Lots of things happen to you when you become a parent. You start to talk in a funny high-pitched voice, you are constantly covered in sick / poo / food or something; you develop a crazy ability to drink coffee and eat cake. And you do WHATEVER IT TAKES to get your child to sleep.
Our toddler is, and always has been, one of those Children Who Don’t Sleep. To be fair, he never pretended otherwise – I remember the first night in hospital he screamed the ENTIRE night, me frantically pushing the button to call the midwife so they could tell me the magic way to stop the crying and start the sleep, only to learn there most definitely wasn’t one.
During those first few weeks I could feed him to sleep, but he was a pro at waking up during The Great Moses Basket Transfer. We found that holding his hands, standing over him with our eyes closed (to provide inspiration) and saying “sssshhhh” quite loudly would eventually work. So that’s what we did. He’d go to sleep, but we’d be lucky if we got more than about 30 mins sleep at a time. Being awake was, it seemed, just too much fun. FOMO at 3 months old.
Then he outgrew the moses basket so it was time for the cot, but that made things even worse. We decided it must be because the cot was just too big, so we put sheet-covered boxes and rolled up cellular blankets to try and make it cosier. The cot looked like some sort of weird soft play. And it didn’t work.
We tried everything. I remember staying with a friend one night and he slept in a crib, like a small cot. And he slept OK! So by 7am I’d sourced one of these cribs on gumtree and it was in our house that night. But it didn’t work.
Every so often we’d have a better night and would be so happy that we’d try and recreate ALL the conditions of that day, in an almost crazed way: “maybe it was the sleepsuit! Quick! Wash it!”, “you sang Rudolph the red nosed reindeer – do that again!”. We were almost certainly slowly losing it, but our brains were so broken by the sleep deprivation that if someone had suggested that we perform a trapeze routine while chanting an ancient haiku we’d probably have tried it.
The vague glimmer of light at the end of the sleepless tunnel came when we saw a cranial osteopath and she worked her magic on some tension points in his back and neck, which had an instant impact. The 15 minute wakenings became 2 hourly – a MIRACLE in our books and just enough to give us hope that one day we might get a real night’s sleep again.
But going to sleep was still a huge issue. The whole process was a delicate affair. Of course we tried a fixed routine. Of course we tried the special mattresses. Of course we tried limiting daytime naps (not hard, as these required specific in-moving-buggy conditions). Of course we tried, I mean really tried, controlled crying. It didn’t work.
Then suddenly, when he was about 18 months, a light seemed to switch and it was like he got it. Maybe being more physically active and tiring his little brain trying to talk meant that he felt the benefit of sleep. We had a glorious, oh-so-needed few months where he would have some milk, sit in his cot, shout “naniiiiight” and go to sleep. All by himself. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. Our evenings were about 2 hours longer than they had been. At about 18 months he actually slept through the night. We felt AMAZING! Everyone had been right! It WAS just a phase!
Only thing is, so was this. Slowly, he started to get more and more demanding again. Milk was no longer enough. Milk became milk + book. Which became milk + book + song. And then he wanted his hand held until he went off. Or his back rubbed. And the thing is, we were so desperate to get him to go to sleep, we did it. It worked, so we did it.
And so it continued for a few months. Let’s just say a low point was when we (OK, I) found ourselves moving on from “rubby back” on him, to “rubby back” on his toy rabbit. Crazy, huh? But let me tell you – it worked, so we did it.
And so that brings us to the current day. He’ll be 3 in July, and we now know exactly what we need to do to get him to bed. All it takes is a totally off the wall mental routine that has to be treated with the utmost respect. We have a rhyme (“no rubby back, no holdy hands, no crying, no shouting, just sleep”) that he chants, before having a book, a story from our head*, all finished off with 2 choruses of Tommy Thumb, but with the added joy of a special 6th character called Cossington. None of us have any idea who or what Cossington is, but he or she arrived 1 night about a year ago and has never left. It works, so we do it.
[note to self – ensure that nobody who might ever babysit round our house never reads this piece!]
Now, I know what you’re thinking: we’ve lost it; we’re committing all types of parenting fails here and i don’t doubt you’re full of advice for where we’re going wrong. But please please PLEASE let me say this. Of ALL the subjects to offer advice on, how to get your child to sleep is one you shouldn’t go anywhere near. There are times I’d have actually lamped someone if they’d recommended Ewan the effing dream sheep or keeping a fixed routine one more time. Trust me: parents with Children Who Don’t Sleep have tried it. They’ve tried EVERYTHING. Don’t make them feel worse by telling them there’s something easy that will fix everything. Kids are all different – our second is (mainly) a pretty big fan of sleep, which has made me feel a whooooole lot better about things. By all means tell them what worked for you, but mainly just buy them a coffee (FULL CAFF), give them a hug and remind them this won’t last forever.
Because it’s just a phase, right?!
*sidenote: I am baaaaad at these. My stories normally repeat back what we’ve done that day a bit like the “story” at the end of In The Night Garden. His Dad somehow manages to conjure up Booker Prize worthy stories on any demanded subject of choice, complete with a moral lesson, at the drop of a hat…