Before this post will make any sense you’re going to need some backstory… I was born in the small town of, no wait, that’s too far back… Sister was born… yes, that’s about right….
Before Sister was born my main concern about having a new baby was loss of sleep. The holding, the changing, the loving, the nursing, I knew I could handle all of that but sleep was on my top three list of things I loved (right after God and my husband) so I was highly concerned potential at the loss of it. That is why for about six of my nine-ish pregnant months I did research and developed a plan. I came across a very intriguing book that promised a new baby could sleep through the night by six weeks or so if only you would follow the directions to the letter and not grow discouraged when things didn’t seem to be going well (You know like if your child was crying their eyes out begging you to, “Please come pick me up already! I’m a baby and I NEED you.”) The book laid it all out and before Sister was born it seemed like the perfect solution to my fears.
This is why a couple of weeks after we brought Sister home I briefed Will on “The Plan” and we began. Early success encouraged us and so we continued. (We didn’t realize that most newborns sleep all the time with or without a “Plan.”) As time went on successful sleep times grew scarce and crying became the norm. We were baffled. We followed the directions perfectly. Well, almost perfectly… we “gave in” occasionally and held our weeping daughter close until she calmed and then wept ourselves at the “failure.”
It took too many months before we snapped out of that “I just do what I’m told” stupor and started thinking for ourselves as parents. If I remember right it was not long after the night we heard Sister outside our door, whimpering, needing comfort and yet afraid to come in. One of us stumbled out of bed, went and gave her a hug then sent her back to her room, still whimpering. Yes, it was after that we declared, “This is wrong!” We moved Sister’s bed to our room and when she woke 3 and 4 and 5 times each night we reached out a hand to hold hers and we whispered sweet thoughts and slowly … very, very slowly she learned to sleep.
I am not trying to start a debate here on nighttime parenting. If you trust your instincts I’m sure you will find the right solution for your family. But I want to say very clearly is that we did NOT trust our instincts. And because we did not, we taught our child to fear the night and to fear being alone in a way that went far beyond normal childhood fears.
It’s been almost 5 years since our parenting ephipany and in that time Sister (and Brother) have mostly slept with us. In our first home we all shared a room. At Grandma’s we had the mega-bed. At the loft apartment there was no choice but to be together. Then we moved to our current home where the rooms are small and it made sense to divide our beds among them. At first, sleepless nights were chalked up to the change in location but as time passed they grew more frequent and the terror behind them had a central theme. “I don’t feel safe without you.”
We talked about these concerns during the day and we prayed them away each night but fears are not logical. They can’t be explained away. Fears have no faith and without it they can’t be prayed away. Sometimes what fear really needs is a tangible hand to hold and a voice that confidently says, “You are safe.”
So we combined our beds together once again; completely filling the little room they are in. It looks strange to say the least. I wish I could say that the ensueing peaceful nights made up for the strangeness but alas, no. And here is where this post really begins.
Will had surgery about three weeks ago and while he was recuperating he slept on the couch. It was easier to get in and out of (Our bed is on the floor.) and he was already resting there during the day. This created an empty space in the bed beside me. An empty space quickly filled by the enterprising Sister. She moved in her pillow, her blanket, her water, her books and a number of other critical items. Finally settled, she slept. Really slept. For the first time in months. The next night she casually inquired where Daddy would be sleeping. Told he would remain on the sofa, she settled in again and really slept. So it went to the end of the week when Daddy was finally well enough to leave the couch and join us in our “bed” room.
Sister roused us a couple of times the first night, three times the second, four times the third… see a pattern? We switched the room’s configuration twice so she could be closer to our bed hoping that would help. It didn’t. The wakings escalated until more time was spent with eyes open than closed. Will and I sleepily discussed the issue each morning. I googled “six year old insomnia”, among other things, searching for solutions. But Sister could and did counter every suggestion or reason we presented about why she should go to sleep. (I’m thinking someday she could have a very lucrative position in sales.) The morning after bedtime was at 9pm and Sister went to sleep at 3am, we laid down the law. You can stay awake as long as you want but you will not do it in here. We went on to explain that she was welcome to get up quietly to use the restroom or get a drink of water but if she insisted on keeping us awake she would be asked to sleep on the couch for the remainder of the night… alone. We stuck to this plan for two nights. I wish I could say that it worked but if you read through the whole backstory you know it didn’t. It didn’t work because in all that time of discussion and solution searching we never truly considered Sister’s needs. We thought we did. We talked about what we thought she needed. We psychoanalyzed her behavior and reached psychoanalytical conclusions. We thought we considered her but once again what we were really considering was how she could conform to meet our needs. Fortunately, it didn’t take months for this second parental epiphany to occur.
The next day we tried a new approach. We asked her what she thought a good solution might be and we really listened to the answer. Then we talked about what was realistic and what wasn’t. We found compromises and real solutions and that night we all slept more and the next night a little more and last night all the way through to 6am.
The problem with fear is that it keeps you from seeing the other person’s point of view. It keeps you closed, separate, and alone. But trust is the opposite. To trust someone is to say, we can do anything together.
A cup of water
Blankie, Story, Goodnight Kiss
Please go to sleep now
Don’t forget to submit your haiku to Leslie… one more day!