Even as a certified sleep specialist, this realization took me by surprise.
Whether you’re an adult tossing and turning over thoughts of tomorrow’s responsibilities or a baby who sleeps best with a full tummy and swaddle, we always sleep best when we feel content and safe. As parents, that’s why we have to be mindful of how that sense of security affects our children’s bedtimes as they grow.
Allow me to walk you back a bit: I used to look forward to bedtime. Like really, really look forward to it. As many of us mamas know, there is often very little rest to be had during our children’s waking hours—which has led even me, a certified sleep specialist, to sacrifice a solid night of rest to catch up on an episode or two of some trash TV.
For a long time, I could get away with this because I knew the night would likely be uninterrupted once I went to bed. That’s because for much of the past seven years of my son’s life, he’s been a great sleeper.
Bedtime in our household was nearly a perfect string of events. The routine from bath time to lights out usually took 30 minutes, followed by my son being fast asleep within three minutes of me leaving the room.
I am well aware this is not the norm for most families and that we were pretty lucky. But, as they say, good things don't last forever—even for sleep consultants.
Suddenly, our formerly independent sleeper doesn’t want to be in his room alone. No matter how many times we check under the bed, in the closets or in the drawers, he simply cannot fall asleep or stay asleep on his own.
If I'm being really honest, I totally forgot how real sleep deprivation is.
I have begged and pleaded with my child to go to sleep. I’ve continued to assure him that he’s fine and needs to sleep. I’ve even teetered on the edge of discipline, which is a big no-no in the sleep world.
Since nothing seemed to make a difference, I basically had two choices: I could let go of the expectation that my son should be a completely independent sleeper. Or I could continue to allow myself to feel frustrated that he wasn't responding the way I wanted.
With a whole lot of resistance, I chose the first option and I'm so glad I did.
My husband and I decided to come up with a plan that provided our son with the security he was looking for, making our primary goal to get him the rest he needed.
We communicated this plan to him: We would sit outside his door until he fell asleep and then keep a matress underneath our bed for him to pull out if he woke up in the middle of the night. The one rule was that he did so quietly, so that we could continue to get our sleep. He looked so relieved.
Since implementing this plan, I had to sacrifice my “alone” time in order to sit outside his door—sometimes for up to an hour.
I had to put my very strong feelings of frustration aside and continue to remind myself to practice compassion and patience.
I had to spend a lot more time connecting at bedtime instead of rushing the process so I could get on with my own plans for the evening.
It has been hard. It’s also reminded me of the crucial role I play in my son's life, not just at bedtime but as the person who gives him confidence throughout life.
I am his constant. I am the person he looks to when he is scared. My child simply feels safe with me. So for now, I can give him the peace of mind that all is well, that he can relax, that he can breathe deeply and go to sleep.
The small sacrifice I made by giving up my evenings alone allows him to get the sleep he needs to thrive the next day.
Yes, I miss what it used to be, but I am embracing what it is now. We are doing what we need to do and all is going to be okay—and you'll be okay, too, mama.