July 14, 2014 by Dadinator
Every night you gently encourage your little one to sleep. Then sometimes you cajole them. Some nights you argue with them. Some nights you raise your voice. Some nights you have to leave the room to collect yourself. Every night is different. Every night is the same result, they go to sleep. Some nights later than others, but they get there.
There are the nights when you walk up and down the house, wait for them to nod off only to have them scream at you when their head touches the cot mattress. There are the nights when they stir again and again and again. There are nights when their eyes flick open as soon as you move a muscle, and you have to start all over again. There are nights when you fall asleep before the kid does. There are the nights when (for some bizarre reason that no one can discern) they sleep perfectly well.
One of the myths of parenting is that sleep time is somehow consistent. It isn’t. You have a routine and you follow it (generally), but kids have moods and they have days – same as parents do. What works one night may fail miserably the next. I know. I’m in the trenches, I’m a bed-time veteran.
We have always had trouble settling The Lad. He just doesn’t go to sleep fast. He never has. We attended a sleep school, and it helped for a while. Then over time he just kept on taking longer and longer to settle. Partly my fault; I work during the day and often bedtime is the longest period of time I get to be one-on-one with my son, so I’ve probably been drawing it out. Some nights it gets ridiculous though.
Some nights bedtime feels like a sports event. Part of a secret sleep Olympics out there somewhere which all parents are unconsciously part of. To the victor goes bragging rights “They slept through!” “They stayed in bed!”. To the losers comes sympathy and martyrdom. Train them hard. Work away. Get your personal best! Get the most out of your sleep team! Then come back and do it again tomorrow, and try to do better, because there’s always someone doing better than you.
Some nights bedtime feels like a bout of combat. Parent vs child in a contest of wills, a fight to the bitter end – or untill one of you falls asleep. Their stubbornness vs your sanity. You have to fight for every inch of ground, to get them to stay in bed, to get them to stay still, to get them to be quiet… Madness? THIS IS BEDTIME! Steel yourself, run into battle and face the enemy. Armed with story books, songs and the advice of sleep experts, once more unto the breach dear friends! Chaaaaarge!
Some nights bedtime feels like torture. Like a sadistic little demonic monster is sucking the patience, good will and love out of you as they refuse to sit down and go to sleep. You stare. You sigh. You shake your head. You hiss through gritted teeth. You growl and some nights you scream. You are enslaved. Chained into a room of monotony and frustration, with so many things you’d rather be doing.
Some nights bedtime feels like an heroic quest. Impossible, Herculean, against the odds. Hydra heads doubling, Proteus changing form, dashing through the labyrinth, struggling to hold onto the lions head. It is 12 tasks rolled into one. Man (or woman) taming the savage beast through force of will and superhuman strength.
All of this is true. Bedtime is all those things. Some nights it is all those things at the same time, but is there more to it? I started to write this as I sat on my son’s bed. He had some trouble sleeping tonight. He dropped his toy hippo, and he had a bad dream. He just wanted to hear his father’s voice.
He won’t always want that. He won’t always want my hand on him to help him fall asleep. He won’t always want stories and songs. He won’t always demand so much of his mother and father.
I spend so much time and effort getting him to sleep, but so little time looking at his face while he sleeps when he is so beautiful and calm.
There are nights where it isn’t a sport, isn’t a battle, isn’t a struggle but where it feels right. It’s not because of The Lad, but because of me. They occur when dad isn’t “objective driven”. Where spending time with my son isn’t about accomplishing a mission or winning an event. When I (dare I say it) let myself enjoy bedtime. Even if all I do is sit and stroke his hair for 20 minutes.
Stroke the hair of my child.
Remind him that I love him and that he is safe.
Maybe bedtime is something I’m lucky to have. Maybe bedtime is a privilege. Maybe bedtime is a blessing. Whatever it is, it isn’t forever. And when it’s gone and he puts himself to sleep I may raise my arms, do a fist pump and shout ” Yeah!”, but I’m damn sure I’ll miss bedtime.
For those of you out there who, like me, try not to stress about bedtime you’ll still get peppered with a bunch of questions about how your child is performing in the competitive Sleep-Olympics. What’s that you say? You didn’t sign up for the Sleep-Olympics? You are automatically entered as soon as your child is born, it’s not voluntary. Sorry mums and dads.
It is possible to opt out though by using my simple answers to the questions you’ll get asked frequently about how proper/improper your child’s somnial patterns are:
“How do they sleep?”
They close their eyes, slow their breathing, lie still and they enter the sleep state.
“Are they a good sleeper”
From what I’ve seen they have the basics down.
“Do they sleep through YET?”
Only through gasses. They are solid, so they can’t sleep through other solids. Liquids are ruled out because they need to breathe, but I’m sure they could in scuba gear. But gasses, they can sleep through them no worries.
So, that’s my take on sleep. Sorry if you wanted strategies or magic bullets. I honestly don’t think there are any. Be sensitive and be kind – to yourself as well as your child(ren). And remember, one might sleep easily, doesn’t mean the next one will… The reverse is also true.
What are your experiences? How do you cope with it all? Share your stories below (I know sleep is a controversial topic, so keep it respectful please!)