Once upon a time I was a mom of one. My daughter received all of my attention on a daily basis. Focusing on her sleeping, eating, and playing was my only job. I didn’t know much about anything back then. I didn’t read any parenting books, but did read about sleep as I encountered an issue. Basically the book (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child) confirmed at each stage that her habits were normal. And trust me, I needed a book to tell me that going to bed for the night at 6:00 p.m. was normal. That seemed too good to be true. It helped to read a book by a doctor telling me that in the early months my job was to maximize sleep and minimize crying. That picking her up when she cried was the right answer. My instincts felt validated.
Then baby #2 comes along and I was ready. Armed with knowledge and having learned from my mistakes, this go round was going to be perfect. Madeline fell asleep on my chest almost every night for the first few weeks of her life. This made my husband nervous, and his anxiety made me nervous, so I vowed never to do that with Houston. He would learn to sleep on his own and not in my arms. You know what that resolve got me? Nothing, other than many sleepless nights and a lot of tears (mine and his). I have never been more frustrated than I was those nights when he would not sleep in his bassinet or in the pack ‘n play or next to me on the bed or on the floor or anywhere else I thought might work.*
I was determined to swaddle him because as much as she fought it, Madeline always slept better.
I knew what kind of schedule he should have, so I was going to do my best to keep it. Nevermind it meant I would be a slave to his sleep routine and pretty much couldn’t do anything I might want to do, like take a class at the gym at 9:00, a.k.a. his morning naptime. He was tired and wanted to go to bed at 5:30 and I knew from my reading and experience that it was an acceptable bedtime, so we were going to eat dinner by 5:00. With or without Daddy. Sleep nazi in full effect.
Cue baby #3. Time to purchase a co-sleeper to put in between us on the bed because I knew he was going to end up there anyway. Might as well make it as safe as possible. With the third I was in maximize sleep mode from the beginning. My sleep. With two other kids who have no idea what “sleeping in” means, I knew Benjamin was going to be falling asleep at night wherever he wanted. On my chest, on my lap, snuggled up next to the dog…it didn’t matter. Stuffy nose keeping him (us) up at night? Put him on his belly. Trying to pull him arms out of the swaddle? Say screw it and take it off. By necessity he still does not have a great routine. I feel guilty about it sometimes, like when he is overtired in the evening, or falling asleep in the car. The worst is waking him up to take Madeline to school (and then again to pick her up sometimes). But that’s what happens when you have older children. They have things to do at certain times and the other kids are just along for the ride.
At this point I am also more willing to sacrifice a strict “schedule” to do things for myself. My gym routine means he has to take a late nap or sleep in his carseat on the floor of the nursery some days. The only time I second guess that decision is at night when he fights going to bed before 8:00 and ends up taking four naps instead of the customary 2-3 at this age. Both of my other kids were going to be no later than 6:30 at this age. But I know (I’m pretty sure) I’m not causing him long-term harm. He is the happiest baby and even at six months old really only fusses when he is hungry or tired. He is meeting all of his milestones and if I had to guess, he will be crawling relatively soon. Hopefully he will also start going to bed at 5:30.
Some days I wonder if I’m doing everything wrong. Am I yelling too much? Setting too many or not enough boundaries? Feeding them the wrong things? Not paying enough attention to everyone? Letting them watch too much tv? Other days are great. I feel good, the kids are happy, everyone has eaten several servings of fruits and vegetables, and the tv has only been on a little bit. Overall, the good days outnumber the bad. And when my two year old son comes up to me as he did the other day and gives me a completely unsolicited, “I love you” I figure I must be doing something right.
*I never actually put him to bed on the floor. Maybe if we didn’t have a dog and cats I could have…