Why is sleep training so hard? I find myself asking this question over and over again. My son is 19 months old, and the biggest thing that still presents the most challenges is his sleep.
It’s the one thing that leaves me exhausted. It’s the one thing that makes me feel like a failure. It’s the one thing that overwhelms me and brings me to the point of tears at times. It’s the one thing that makes me feel alone.
Honestly, I thought by now that my child was supposed to have it all down. But I was wrong —oh so wrong.
In part, I think the belief that my son would magically adopt the perfect sleep schedule stemmed from hearing about how well other kids around his age were sleeping—and also from how conversations around sleep and sleep training began to decrease as he got older.
It’s like everyone stopped talking about the topic once my son hit a year old. Questions like “How’s he sleeping?” or “Does he sleep through the night?” began to fade. Concerns and curiosity moved onto what kind of foods he was eating or how many words he was saying.
And so I convinced myself that sleep was supposed to be something he had mastered by now. But the fact that it wasn’t left me discouraged, concerned and questioning if I had messed things up somewhere along the line.
Under the weight of all that, I began to suffer in silence from a load of mom guilt telling me that I hadn’t done good enough at regulating the perfect routine in order to create a consistent bedtime.
On nights when it’s nearing 10 pm and my child is still fighting his sleep, that guilt tells me that a better mom would of had it together. That guilt tells me that I have failed.
Sleep training may not come easy for some as it does for others, but it doesn’t mean that you are doing anything wrong.
But in my defense, no one told me how hard sleep training would be. No one told me that there would be nights when my child would decide that his 8 pm bedtime was actually just a nap—and that he’d wake up after an hour of sleep, recharged and energized and adamant to play.
No one told me that I would have such a hard time getting him used to falling asleep without being rocked, bounced or breastfed.
No one told me that my heart would break over trying the cry-it-out technique, or that I’d frantically be searching Google for more options—all which worked to no avail.
No one told me that sleep challenges would cause so much turbulence within my marriage.
No one told me that sleep isn’t a straight line, but rather yet an up then down kind of thing—where one night everything is all good and then the next is a complete catastrophe.
No one told me that sleep training would be this hard—especially sleep training a toddler. So here I am now, telling you. If there are any words of wisdom that I can offer to whoever is reading this, it’s this:
- You are doing the best that you know how.
- It will get better in time, but it may get worse first.
- As many studies and guidelines that exist out there, there is no “one-size-fits-all” structure. What works for one child may not work for the next.
- You and your partner are one the same team, not opposite ones. Find ways to work together. One party may suffer more than the other sometimes, but never allow each other to suffer alone.
- On nights when it feels like everything’s falling apart, go with the flow—don’t fight it. I’ve found more joy in laughing at my son’s goofiness in the midnight hours rather than sulking over missed sleep.
Sometimes your child may not need you as much as they did when they were younger, but they still want you—and it won’t be that way forever. One day, they’ll shut their bedroom doors and even lock them. One day, they’ll come home from school and go straight to take a nap rather than telling you about their day. One day, they won’t want the bedtime stories or lullabies anymore. So embrace what you can give them right now.
Sleep training may not come easy for some as it does for others, but it doesn’t mean that you are doing anything wrong. And it doesn’t mean that you are failing. Be gentle with your child, and be gentle with yourself. No part of parenting is truly able to be mastered. You are bound to make mistakes. You are bound to have both successes and failures. You are bound to have good days and bad ones. But the entire journey within itself is bound to be a beautiful one. Lean into that, mama.
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