By Heather Neal, for Babble.com
Photo courtesy of: Heather Neal
Fact: my son is a terrible sleeper.
This is something I’ve come to accept, and I’ve also come to accept it’s not my fault. We do the best we can to foster positive sleep habits and then sit back and embrace the rest.
When my son graduated to a toddler bed soon after turning 2 (an unavoidable choice given his new propensity to climb out of the crib and crash to the ground), I thought we were doomed. I converted the crib to its toddler-form, refusing to move to a bigger option like a twin-sized bed. It wasn’t because I didn’t want him to seem like such a big boy or to have to purchase a whole new bed. No, it was more selfish than that: I didn’t want the lure of being able to climb into bed with him at night to tempt me. Through all our sleep struggles, I knew I would cave and crawl into bed with him at night if he wouldn’t sleep, the same way I caved and pulled him into my own bed when I couldn’t get him back to sleep in the middle of the night and I was too tired to fight it.
My motivation to avoid sleeping in his bed? I didn’t want to create a bad habit.
I knew from experience that if I let him sleep with me in my bed for three nights in a row, he’d expect it. (Two nights and I could break the “habit,” but three and I was done for.) I knew it’d be easier for him to have a toddler-sized bed. I knew I’d do anything to get him to sleep, or at least to let me be horizontal while coaxing him back into a state of slumber. But I didn’t want him to come to depend on that — to have to have me in his bed to sleep, to forget how to fall asleep without me there. I didn’t want to create new dependencies or crutches, just the same way I feared the pacifier and the sound machine and snacking every time we were in the car.
I spent so much of my son’s infancy trying not to do things instead of just doing whatever worked at the time.
Could something I do create a bad habit or a dependency? Sure. But sometimes that crutch is exactly what a kid needs to get through whatever the problem is, and more often than not, it doesn’t become a permanent habit. At the worst, it’s a habit that can be broken later, when the need of the moment isn’t so pressing and urgent. Just like my son stopped sleeping with his lovey all on his own when he didn’t need the comfort anymore, kids grow out of habits whether they come naturally or we’ve created them by our own unintentional actions.
We recently moved in with my in-laws, who have a full-sized bed for my son. As expected, the transition was a little tough on my anti-sleeper’s sleeping habits. One night, against my better rational judgment, I crawled into bed next to him and all of his blankets and stuffed animals. He immediately calmed down, wrapped his arms around me, and rested his head on my shoulder. Once I could feel the heavy weight of his rhythmical breathing letting me know he was sound asleep, I crawled out of bed and back into my own. He didn’t need me again that night.
The next night I did the same, and the one after that. Only the last time, I never crawled back out of his bed. I spent the whole night by his side, helping him sleep.
The next night he didn’t ask for me at all. I didn’t create a new sleep monster by simply meeting his needs at the time. He’s continued to ask for me every once in awhile – sometimes I agree with a limit, saying three minutes only. Other times, I just curl up next to him and enjoy him being little, knowing we’ll both be happier in the morning if he sleeps, no matter how we made it happen. I’ve found I haven’t created a terrible habit, and even if we need to push back against this down the road, we’ll be able to do it at a time when he’s ready and we’re not in the midst of transitions.
It makes me wonder how many things I’ve battled along the way because I’m terrified of creating a negative outcome — a negative outcome that may not actually be so negative.
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