Letters to Younger Dumber Me: On Sleep
With the recent influx of babies our tribe has experienced, I find myself thinking about what advice I’d give younger, dumber, new-parent me on a variety of topics. I’m not sure how many topics I’ll actually cover, but I figured I start here.
I am absolutely not claiming to be the authority on all things parenting, but I am claiming to be way fucking smarter than I was as a new parent. In fact, every day, I get a little bit smarter. It’s one of my favorite things about getting older.
I did the (mostly) single parent thing with the girls as infants – I got my boys when they were safely past the infant stage. I’d be lying if I said I’d never imagined/wished that I’d gotten them when they were fresher. That said, I’m so fucking thankful for getting them that I don’t care that they didn’t come with that new human smell. Smells. That’s a whole other fucking topic, where kids are concerned. A god-damned never-ending circus of smells.
If we were to crap out new babies today, I suspect it would be a far different experience for me, although I am totally confident in the fact that I’d not fuck up the bedtime stuff again. In fact, I did it pretty well with the second infant. As with so many things, your first time through is more of a guess-and-test kinda thing.
So, with that in mind, a couple of letters, to my younger, dumber self:
Dear Younger, Dumber, Brand-New-Parent Me,
Let’s talk about sleep. You’re about to royally fuck up your ability to get a good night’s rest for the next several years. Seriously. I know that sweet little baby scares the shit out of you. I know she grabbed you right in your heart muscle and now you feel spasms in your chest cavity over every little thing you want to do right and every little thing you hope you’re not doing wrong.
I understand that as soon as you put her in her little bassinet, right fucking next to your bed, you lay there, unable to shut your brain off about all of the horrifying things that might happen to her. I know that (as you bounce from SIDS to cancer to choking on her spit up to carbon monoxide poisoning) your compulsion to check to make sure she’s still breathing is involuntary and fucking uncontrollable. I understand that panicky feeling that chokes you at the mere idea that anything could happen to her. I totally get that she is your entire universe and even though you really want to sleep, you also really don’t want to sleep because what if something happens to her while you sleep???
I understand that after a few of these nights, you’re so god damned exhausted that letting baby Payton sleep with you seems like a harmless idea. Hell, it seems like a good idea! It seems like the best way to ensure that you can make sure she keeps breathing, while getting some much-needed sleep yourself. You have that awesome co-sleeper cushion thingy that will keep you from rolling over her and suffocating her. She seems to LOVE sleeping so closely to you, and it sure does make middle-of-the-night nursing easier.
I understand that you’re pretty sure it’s fine to sleep with her. Besides, she totally sleeps by herself when she’s napping during the day, right? I mean, except the part where you rock her to sleep for her naps and then – ever-so-carefully – lay her down in her bassinet, hoping that she won’t wake up, keeping your hand on her for several minutes until you’re sure she’s not going to wake up right away…and then you tiptoe around the house, keeping it as absolutely quiet as possible, so as not to disturb her sleep. You even know where the squeaky floorboards are, so that you can avoid them! And when she wakes up before her nap should be done you pick her up right away and rock her back to sleep and start the whole thing all over again. Except for all of that, yeah, she totally sleeps by herself for naps!
Dude. You’re in dangerous territory. Not from a literal, safety standpoint, but from a do-you-ever-want-to-sleep-alone-again, doing-the-dishes-while-holding-a-baby-is-really-inefficient, you’re-driving-yourself-crazy standpoint. Tiptoeing around, letting that sweet baby sleep with you now is going to create a habit that is SO FUCKING HARD to break. Trust me. She’s healthy. It’s healthy for her to sleep alone. It’s healthy for you to sleep alone. It’s healthy for her to learn to ignore the sounds of the regular world happening.
Much Smarter Future Me
Dear Younger, Dumber, Newly-the-Parent-of-Two Me,
Let’s revisit the topic of sleep. I know you didn’t listen the first time around, so now you’re going to have to reap what you fucking sowed.
You just brought home #2, and the world is still spinning. You spent the last several months so fucking worried that you wouldn’t be able to love this new baby as much as you love the first. And somehow…you do! Congratulations! You’re just as crazy in love with your second baby as you are with the first.
Speaking of the first…she’s still in your fucking bed. Dude. She is almost 4 years old, and bedtime is a god-damned NIGHTMARE. You seem to be in this infinite loop of tuck her in, leave the room, wait a few minutes, take her back to her room, lay down with her in her bed for “only 5 minutes,” leave the room, wait a minute, take her back to her room, tell her for really real this time, you’ll lay with her for “only 5 more minutes,” leave the room, wait… on and on, until you finally go to bed, where you’ve finally fallen asleep, only to have her crawl in bed with you.
Dude. I told you.
Now, the only way to handle this is to A. get tough with her, and B. AVOID this problem with the new baby! I know, she’s just so sweet and tiny and cuddly. I know you worry that she’s somehow going to know that you let her big sister sleep with you but won’t let her sleep with you and she’s going to think that means that you love her LESS than her sister and what kind of parent lets their child think they love one kid more than the other?!?!?
But, dude. That isn’t how it’ll go down. They will both be perfectly fine. Just give it a shot. Swaddle that new baby tight like you’re putting her in a straight jacket, lay her down in her crib – in her own room, and leave her alone. If you start it like that from the beginning, she’ll never even know that not sleeping is an option. I know it sucks to let her cry, but let’s be real: what feels like an eternity is only 3 minutes – 7, tops. She’s learning how to soothe herself back to sleep. She can do it! Have a little faith in her. Go focus on how you’re going to get the bigger one to stay in her fucking bed. It’s going to take a few months, but if you stop laying down with her, and make her go back to her bed every. single. time. she gets up, she’ll get the knack of it, too.
Also, do not – Seriously. DO NOT – tiptoe around for fear of waking this one up. You did that a lot the first time and it only served to make Payton a super light sleeper. When you put Lu to bed, continue on with what-the-fuck-ever you need to get done. Play music. Talk at a normal tone. Let your phone ring. She’ll learn to ignore these sounds and sleep right through them – at bedtime and at naptime.
Now, stick with it! You have to reprogram them to run on autopilot about some things…otherwise, you’re likely to have some kind of a damned mental break. Bedtime is bedtime – no exceptions. It’s going to take longer with the bigger one (y’know, because you fucked up the programming on that one from the start) but it will happen. Pretty soon, all of the other exhausted parents you know are going to be wondering how you got them to be so good about bedtime.
I promise. They’ll both be fine. Just trust me.
Know what else? Someday, you won’t have to do this shit alone. Someday, you’re going to find your fucking soul mate. I swear, he exists. For now, though, you just do what you need to do to keep these kids alive.
Much Smarter (way fucking happier) Future Me
Things I fucked up:
- Allowing Infant #1 to sleep with me.
- SO MANY OTHER THINGS, but this post is about sleep, so lay off.
Things I finally figured out/did right:
- Swaddling. My technique has been referenced as “straight-jacketing,” and is effective af.
- Being tough/strict/hard on my kid hurts me more than it hurts them.
- Not being tough/strict/hard on them hurts them in the long run. Like, actually hurts them.
- Letting a child (even, an infant) cry will not kill, hurt, or otherwise damage them.
- Instituted the following rules:
- Everyone sleeps in their own bed
- Bedtime is at the same time, every night, no exceptions
- Up to 7 minutes of crying before I go in, until they hit 3 months old, at which time it flips to 15 minutes, which seems harsh, but it so fucking isn’t.
- NEVER EVER BREAK Rule #1.