In truth, my girls haven’t had a nap in the past couple of months. I’m just now ready to admit it, to see that reality written in black and white.
Since they were infants, our girls have been champion sleepers. I credit so much of our success to the BabyWise methodology. We are very schedule-oriented. I took to heart the BabyWise thinking, that “Mommy determines when naps start, and when naps are over.” There were times when the girls’ needs would shift for whatever reason, and I’d have to find that new “sweet spot” window of magic during which I could easily get them down for a nap. Sometimes it took a little experimentation, but I was always able to get back to blissful rest (for them) and blissful quiet (for me).
My unspoken goal was to keep the girls napping until they started preschool, at age 3 ½. That felt feasible, judging by my mommy friends. Some kiddos dropped their naps as early as 2 ½, but others were napping until they were four. [I laugh as I write this, knowing the best-laid “plans” of parenthood are so often laid to waste!]
We went through a rough patch when the girls started preschool at 3 ½. I can only guess that my Baby A decided that meant she was a “big girl” and so she no longer needed to nap. My B continued to sleep willingly, though, and A was pretty compliant with my “quiet time” rules. I would ask every few days if A wanted to nap, and she always said no…until the day – that glorious day! – after Thanksgiving. She said she wanted to nap…she napped…we celebrated…and she napped every day for the next eight months!
There was no great schedule shift over the summer, but the girls did start talking a bit after I put them to bed at night. It wasn’t long after that that they simultaneously refused to nap. It’s hard to recount…one day, they napped, and the next day they played in their beds the entire time. That went on for a couple of days, to the great stress of this mommy. I finally asked the girls, “Are you going to nap today?” They both said no. I established rules for “quiet time”, and we moved on.
The stress of trying to “enforce” naps was really tough for me. Although I really missed MY quiet time during the afternoons, holding rules for quiet time is much easier in comparison.
Here’s how I’m keeping things in perspective…
My girls napped until they were 4 ½, which is a full year past my “goal”.
After a (relatively painful) adjustment period that lasted two or three weeks, I am comfortable that my girls are getting the rest they need at night. Their temperaments are pretty good, which I think is a fair indication.
There’s a lot less pressure to keep our schedule running like a well-oiled machine. I still value our schedule, framed mostly by mealtimes and bedtime these days, but I didn’t even come close to hyperventilation last week when we were running a full hour behind getting home one afternoon. Just a few short months ago, I would have been tempted to break the sound barrier getting home in time for the girls to settle down and read books and start nap. These days, we do the best we can, but it’s not the end of the world if we get caught up doing something else.
There’s less commotion at bedtime. The girls are ready for bed, so I’ve heard less talking over the monitor and I’ve made fewer treks upstairs.
I’m not quite as stressed out about transitioning the girls to regular beds in the next couple of weeks. I’d said I didn’t want to make the switch from cribs until they dropped their naps, thinking it would be too tempting for them to stay in bed with the lure of being able to get out. It seems the stars agree with my game plan.
I feel less guilty about doing housework when the girls are awake. Particularly when the girls were taking two or three naps a day, I reserved all my housework for their nap times. It’s not feasible that everything waits until bedtime, so the girls are more involved than ever in laundry, dishes, and cooking.
The girls often choose to do artwork during at least part of their quiet time, so my refrigerator is fuller than ever with their creations.
So…would I love to have an uninterrupted hour to myself every day? I’d be lying if I didn’t say yes. But an uninterrupted day with my baby girls does come with its perks, and I’m choosing to focus on those.
Are your kiddos still napping? If not, at what age did they give up naps? Was it a smooth transition? How did you cope?
MandyE is mom to 4 1/2-year old fraternal twin girls. She blogs about their adventures and her journey through motherhood at Twin Trials and Triumphs.
Here we are in the second week of the new “Twinfant Tuesday” series where different HDYDI authors reminisce about the first year with twins. Today’s topic was inspired by a girl I knew in university. We lost touch over the last few years and recently got back in touch when I heard she is expecting twins! They may very well be here by now.
As any mom-to-be of multiples, particularly as a first-time parent, she was scouring the Internet looking for advice and tips on how to handle two at once! One very important question she had was sleeping arrangements in the early days with our twins.
I had to push back some cobwebs to get to that memory of Little Mister and Little Missy’s newborn days and nights. What I do recall was, for the first 6-8 weeks they were in a Pack n Play bassinet together, then in the same crib until 5 months.
As for co-sleeping with a parent, during those first few months (until they were about 3 months old), we would have one baby in a Close & Secure Co-Sleeper and the other swaddled in the crib with a tent-like cover to block cool air. It was the first winter in our house and freezing at night, so we wanted them to be warm.
Myself, I would often co-sleep with one at a time depending on who needed the attention. Usually it was Little Mister because Little Missy slept through the night at a very early age (4 months!)
I would not recommend having both babies in your bed at the same time, even if it is a King side bed. Since I was both nursing and giving a bottle, one or both of us had to get up anyways for feeding time so exclusively co-sleeping in the bed would not have changed anything.
It didn’t take us long to realize that quality of sleep with a baby (or two!) in the bed or nearby crib is not the greatest. But snuggling up with a cuddly newborn (or two!) is worth it… most nights.
Ambereen’s boy/girl twins are now 2.5 years old and she although she still enjoys snuggling up with her toddlers at bedtime..more often than not, she finds herself trying to tiptoe out of their rooms without waking them up.
I was having a completely awful day a few months ago. After I put Jack and Mara down for their nap, I grabbed my computer and googled “when do twins get easier” and “first year help with twins” and “getting through year one with twins.” Through that search, I found this website, and for the next hour I absorbed article after article, tip after tip. I felt as if I had found a whole new and amazing twin group of moms to talk to and get reassurance that yes, things will ultimately be okay. Because during the first year, that is so important to hear.
That being said — ten (!) months in, I am so close to that amazing milestone – my twins will soon be turning one. Granted, I realize I titled this post “rocking”, and there have been many, many days early on (and many times even now!) when I was definitely not “rocking” anything and am really just surviving day-to-day, but overall, I think I got this whole twin thing down for now. At least at this age!
Here are some things, looking back, that have truly helped me so far this first year.
Remaining positive about having twins
I am sometimes taken aback about how negative some parents of twins can be about having twins. I have heard parents say they cant help to think what if their situation was different, or wishing out loud that had both children but at different times.In a recent article I read on raising twins, a mother commented that she wished she only implanted one embryo, not two. How sad!
Trust me – I do understand that twins can be incredibly challenging, but not once have I ever let myself go down that line of destructive thinking. If I let myself worry about whether the grass would have been greener with a singleton, I would miss out on what I have. My babies are blessings and I truly believe twins (and multiples!) in general are incredible blessings. I think my positive attitude has had a lot to do with how well my first year is going.
Getting help in the beginning
A fellow twin friend told me that one of her friends (also a mother of twins twins) had cashed out her 401k to get round the clock help during the first few months. While that initially sounded like an extreme situation, I can relate to the importance – and almost the sheer desperation – of getting help.
I am fortunate that both of my parents are retired, and that my husbands entire family lives within ten minutes of us. I could not have gotten through the first three months without help from our families. My mother lived with us for the first three months, for four days out of the week. She cooked us delicious meals each day, did our food shopping and most importantly, helped take care of the twins. I could not have done it without her. My mother in law would stay with us the remaining three days those first three months. She was also a saint. My husband’s father and step mother have been truly amazing as well. And now, almost a year later, they continue to be an incredible support for my husband and I.
I understand I was fortunate to have so much (free) help from family members. My advice for others expecting twins would be to enlist the help of friends, family, baby-sitters, neighbors, mother’s helpers – anyone willing to help. Take anything you can get! And don’t be shy about asking for what you need, whether it’s an hour alone to run errands, or someone to grab groceries for you, or even let you have a few hours of sleep. I remember my sister-in-law and her husband watched the twins for me for two hours when they were about two weeks old so I could get some sleep. I couldn’t have been more grateful.
Yes, I know this is silly but trust me, its been a huge help for me, especially this year. Using dry shampoo, I am able to extend my hair washing to three days. When you don’t have a ton of time to wash and style your hair, this comes in handy. I was able to catch up on more sleep, get my house in order, gleefully waste a few precious moments trolling for celebrity gossip on the internet, cleaning bottles – anything instead of washing my hair. Gross? Perhaps, yes. But sooo useful.
Being able to carry two babies at once
My husband recently watched Jack and Mara for an afternoon while I ran some errands. When I returned, I asked him what the hardest part was – feeding, changing, nap time. He replied, “carrying them up the stairs at the same time.”
Really? I guess by now its second nature to me. I scoop up each baby and cradle them under my arms, almost in the nursing “football position” but back up and stomach down. I’ve gotten incredibly comfortable with the dual-carry which has saved me from transporting two babies upstairs at different times. I am sure they will soon be too big to do this, but it has really helped me this first year.
One of my all-time favorite bloggers, Pam Kocke, author of Pyjammy’s Triplets wrote one of the my favorite blog posts ever on raising multiples, delightfully entitled “Are three kids easier than one?” (Check it out here.)
In explaining why sometimes having multiples is easier than a singleton, Pam describes why having a strict schedule has enabled her to get all three of her boys on track. She also shares that her boys sleep better than a lot of singletons she knows.
Jack and Mara have slept through the night since month four or five, and continue to take two consistent naps a day. I take pride in this, and almost feel like it was a reversal of fate after a really super hard beginning four months. Jack and Mara sleep better than any of the singleton babies I know around the same age. Why? We have been adamant about keeping them on a schedule. I NEED that hour or two during the day to myself. Its my sanity. The babies now know when its nap time and bed time. I don’t have another one of me to rock two babies to sleep, or coddle them into snoozing. By putting them down awake (my only choice!), they have successfully learned to self soothe.
My jogging stroller
I was one of those twin moms who gained a TON of weight – probably close to 75 lbs. While the first 65 came off pretty easily, the last ten were very stubborn. Trying to fit in trips to the gym and working out at home was pretty much impossible. When the twins napped, all I wanted to go was nap. So this left me with little free time to exercise.
I purchased a jogging stroller in January, when the twins were four months old. As the weather got nicer, I began to take them out once a day. I am the first to admit I am not a runner by any means. However, I began to really enjoy jogging with Jack and Mara. It was a way for me to get some exercise, it allowed the babies to get some fresh air and a change of scenery, and it gave us another “activity” to do during the day. A few of my friends purchased the highly coveted double BOB strollers, but I opted for the Schwinn Jogger, which was about half the price and still continues to do the job just fine.
Lowering my expectations about what I can handle …
When Jack and Mara were born, I left my job in corporate communications to be a stay-at-home mom. I was recently offered a pretty great consulting gig — one that I could do from home. While I initially accepted it, I had to turn it down. Why? I just can’t juggle it now. If I tried to take on something that time-consuming, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my new, main job – raising the twins. It would stress me out and put me over the edge. So, I said no. It was a difficult decision but in the long run, I know my sanity is most important. I can’t do everything right now, and I’m okay with that.
… and lowering my expectations about nursing
I went into my pregnancy gung-ho about breast-feeding. I would tandem nurse both babies each day exclusively. I hired a lactation consultant to help me in the beginning and put me on the right path. I rented a hospital grade pump to help with my milk production. I bought every book written that included sections on nursing multiples. Yadda yadda yadda. I WOULD DO IT and I WOULD BE SUCCESSFUL.
To make a long story short, I was able to nurse and pump for about three and a half months before I gave up. It was a difficult decision to throw in the towel, but in the end, it was the right decision for myself and my family. I tried not to be disappointed in myself for only lasting three and a half months. Instead, I was proud that I was able to last that long. I did my best, and that’s all I could do.
My nap nanny
Oh, nap nanny – why did you get recalled?!!?? A fellow twin friend introduced me to these amazing devices when my babies were just a few weeks old. This slanted foam seat was my savior the first eight months. In the beginning, my twins napped, relaxed and even slept in them (on the floor, buckled) as they dealt with some pretty typical baby reflux issues. I would use them for dual bottle feeding, to anchor one baby while I bathed the other. I took them to other people’s homes as a place for the baby to sit while I tended to the other. Although they got recalled in December, around the time my twins turned three months, I happily continued to use them (with no issues!). At ten months, Jack and Mara wont sit in them for more than a minute or two, but man, they really were a lifesaver to me during this first year.
What has helped you parenting multiples during year one?
This post has been put on hold for quite a while. First, it was because I was in the depths of sleep training hell, then when that got better I was waiting to finish up several chapters, and after that, well… I guess I just started to feel like I was writing a book report for school or something. But though I know these books have already been reviewed in the archives of HDYDI, I think the insight I’ve gained from them may possibly help some new MoMs. So here we go:
This is the book I started with, because it is more specific to twins, and I just needed a refresher since I already read a friend’s copy before the babies were born. It’s a very easy read, comprised of extremely intuitive advice that completely makes sense to me. I think it helped validate exactly how I’ve always felt about sleep for babies. There are a couple chapters in the beginning regarding his research and theories that are very interesting. If you’re looking for a quick fix for a common problem (e.g. how to create a schedule for both babies, how to stop bedtime crying, etc.), this is probably a good book to start with. The best gem of this book: “Sleep begets sleep.”
I bought this one because I wanted to get a perspective that wasn’t “cry it out” related. This book is geared towards parents who are opposed to letting their babies cry themselves to sleep. I was never really one of those parents, even with my first singleton, but now that I have two more babies, Pantley’s strategies really wouldn’t work for me. This book requires creating some pretty extensive sleep logs and QUITE a bit a patience. By that I mean, probably no one desperate for sleep would be able to hang in there for what may take weeks, if not months. But if the sound of your child crying is making you miserable, or if your baby requires a slower approach, you might want to give this a try. It really is a much gentler way.
This is by far the most comprehensive book of the three. It includes very detailed information about sleep and virtually every sleep disorder there can be. Definitely some interesting reading in the later chapters (head banging, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, etc.), but you really only need to read half of Part II and Part III (Chapters 4-6, 9-12). Ferber is known for “cry it out”, but in his book it’s called “progressive waiting”, and I don’t find it particularly harsh at all. In fact, this method is probably the one that works the best and quickest. It’s written in a case study format, with some great charts for reference. There are also some great instructions for shifting nap schedules. I think this is the one I will come back to if I run into trouble transitioning my babies to new schedules in the future.
So, while going insane with my babies not on any kind of feed/sleep schedule, I scoured the internet and bought these 3 books after reading some Amazon reviews. I believe they pretty decently represent the different schools of thought that are out there (except Sears’ attachment parenting, which I am not interested in). A word of warning: Most of the content of these books can be found on the internet, often even verbatim. I’m sure it’s copyright infringement, as the text is not quoted or cited. I probably could have read enough online to piece together what I needed, but the books definitely lay it out nicer and I feel better that I didn’t “steal”. Ultimately I cobbled together a bit from here and there. I don’t really even know what came from where because I took what made sense to me from different sources and internalized them. I think once you read enough you just start to allow your instincts take over.
The other thing I’ve noticed that really helped with my babies was when became able to find their own sleep positions around 4 or 5 months. Both my babies are stomach sleepers. More often than not, they will find a comfortable position face down sucking on a blanket (Baby Girl), or the two forefingers of his left hand (Baby Boy). And for those of you following my sleep training journey, she’s been good through morning for well over a month now. And they do sleep day/night in side-by-side cribs in the same bedroom. We’ve come a long way from these days. Fellow new MoMs, there is hope!
lunchldyd is mom to 6mo b/g twins and their 3yo big sis, happy to take compliments on her now-well-sleeping twins.
Since my twin daughters’ birth, one has been a better sleeper than the other, even though they were put on the same schedule from the beginning. While they were both good to me at a young age and slept through the night, if someone were to get up at night, it was Lisa, and still is Lisa. If someone were to take a long time to fall asleep, it was her as well. But, my other daughter, Alison, almost never gets up at night. Alison can sleep through her sister’s night wakings and subsequent crying and bedroom door opening and closings. She really only gets up if she is sick or something. It is wonderful.
At nap time, Alison is generally much quicker to fall asleep. She just needs her special blanket. And she can then sleep for at least two hours but has been known to sleep for up to three, or, on a rare day, even longer. Her sister Lisa on the other hand, fights taking a nap with tears, requests for books, drinks of water, and protest of, “I don’t want to take a nap!”
So, my husband and I have tried numerous thing to coax Lisa to nap every day – rewards for taking a nap; punishments for not taking a nap; loving words; threats; sitting in the room until she falls asleep; ignoring her; giving her books or a toy; moving nap time back; and so on. But, that girl can happily roll around her bed for an hour, and still not fall asleep, frustrating her parents to no end at the same time.
Lately, Lisa is hit or miss with napping. It seems more often than not, she does not take a nap.
So, my question is, to all the seasoned MOMs out there – what do you do when one of your twins seems to be done with naps? I am stubborn and still try putting her down for a nap every single day, at the same time that her sister Alison goes down. I know my girls are now three, and that maybe I should just be grateful that they’ve napped as long as they have, but naps are precious to me, especially as I have a newborn and desperately want to take a nap each day too! Plus, she gets destructive and defiant when she doesn’t nap, and is then ready for bed much earlier at night than her sister. I really don’t like them on different schedules.
So, when did your twins stop napping? How did you encourage a stubborn napper to sleep? Or what did you do with them once they stopped napping? Quiet time? And what did that quiet time look like?
ldskatelyn is a wife and mother of three kids, including a set of three year old fraternal twin daughters and brand new newborn son. She works hard to mantain balance in all things as she stays at home with her kids and runs the household, supporting her grad student husband. She blogs about her life and other things over at whatsupfagans.blogspot.com.
That’s the secret to my efficiency. For example, I’ve got the 4am feed down to a 20-minute science. It took some tweaking for the babies to cooperate, but now most days they do. Actually a lot of what I’m doing now is what I did with Toddler, only I had forgotten until I had to rediscover it all over again. So, if you must do a middle-of-the-night feed, here are some tricks I’ve found that work great for me.
First, not part of the efficiency thing, but greatly helpful to set your babies up for sleep, dim the lights down to one very low wattage bulb. I think mine is 10 watts. It sits in the corner of the room farthest away from the babies. The babies get a clean diaper, swaddled, then placed in their spots in the cosleeper. I sometimes play soft music from my iPhone for them (Pandora’s Lullabye station). Then…
1. Feed babies as much as possible before going to bed. In our case, babies load up before sleeping for good, often 6 ounces over a couple of feedings starting at around 9:30pm. They’re usually out by 11pm.
2. Before going to bed, get all bottles and pump accessories for the night/early morning ready. For me, this means putting nipples on and labeling all bottles. I usually have two bottles of formula made also, as backup. All pump flanges and bottles are clean and screwed together, ready to use.
3. Pump one last time and go to sleep at the same time as the babies. It’s tempting to watch a little TV or get things done while they’re asleep, but I’ve noticed they sleep better with me nearby and I really value my own sleep. I’m sometimes already drifting off while they’re still rustling to settle in.
4. Do not get up before they’re supposed to. If they loaded up on milk before going down, they don’t need to be fed until 4am. Usually all I have to do is replace the paci for the rustling baby and they’re back out before they can really wake up. Toddler never took a paci, so I would just jiggle her bassinet a little and she’d go back to sleep.
5. When the time does come to feed, pop a bottle in the mouth of the hungry one and prop it with whatever you have (I use their blankets). Then do the same with the other one, even if he/she is still fast asleep. They’re still swaddled, so no chance of waving arms knocking the bottles out. My babies will eat while asleep and keep sleeping afterwards without even waking up. I also no longer burp or change them (unless there’s poop) in the middle of the night.
6. While they are eating, pump. There’s a way to secure the flanges with the insides of your elbows by resting the bottles on your thighs, so that you can read your iPhone or reprop a bottle when necessary. When I’m done, babies have finished eating and have probably also fallen asleep. All I have to do is retrieve their bottles. I leave the flanges on the bottles I just pumped, and everything is left on the nightstand until morning.
7. I can usually do this while still half-asleep myself. Sometimes I will get up to drink some water, pee, and read my phone for a bit in bed before sleeping again, but I can just as easily go right back to sleep. My babies will sleep until 9am, if I replace the paci for them a couple of times starting around 7am. I am usually up by 8ish to watch Toddler after Husband leaves for work, so I can get in a pump and have breakfast with her before they wake up.
Another plus to this is, they usually wake at the same time! That means the day starts off with them on the same schedule. It usually doesn’t stay that way, and I’ve given up imposing a strict togetherness, but sometimes they can stay within a half hour of each other all day.
I’m looking forward to them sleeping all the way till morning and taking regular solid naps (Toddler did it before she was their age), but I think this is as good as it gets for a middle-of-the-night feeding (for twins). But I’ll gladly take any other suggestions to streamline things even further!
lunchldyd is mom to an almost 3 yr old daughter and 4 month old b/g twins, taking whatever sleep she can get!
Everyone in our family has to wake up painfully early for work and school. M has been struggling particularly hard this week. Her environmental allergies have left her completely exhausted, poor thing.
I’ve used all the tried and true techniques to get her to wake up happy. I’ve climbed under the covers with her and wiggled her toes. I’ve played her favourite music at her bedside. I’ve put her socks on her while she sleeps to grant her a few extra moments of sleep. I’ve asked her about her dreams. None of this have kept her from tired, self-pitying tears and anger at having to go through the morning routine.
This morning, something finally worked. I asked M to tell me not about her own dreams, but about her stuffed toy du jour’s. She has a Care Bear, the music one, that she has named Fuey. (The naming of toys is a discussion for another day.) She was instantly awake.
“Fuey had a dream about going to my school, which is my work. She is going to my work to participate in my choir club. She’s going to be the audience. She dreamed of wearing her Easter dress and sitting with Caitlin who is her favourite my friend because Caitlin loves her. Mommy, I’m awake! I’m ready for the big light! I need to brush Fuey’s teeth. I will squeeze the toothpaste just to let air out which is imaginary toothpaste and brush her teeth!”
That’s the little chatterbox I had been hoping to see! She finished breakfast on time, managed to navigate a disagreement over shoes without tears, and got on the bus cheerful and ready for her Friday. I’m just hoping she’ll remember to turn her homework in.
What helps you get your kids out of bed in the morning or, for those you with early birds, keeps them in?
Sadia and her 5-year-old twins wake at 5:30 Mountain Time in El Paso, allowing Sadia to start telecommuting to her job at 8:00 Central Time. She gets easily confused about what time it is.
Robin Williams is credited with saying, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!'” Last weekend’s “spring forward” time change here in the US was a major party pooper. We groaned at the prospect of a 23-hour day as we dutifully turned all our clocks forward an hour.
We’re a routine-bound household. Between my 40-hour work week, my husband’s much longer and less predictable hours — nights without a text or two from work between midnight and 5:00 am are a rarity — and our daughters’ school schedule, there’s not much wiggle room. We expect J and M to be under their covers at 8:00 pm precisely; “Eight zero zero” was the first time they learned to read on a digital clock. We don’t vary bedtime on weekends, staying up past 8:00 only for very special occasions, like the first night that the grandparents arrive for a visit.
The hour time change pushes the girls’ wakeup time from the horrendous 5:45 am to what our bodies tell us is the even uglier time of 4:45. On Friday and Saturday, we shifted lights out to 7:30 pm to prepare for the switch, but wakeup time on Monday morning was brutal. Poor M reported that there was “something wrong with [her] eyes,” as she struggled to start her day. J just wrapped her blankie around herself and stared at the floor as she waited for her brain to switch on.
Things weren’t much better for the girlies the rest of the week, and waking up wasn’t any easier for me. I may have hit the snooze button a time or 5 this morning.
The logic behind Daylight Saving makes some sense: get an extra hour of evening sunshine. The problem at our house, though, is that the morning is what sets the mood for the day. If we start our day grumpy, tired, and out of sorts, we’re not too likely to think much of the afternoon sun. In addition, we live in Texas, where summers get very hot, so Daylight Saving actually means less outdoor time at the end of the day.
When J and M were younger, I had an elaborate plan to adjust their bodies’ clocks, 15 minutes per day over 4 days. This year, we threw them in the deep end, and we’re all paying for it.
Good night. My clock says it’s bedtime even though my body doesn’t.
What are your feelings on Daylight Saving? Do you have any techniques for making the switch easier on your kids? Do they even notice?
Sadia, her husband and their 5-year-old twin girls live in El Paso, TX. He is a soldier, she a software geek, and they first graders.
Madeleine and Riley just turned two last week. We had a wonderful celebration with family and friends at a local water park. By all accounts, M&R are happy, healthy, and gorgeous, and I’m thrilled and amazed that we have made it to the ripe old age of two with so few battle scars. Heck, we haven’t even had to take a trip to the ER yet! No stitches ever! (Do you hear the rapid-fire sound of me knocking on wood?)
Maddie and Riley can sing the ABCs, name all of their colors, and string together impressively long complete sentences. They tell jokes and invent games. They love their family and friends, being outdoors, blowing bubbles, and eating grapes. They go down slides, ride trikes, and splash in water.
Here’s what they don’t do: sleep through the night.
I had planned to write a post on toddler discipline today, but other people have done a great job of that already. Instead, my recent experience compels me to talk about the Dirty Little Secret of Toddlerhood. I hate to break it to you, but many of these delightful little imps don’t like to sleep. And there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot you can do about it but suck it up and ride it out.
When Maddie and Riley were six months old—almost to the day—we “Ferberized.” Yes, yes, we did, and with nary a regret. And it worked great. Just like the books said it would, it took three nights for the kiddos to start sleeping from about 7:30 in the evening to sometime between 6:00 and 7:00 the next morning. Oh, sure, we had an occasional streak of early wakings and an occasional need for middle-of-the-night intervention, but for the most part, six months to eighteen months marked a blissful Golden Era of Sleep at our house.
Then all hell broke loose.
Starting at eighteen months—almost to the day—Riley’s sleep began to deteriorate. First he cried when he was put to bed. Then he cried in the middle of the night. Then he cried when he woke up. For the most part, none of this was a tragedy in that he was easily soothed by a quick pop-in and pat on the back. It was irritating and disruptful, but hardly tragic.
Now at the age of two—almost to the day—we have entered the era of Tragic. The screaming at bedtime has subsided thanks to a realization that Riley doesn’t want the door closed, he wants it cracked. Fine. No problem. What the open door does not solve is the middle of the night wakings. Riley wakes two to three times a night these days. When he wakes, he screams and cries at full bore. He doesn’t want me to touch him. He doesn’t want to lie down. He sounds scared and panicked. He is fully awake, so he is not having a night terror (although he could be having a bad dream). The only thing that gets him to go back to sleep is to have me lie down on the floor next to his bed and sleep there myself.
I’ve tried taking him into bed with me; that works OK, but between the fact that he kicks me, wiggles around, strokes my hair, and gets distracted by my close presence, it works better if I lie on the floor. Also, if I have Riley in bed with me and Maddie (who has remained a Toddler Sleep Gold Medalist, thank goodness) wakes up and sees that he is gone, she has a Total Freak Out, and then I’m Screwed. So I stay in their room. It takes Riley anywhere from five minutes to two hours to go back to sleep. Needless to say, it takes me about the same amount of time.
I have tried on a couple of occasions to do a repeat Ferberization, but it’s different this time. Riley’s not fussing, like he was when he was a baby. He’s screaming. He sounds desperate. I do not thing sleep training is child abuse, not by a long shot. Hell, I did it! But to hear your child screaming frantically and throwing himself at the bars of his crib (!) does start to feel like torture.
Eighteen months is a common time for toddlers to have sleep problems. (Read here about the eighteen-month sleep regression.) I thought things would be better, not worse, at age two. I know I’m still an optimist because every night I think, “This is the night we’ll turn the corner.” So far, no dice. But, as has been pointed out to me before, no kids go off to college sleeping with their parents, so at some point, this behavior will change, right? Right? Please say yes, because I’m coming apart at the seams.
I feel like I spend all my waking hours (correction: my ZOMBIE-LIKE waking hours) thinking about this. I turn the problem around and around in my head. I feel like I’m being soft by not sleep training. I feel like I’m being a monster when I do. I find a host of reasons that Riley could be having so much trouble sleeping: bad dreams, a developmental leap, fructose malabsorption, gas, you name it. I feel like I’ve tried every possible solution to get him to soothe himself, then I feel like the reason nothing works is because I’ve been inconsistent.
Ultimately, here’s what I’ve decided based on a lot of reading and asking for advice from friends, colleagues, and other HDYDI moms: Riley misses me. My sweet, sensitive boy is having separation anxiety. His longest sentence to date, uttered a few weeks ago, around the time all of this started, is “Riley no like it Mama go away friends.” Maddie and Riley spent the day with my mom and stepdad yesterday as our daycare is closed for a week’s vacation this week. Riley was sad to see me leave in the morning, and never have I been showered with more kisses and hugs than I have when I returned yesterday afternoon. “Mama came back!” he triumphantly announced multiple times. He’s been extra-needy during the day, so there’s no reason that he would not be extra needy at night. And if, in fact, separation anxiety is what’s at play, then the best thing I can do is give him the reassurance and love he needs. Which means that I need to get an aerobed for the floor.
It’s so hard, especially as a single parent, to give and give and give all day and then suddenly be called upon to give and give and give all night. Night used to be my time. Suddenly, I have to share that time with Riley. I love the fact that I can soothe my boy, but I wish that I could share that duty with someone else, and I wish that sometimes there was someone soothing me, too. Conventional wisdom in my situation with Riley would be that if it’s me who Riley wants to see, send in my partner instead. After a few times of that, Riley might give up and decide that sleep is better than not getting who he wants to see. But I don’t have anyone else to send in. So I go in myself, reminding myself as I go that this is just a phase. It’s all just a phase.
Evidently, co-sleeping peaks worldwide between the ages of two and five because co-sleeping is easier than fighting with your toddler all night long. And according to Elizabeth Pantley, author of the No-Cry Sleep Solution, approximately 50% of kids wake up at least once a night even after the age of two. So I know I’m not alone. But it sure feels like I’m alone a lot of the time as I think that many parents are embarrassed to admit that their toddler has sleep issues.
For those of you whose toddlers sleep well, I am grateful but envious. For those of you who are struggling with sleepless toddlers, you have all of my empathy. For those of you looking for solutions—I am supposed to tell you how I do it, after all!—I’m afraid I don’t have much to offer this time around except a safe place to talk about what your kids’ sleep issues are, what’s worked for you, and what hasn’t. Today, that’s how I do it: by sharing with you and hopefully learning from you as well.
Sleep has been on my mind lately, namely because I haven’t been getting any. I used to think that when my twin boys reached a certain age, sleep would again return to the blissful stage it was when I was child-free. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be case. Our challenge right now is that the boys start out in their own beds but find their way to our bed. But that’s whole ‘nother story, which I blogged about over here.
The baby sleep stage with two babies (or more) is a challenge, to put it mildly. I found it best to work out a tag-team system with my husband, just as CarrieinAK said in her post earlier this week. My favorite part about this stage is all the inane questions from people without multiples like: Do they wake each other up? (Goodness no! That piercing wail that wakes me from a dead sleep? The other baby sleeps right through it!)
So at risk of stating the obvious, even though that’s sometimes exactly what we all need to restore the sanity, here’s some advice for getting some shut-eye:
1. Baths help. They calm kids down. They signal that the end of the day is near. As exhausted as you are after a full day, and maybe you have already given those kids several baths already depending on how many explosive diaper moments you have had, try doing a bath.
2. Play some music. We have a CD player in our boys’ bedroom that has played the SAME CD for the last four and a half years. God forbid that thing ever gets broken. The music is part of the signal to our guys that it’s time to relax and go to sleep. This is in contrast to whenever we are out of town, where I find the only thing that knocks them out for sleep is to wear them out physically.
3. Establish a routine. For older kids (2 and up), it helps to establish a routine. We do a bath, medicine, teeth, books, then lights out. My guys know what’s next, so it helps to keep us going. It doesn’t mean it cuts down on the whining, but at least they know what’s next.
4. Limit the drinks within an hour of bedtime. This is for the older kids again and especially important when you’re working on potty-training. Less liquid in their little bodies means they won’t be up and down quite as much.
5. Don’t listen to anyone. Not even me. Don’t let ANYONE make you feel guilty for doing what works when it comes to getting some sleep. Some families like to sleep in one big bed. Some families have strict lines that cannot be crossed about who sleeps where. You have to do what works for you, your marriage and your kids (and probably in that order).
My husband and I agreed when the boys came home from the NICU to do what works until it stopped working – and then we would try something else. They slept with us for a few months, then they slept in a single crib, then they slept in separate cribs, then they slept in separate rooms, then back to the same room. There were sleepless nights and nights we all slept like logs. And everything in between.
One last piece of advice: don’t ever think, “Okay, we’ve got this thing down. No sweat.” That’s the exact moment when everything will change. Trust me.