaurants are closed by then. By the time both our children are in bed, we barely have the time or the energy to watch a little TV and get ready for bed.
People always ask us, with the best of intentions, why we do this to ourselves. It hurts me every time I hear it and I am sick of trying to explain our situation. But I do understand that those whose children sleep quickly and with little fuss can’t possibly fathom why it would take us an hour and half to two hours and a half to get our child to sleep, let alone those with no children at all.
Although my husband and I would love to just get out a little at night, spend some time together or with our friends, we have given up on trying to do anything about our current situation. In the past we tried the silly methods, the heartbreaking methods, and the logical methods. We tried everything we could, and our failure has led us to accept the status quo. Our night goes about something like this: We begin the negotiation process at 8:00 PM, trying to get our son into the bathroom. He will typically try to stall by saying he’s still hungry, or needs to go to the toilet, or by trying to talk his way out of the shower. At around 8:45 PM, we’re getting him into his pajamas, a process which is usually quick enough. Then the light goes out, the reading light is on, and we start with the bedtime stories. Our rule is three stories, which seem to be getting longer as the kids get older. Then we turn the light off, kiss goodnight, and try to sleep. And I will lay there with him until he falls asleep. That means I could be there for another few minutes, another hour, or until my husband wakes me up before he goes to bed.
Now although our bedtime routine can be extremely long and quite draining, knowing how sacred it is to our little boy makes it all the less painful. The routine is so sacred, that no one can meddle with it. No matter whom it is. No matter how much Daddy would love to read a bedtime story or just stick around while I read, the answer is always: “No, Mom can read me a bedtime story, and Daddy, you can sleep in your own room”. He loves his Dad to death, but nevertheless, Dad is still not allowed to interfere with the routine.
A few weeks ago a good friend of mine asked if we could go to an art gallery with her because she didn’t want to go alone. The exhibition, she said, would start at 7:00 PM. I told her we’d be there as soon as she asked, and before I found out it would require us to be there at 7. I panicked a little when I realized what I’d done, but then I thought that this might actually work, and that I wouldn’t know if our son could be left with someone else at night if we didn’t try. So that night we got dressed quickly and kissed him goodbye, after having told him a number of times starting a few days before the event, that we would be going out and then coming back, and that his grandmother would put him in bed and read to him. To our surprise, he took it pretty well, although right before we walked out the door, he seemed to have some hope that we’d be back before bedtime.
At around 8:30 PM we got the call from my mom. I could hear him crying hysterically in the background, and then when he took the phone and tried to talk to me, he sounded like his heart had just broken. He was absolutely inconsolable. We got home about 20 minutes after the call, only to find him lying on the couch in front of the door, completely exhausted. He refused to go to bed before “the routine” with Mommy. He got up as soon as he saw me, threw his arms around me, and said: “I want to cuddle with you Mommy. Can you read me a story please?” And although the way things had gone that night made me really sad, it also made me feel so incredibly special.
It’s times like these that I try to remind myself that our days with our children, while they’re still children, are very limited. Of course, every phase comes with its own pleasures, but these sweet little, cuddly pleasures will not last forever, and the thought of it makes me very sad. Sad that they will come to an end much too soon, and sad that instead of enjoying every minute, I sometimes find myself angry and tried about them, and trying to change them or stop them. Yes, sometimes I’d rather be out having a good time, and yes, sometimes I do get tired and just want a minute to myself. But there is nothing in this world better or more pure than the love your child can give you, and the sheer appreciation they show for the seemingly little things you do to make them happy. Nothing can top that, not even a night on the town.
The day will come when we will have more time for ourselves, and I keep hearing from friends with older kids that those days come too soon. So in the meanwhile, I choose to disregard all that “expert” advice and all those dirty looks. Yes, my son needs me there to help him fall asleep, and I just love that!
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