I have to admit, for the first year or so of my son’s life, I never thought I would be giving any other parent advice on children and sleep. Even though E was a great sleeper, I always felt a little bit guilty because I usually nursed him or rocked him or patted him to sleep. Most people, especially my family, said that I was going to spoil him that way. “Let him learn to go to sleep by himself,” they said, “even if it means a few tears.” I guess I could just never “buck up” enough to ignore my son’s cries, and the critics remained, growing ever louder as my son got older.
Our bedtime routine, from age one until recently was as follows: 7:30, jammies and a book, 8:00, lights out, a bit of quiet discussion about the day, and then singing or patting or lying down with him until he fell asleep. Sometimes it took a long time for him to go to sleep, and it could be frustrating. I have to give tons of credit to my husband, who has done the majority of bedtimes, especially the last two years. I’m not nearly as patient as he is, but when it was my turn to put the little guy to bed, it was my favorite time of day. I loved the adorable things he would share with me, being able to assuage his fears, and especially the deep, even breathing when he finally drifted off.
The other day, however, the strangest thing happened. After we turned the lights off, I had to go to the bathroom, so I told E I’d be right back. When I came back, he was snuggled up tightly with his eyes closed. I whispered, “Are you asleep?” He nodded. I said, “Okay, I’ll come back to check on you in a bit.” And when I did, he was actually asleep. So I decided to try it the next night, and again the next. We’re currently on night number four of this method, and it’s working out well for everyone involved.
I have no doubt that there will be a few more nights that I’m sitting at his bedside, perhaps when he’s sick or had a bad day, but for the most part, it seems like this phase of his life has come to a close, just like when he chose to stop nursing. And rather than viewing this with relief, as I imagine many parents might, I’m of mixed emotions. This means he’s growing up.
And you know what? Four years in, and I have only one regret about the way I’ve put my son to sleep. I regret all that time that I felt guilty for not following the advice of others. I wish I had had the confidence in myself and my parenting to let it go much earlier than I did. I’m glad that I trusted my instinct, because my instinct was right. I’m not going to go into all the reasons that crying it out was wrong (or at least wrong for us), because PhD in Parenting has an excellent article on the subject. [Plus, let’s be honest. I do research for a living and I just can’t bring myself to do more at home in order to prove a point to five people on the internet.] Anyhow, I feel that my son moving on to sleep by himself is just further proof that my values have worked for my son, and not “spoiled” him in any way.
I think part of the reason that our separation is working so well is that E is very good at going to sleep. As far as I know, it’s not something he was born with. We’ve worked very hard on those skills, and I’m afraid that a lot of parents are too focused on the end result (being asleep) and not the process (falling asleep). Our method:
- The first thing was just teaching him to relax his body, and I mean really relax, not just lie down. We encouraged him to play with his muscles during the day, tightening and relaxing different ones to various degrees so he could see what it feels like.
- We also encouraged him to get really comfortable in his bed. I always like to ask, “Do you feel like you could fall asleep in that position?”
- Another was breathing deeply and naturally. My husband and I probably sounded like yoga teachers some nights. “In through the nose and out through the mouth.”
- Of course, keeping the eyes shut as much as possible. I know that it’s kind of hard when you don’t feel that tired.
- The final thing (and the thing that I still struggle with sometimes) was encouraging him to erase busy, daytime thoughts from his head, and if he wanted to think of something, to think of something relaxing that he’d like to dream about.
I’m interested in hearing other people’s adventures in sleep. Please share!