Archives for September 2012

When Nighttime =/= Sunshine or Roses

After my last post I had a friend comment how happy she was for us that our transition to two littles was going smoothly in the bedtime category.  Oops!  I guess my relative silence on the matter of the sleep transition followed by a glowing review of our dear daughter’s sleeping habits may have been a little misleading.

It’s so easy in the blog world to read all of those rosy details we bloggers like to announce on a regular basis and to slip into thinking that our favorite bloggers’ lives are full of shiny details complete with sunshine and a bouquet of fresh roses.  (Not that I claim to be anyone’s favorite blogger… but maybe one day…)

But, truly, that is not the case.  Alas, for every shiny detail there are hundreds of not-so-pretty ones I just happen to run out of time for at the end of my posts.  So today (to be fair) I am going to dedicate an entire post to all of those nitty gritty details I would rather leave out…

The transition from one to two was easier than expected, with one glaring exception: bedtime.

Let me give you a bit of background…

Newborn Evangeline sleeping peacefully...

Newborn Evangeline sleeping peacefully…

After you have a baby the first thing everyone wants to know is “Are they sleeping through the night yet?”  Well, this was a complicated question for me because I didn’t *think* my baby was sleeping through the night… but I was sleeping through the night!  So… how do you tell a myriad of acquaintances “Oh I don’t know… I sleep all night, so I’m not sure.  [awkward silence] Cause ya know… we’re co-sleeping so if she needs to nurse she just latches on herself.”

So instead I just always answered “yes” and left it at that…

And then I started nighttime elimination communication with Evie around 16 months old.  And guess what?  She was not sleeping through the night.  She needed to wake up to go potty at least 2 or 3 (sometimes 4) times.  And guess who got to wake up to take her?  So, for the last year or so I have had a total of one… yes one… full night of uninterrupted sleep.  We have had lots of dry nights, but in order to do that I just need to wake up and take her potty.

I have gotten used to not having 8 hours of continuous sleep, but it did become problematic when Stephen came along.  See, Evangeline still nursed herself back to sleep, and Stephen (being a newborn) was unable to wait long between nursing sessions.  On top of that, Evie was anxious with all the change and her nursing back to sleep in 5 minutes or less became 30… 60… 90 minutes or more.  We ended up getting 3 or 4 hours of sleep – on a really good night.  This went on for weeks.

Some nights I was so exhausted and so distraught over our predicament that even with both children asleep on either side of me all I could do was sit in bed and cry.  What was I doing wrong??  For two years I firmly believed that we were doing the best thing for our daughter, and now she wasn’t sleeping.  She was anxious and most nights consisted of plenty of tears for both of us.  This was not good for her!  I began second-guessing myself and retracing my steps to figure out exactly where we had gone wrong.  But I couldn’t see it; unless my entire philosophy of mothering a baby was bankrupt (and I could not believe that) there was no way to make this work.

And then, I was blessed with a conversation with a very good friend.  They have four children, and much the same parenting style.  I explained to her what was going on and she let me in on a couple good secrets that I would like to share with all of you…

1. All children are different.  One of their babies didn’t WANT to co-sleep.  They happened to have a crib on hand and they finally tried that; he slept perfectly there.  He just didn’t like being in bed with them!  He wanted his own space!  Go figure… so yeah, co-sleeping is wonderful, but it isn’t the goal, it’s just one way to care for your child.

2. All children have hard times.  The mistake I was making wasn’t in my parenting style, it was in my expectations of what that style would do for my child.  My good friend also told me the story of how their best sleeper since birth suddenly stopped sleeping – for an entire year.  There was a lot of stress and outside anxieties that probably attributed, but even with attachment parenting techniques and a clear track record – he just stopped sleeping.  And her sister who had the total opposite philosophy on sleep training?  Eventually some of her kids stopped sleeping well at night too.

So why don’t children sleep through the night?  Not because you’re a bad mom!  But because we live in a fallen world, and despite all our efforts, our children are never going to be free from adversity.  Back to my mistake… I thought that by co-sleeping, nursing on demand, baby wearing and all of those wonderful practices (and they are wonderful) I could protect my baby from being introduced to the difficulties this life brings at too young an age.

And so, when her little brother was born, creating upheaval and adversity in her life that I couldn’t fix – I thought I must have done something wrong.  Should I have protected her less?  Should we have waited until she was older to have a baby?  No and NO!  I was asking the wrong questions, because I had the wrong presuppositions.  We live in a fallen world, and it is impossible for us to protect even our babies from hard times.  Adversity comes with the territory in this life, and we very rightly wish we could eliminate that from our lives and the lives of our children.  But we can’t.

What we can do is love them a little more.  Hold them a little tighter.  Reassure them always that they are loved and that they will never be left alone in the hard times.  Pray for them and point them away from this broken world and toward the things that are above.  That is all you need to do and all you can do.

Sometimes nighttime does not equal sunshine (or roses), and no matter what your parenting philosophy is – it’s not going to change that.  So, at 2am when all we want to do is sleep but we can’t seem to do anything but cry – we can let our crying children cling to us for comfort as we cling to Christ for strength.  My daughter has cried herself to sleep.  But she has never had to cry herself to sleep alone.  Our family has trials and difficult times, but we walk through them together.  My children are not independent, and I don’t ever want them to be.  I want our entire family to always share a relationship of interdependence on one another.  And eventually they will grow and have their own families and begin a new cycle of depending on their family for that unique fellowship of walking together in this life.

Likewise, as Christians, trials are a part of our existence until that Glorious Last Day.  Jesus never promised us that carrying a cross would be easy, He only promised us that we would never have to carry it alone.  And so, we come together once a week and receive His promise in God’s Word.  We commune with Christ and the whole Church as we eat and drink forgiveness, life and salvation.  And as the Body of Christ we always strive to bear one another’s burdens so that we never need be alone.

The Sweet Sound of Sleep

“Should you go check on her?” My dear husband asked nervously after about three minutes.

You see… our beautiful, nearly two and a half year old, daughter was upstairs all by herself.  Not making a sound.  I had just come downstairs after trying to put her to sleep.  We did our bedtime routine, as usual, and I laid down to nurse her to sleep… just as I had hundreds of nights before.

Evangeline has nursed to sleep since she was a newborn.  There have been few instances that Daddy has put her down, or the car… but on her own?  Never.  Not until three nights ago.  She wasn’t falling to sleep nursing, and her new brother downstairs needed his Mommy.  So what’s a girl to do?  I told her good night and that when she was ready to go to sleep I would come back up… and then I left.

I quickly nursed Stephen in anticipation of her calling for me.  We waited… and waited… and waited… but all we heard was the sweet sound of sleep.  Nothing.  After about ten minutes a mixture of nerves and thoughts of “could it really be…” forced me back up the stairs just to be sure.  Yup.  Out cold… I was thrilled.  And also… a little disappointed.

You know how moms always have that bittersweet “They don’t need me anymore…” reaction to new milestones, especially ones that take them farther away from you or bring new independence.  Of course they do still need us, just differently than they did before.  But mostly, we were thrilled.  Seriously, you should have seen the smile on Jake’s face when I told him she was sleeping.

We’ve known for a while now that it was just a matter of time before she made this transition.  Even before she turned two I could see the writing on the proverbial wall.  And, just like we did that night, I have been waiting all these months for her to be ready to make that leap.  She’s fallen asleep on her own three times now, and I am so so happy.  Not because she is more independent, and not because she won’t be as “needy” at bedtime anymore.  I’m happy because I know we did it the right way.

Now… before you go all mommy-defensive on me – I am NOT saying you did it the wrong way.  Every child is different, and every child needs a different level of comforting and attentiveness.  What worked for us, may not work for another family or even our family later down the road.  So, now that my disclaimer is well in place… let me finish my thoughts.

For two years well-meaning family, friends and books have all attempted to explain why I was doing it the wrong way.  Why taking this kind of approach to bedtime was unhealthy or detrimental to my child’s ability to do something or other.  Many thought that she would just never learn to fall asleep on her own and I would be chained to her bedside until she was twelve.  Not only did none of those things happen, but we have enjoyed so many wonderful benefits from following our instincts.

Evie is a compassionate and sensitive girl, and the flip side of that is she needs a LOT of love and attention.  She is a very emotionally attuned person, and so her emotions need a bit more work than other children’s do.  Stephen?  Totally different… But our Evangeline is what most would call a “high maintenance” child.  The more the work the better reward though, right?  I knew our approach would pay off, and it has.

She never had to cry herself to sleep… when she did cry, we were right there holding her tight.

She always knows we will be there for her.

She is a secure, well-adjusted child.

Did I always enjoy nursing her for half an hour or more every single night?  No… not really.  Many nights I looked forward to nighttime with much less than excitement.  It was work – always.  But guess what?  God did not put me on this Earth and give me two beautiful children so that I could make them “independent” or “self-soothing” as early as possible.  He gave me two children to love and care for, day and night.  He gave me two children to raise to be confident, loving and strong adults.  He put me on this Earth to serve – and that includes my children.

So many mothers today take their vocation and look at it from the perspective of “How soon can I get my life back?”  Questions like, when will I get to go back to work or when will I get to sleep eight hours without waking up are not questions I ask.  Waking up once or twice (or more) during the night, spending long days with just me and the little ones, never having more than a three hour break, having a date night out only on that rare occasion… that is my life – indefinitely.  Someday I may be given a new season, but that is still yet to be seen.  This is the life I have been given, and it’s not one I am going to run from as fast as I can.

Instead, I am going to embrace this life.  I am going to have as many children as God sees fit to give our family and I am going to help them to get to sleep as long as their little hearts need me there.  Even if that means I have another ten… or twenty… or thirty years of it.  And I hope I do.  Not because it makes me happy, but because living in perpetual service to others is exactly the kind of life that causes me to forget my own happiness, allowing me to experience joy instead.

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