My experience with her has been so different from my other children, and sleep is one of the most dramatic differences. I wrote about getting her to sleep in the early days, and since then we’ve enjoyed lots of sleep-full nights. Throughout the experience I’ve learned a lot about sleep and relationships.
1. Having my child sleep apart from me hasn’t damaged our relationship. With my first child, I was really scared that if I let him sleep in his own space, and especially in his own room, we would have a permanent gulf between us. I was a little concerned about it with my daughter, but quickly learned it wasn’t something I needed to worry about. My relationship with my daughter is established by how I treat her and our interactions during waking hours, not by where she sleeps.
Regardless, I kept her close to me for the first few months because it was easier for me to attend to her when she needed it. She slept in a bassinet in my bedroom until she was about four months old, and then I transitioned her to a Montessori floor bed in her own room. Throughout it all we’ve been very close, and very connected. While she isn’t as dependent on me as my other children were, she is still very affectionate and we enjoy lots of close cuddle time.
2. Establishing good sleep habits doesn’t mean babies will never have nighttime needs. Until she was about four months old, my daughter would sleep through the night in the literal sense. I put her to bed around 5:30 or 6pm, and she would wake up at 6:30 or 7am the next morning. Every once in a while she would squirm around or cry out, but then she’d snuggle back down again and fall asleep. Then she started rolling over, and started teething, and everything got thrown for a loop.
When she woke up, she often turned herself over and didn’t want to or couldn’t settle back down. That went on for a few weeks, then calmed down. Then she started crawling, and it started again. Now we’re in a stage where if there is any distraction (usually her brothers), she is too interested in them to eat, so she wakes a couple times in the night because she’s hungry.
While it would be really lovely to create good sleep habits early in her life and leave it at that, the fact is that sleep changes as children grow. I’ve learned to listen to her needs, adapt, and respond as needed. For her developmental milestones, we got to a point where I had to gently tell her I was going to leave her in the position she was in and let her fall asleep on her own. It was hard to listen to her cry, and a couple times she wanted me to stay close to her (and I did), but I could almost see the change in her confidence and wakefulness the next days. And now with eating, I of course get up to feed her. It’s twice a night at the most, after she’s slept for 8-10 hours, and it will pass. Creating healthy sleep habits doesn’t mean we ignore needs or force unwanted changes.
3. Parenting is a thousand times easier when baby has good nighttime habits. For various reasons, sleep was one of the hardest things about parenting for me. With my first children, I felt guilty that I loved them the most when they were asleep, but I wasn’t comfortable making the changes necessary to establish good sleep. This time around (and also with my older children, now that we’re all in a good routine), I love my kids the most when they’re awake. They sleep a lot, so thinking about naps and nighttime isn’t stressful or anxious for any of us.
They’re also all a lot less crabby and a lot more predictable when they get lots of sleep (aren’t we all?) Once I had that aspect of parenting down, which gave me more time to spend by myself and with my husband, I have a thousand times more confidence about my overall parenting. All three of my kids usually take a 1 1/2 – 2 hr nap at the same time every day. How could I not feel like superwoman!?
I really wish I had known about this and done it from the start with my first two children. Evenings are infinitely more enjoyable when my daughter and I do our short routine together and she giggles, smiles, and blows bubbles at me when I lay her down to sleep than the endless tears and stress of bedtime with my first son. She kicks her legs with happiness when I sing her lullaby, and visibly relaxes when I tuck her into her blanket.
This is the way I wish it had always been.
Photo credit: tamakisono on Flickr