When you have a kid, you soon realize that one of the most frequent (and bizarre) questions you get from family, friends and strangers is: is she a good baby?
Like, what are you going to say? No? She’s a really shitty baby? I wish I could send her back? We’ve been in touch with some adoption agencies? I hope the next one turns out better?
After the good baby question, the next thing that will inevitably come out of that person’s mouth is: is she a good sleeper? Because for some reason all babies are judged based on their ability to sleep.
My son is a terrible sleeper. He has many sterling qualities, but sleeping well is not among them. At 19 months he still wakes up multiple times a night. I would give you an average of how many, but I’m too exhausted to count.
I’ve discovered that sleep is a really tough subject to discuss with other parents, for several reasons:
1. They all have sleep strategies that they want to share with you.
2. They assume that you have tried zero sleep strategies on your own.
3. They make you feel like having a kid who doesn’t sleep through the night is some kind of horrible failure on your part.
That last one? The one where I am made to feel like a terrible parent and a failure? I am being dead serious right there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mentioned to other parents that Theo doesn’t sleep through the night, only to be met with an expression that would best be described as total and complete horror. From the looks on their faces, you would think I’d just confessed that he regularly swills gin and plays with knives. Which, I mean, that is totally inaccurate, because we only sometimes let him have gin.
It sucks, because not only do I feel like I am getting grief from other parents for having a sleepless kid, but also being this tired all the time makes me want to stab things. Matt likes to tell this story about how, in the first week of Theo’s life, he was so exhausted that he started hallucinating. At one point he turned to me and said, I understand now why sleep deprivation is an effective torture technique.
Theo was a fledgling insomniac even in those early days. He grunted and wriggled around in his sleep, and he absolutely would not sleep in a crib. When I tell people that we co-sleep with him, they often assume that it’s because I’m some kind of attachment parenting hippie. I mean, I am an attachment parenting hippie, but really, the decision to share our bed with our kid was born out of the fact that we couldn’t figure out how to get him to sleep, and we were desperate.
Since then, we’ve tried a few different types of sleep training. Some we’ve had moderate success with, some we’ve been too tired to implement properly or regularly, and some have just flat-out not worked for us.
One thing that’s helped recently, though, is re-evaluating what my expectations are for Theo’s sleep. Part of that comes from the fact that I’ve struggled with insomnia since my early teens; if, at 30, I can’t remember the last time that I slept through the night, why am I expecting my kid to be able to? Theo got Matt’s blue eyes, adorable nose and laid-back personality – it only makes sense that some of my genes would start showing up sometime. I can only hope that he also got my killer fashion sense.
Thinking all this doesn’t make me any less tired, but it does make me feel a little more sympathetic towards him. Because the thing is, I know what it’s like to not be able to sleep. I know how rough that is. There are nights when I, a highly verbal and fairly capable adult, still cry from frustration because I can’t seem to turn off my brain. Given that, I don’t know why I would expect my sleepless toddler to just be able to roll over and start sawing logs.
I know from experience that I can’t force myself to sleep, and, the fact is, I can’t force Theo either.
So where does that leave us? Mostly it leaves me with a sense of it is what is is, which is oddly comforting. We’ll keep trying different strategies to get him to sleep through the night, for sure, but I’m going to try to stop feeling bad about it. He’s a sentient human being, wholly separate from myself, who, while able to know his own wants, totally lacks any ability to be reasoned with – at this point, if he doesn’t want to sleep, it probably isn’t going to happen. And it probably isn’t my fault.
Maybe this is a good parenting lesson for me. Because sometimes, my kid is going to want (or not want) to do something, and I’m not always going to have perfect control over the situation. I’m not saying that I’m going to give into him, but I am saying that maybe I need to be more flexible. Maybe I need to learn to look for a different approach to any given issue, or work to find a compromise. Hopefully, rather than seeing me as someone who is trying to impose her authoritarian will on him, Theo will come to see me as someone who is trying her damnedest to understand him, and only has his best interests at heart.
Because that’s the parenting dream, isn’t it? To have your kids respect and obey you without resenting you. To have them understand that sometimes you have to do things that they won’t like because, for whatever reason, it’s good for them. Is that even possible? I’m not sure.
If all else fails, we’ll just blow his whole college fund on therapy and sleeping pills.