If you are expecting a useful list of tricks and tips to get your little one sleeping from evening until morning then I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place. Equally, if you already know how old my son is and are perhaps expecting a tale of nearly three years of woe and broken sleep and now a glorious celebration of a toddler mastering the full twelve hours of nighttime shut-eye, then I’m sorry to disappoint this is not that post either…
In fact my son cottoned on to the whole ‘sleeping well’ thing very early on – I look back and marvel at how well rested we were in the first six months of his life and yet we didn’t have the faintest idea we were and we certainly didn’t feel it. After six months teeth happened, development happened, illness happened, travel happened. My son first slept through the night – for the full night – I think at the age of about 10 or 11 months. I can’t really remember because it didn’t last as a regular occurrence. Guess what? Teeth kept happening, development kept happening, the odd illness kept happening, travel kept happening.
But this isn’t about then…this post is all about how my darling son, at the age of nearly three, sleeps through the night now.
So let me, if you will, start my rambly tale at bedtime and my first black mark against me – I stay with my son while he falls asleep. Sometimes he will be happy for me to leave, but right now, he wants me to stay…actually I think he needs me to stay. And so I stay. He doesn’t take long to go to sleep and I try to use it as a useful opportunity to practise some mindful birthing meditation and connect with my unborn baby.
This all sounds very worthy, the reality is that the unborn baby sleeps through her brother’s bedtime so I feel nothing physical; I’m surreptitiously staring at my son trying to convey a physic message that he should really fall asleep NOW; I do a few breaths then think about my to do list; I manage a few more and then half write a blog post; a couple more then…ooo goody he’s asleep, and I hot-foot it out the door.
I won’t bore you with nightlights so bright that we’ve created Dungeness B or the ‘alpha music’ (no I don’t know what that means either) that tinkles through the twilight hours OR the cardinal sin of dummy use…
No let’s skip to the good bit…he’s asleep…and then he wakes up. Sometimes it’s a bad dream, poor poppet. But sometimes, most times, he just likes a visit. You see my son CAN sleep through the night without waking but he doesn’t – clearly our company is far too addictive and engaging to be confined to daylight hours only.
Our parental magnetism draws him in and the result is that most nights my son – nearly three remember, proven to be able to sleep through the night – will spend the second half of the night on a mattress on the floor of our bedroom.
It’s really not textbook, or otherwise, perfect – it’s a habit we have created and a rod for own backs.
BUT it’s a totally wonderful habit: we all get a fabulous night’s sleep from that point onwards, we are privileged to hear his happy toddlery dreams that don’t wake him up, but that have him giggling in his sleep, and then we enjoy slow morning wakeups where we all lie in our beds chatting (bin lorries have been THE hot topic this week). The ‘rod’ makes me stand a bit taller, feel a bit closer to all my little family and means each morning starts with a smile (my toddler’s not mine – I’m still a big grump in the mornings).
I find it hard to always remember these facts though – in fact this post is an almost entirely selfish exercise for me to once again silence the creepy little spectres of super nannies, well-meaning relatives, the odd friend and traditional sleep experts that practise their strange dark art of imaginary whispered judgement between 7pm and 7am when they seem to believe your shift as a parent should have finished.
Lots of new parents invite them in and some people love the advice imparted, some people find solace in what they are saying. I am unfortunately not one of those people…I hate them. I hate that I spent the first year of my son’s life trying to listen to them and feeling like a complete failure – feeling that I was doing something fundamentally wrong – because I couldn’t listen to them properly or, more accurately, didn’t want to.
In the middle of every night recently the line up of sleep experts hold up their ‘nil points’ cards and shuffle out of the house disappointedly shaking their heads. And I have felt that old failure again, just a tad but enough. I even got to the point of having the following conversation:
Me – night night darling, and you know it would be really lovely to see you in the morning… So perhaps in the night you could stay snuggled down in here in your lovely bed in your lovely room with Mr Cow.
My son – OR Mummy (said with worrying enthusiasm) I could wake up and call for you and you’ll come and see me and I can sleep on the mattress!
But really that’s ok, thinking it through this week and writing it all down has once again reassured me that we’re doing what’s best for all of us. I strongly believe that my son at the tender age of ‘nearly three’ is going through a lot…a lot of positives but unsettling nonetheless: he has started to regularly use the potty, he has recently started preschool plus the sibling invasion has begun with sometimes preoccupied parents and a sick, tired Mother. He needs some control and he needs to connect with us, and if that means that he sleeps incredibly well for half the night a few metres away from where we’d like him to sleep then so be it.
This won’t be everyone’s preferred take on sleep, of course, but if this post is going to be in any way vaguely useful and not just a weird insight into our nighttime adventures I will pass on four bits of personal advice…feel free to consign it to the dustbin of my toddler’s dreams:
1. Free yourself from any parenting advice that makes you feel like you are doing things ‘wrong’. It is unlikely you are doing anything terribly wrong…the important thing is whether your nights are as right as you would like
2. Try to work out what it is you would like (or more realistically what you can live with) and why. Acceptance is a big part of this. I have to accept that my son sleeps much like my husband and I do – sometimes well, sometimes not, always affected by mood and life
3. Always be alert to relevance and critique every idea, but if you’re lucky enough to find a parenting ‘expert’ whose words resonate don’t be afraid to invite them in…one person’s creepy spectre is another’s saviour. One of my friendly judges when it comes to sleep is Sarah Ockwell Smith – she stays when the others leave. She doesn’t give me the full ten points; she wishes I were kinder to my son at night, more patient and less grumpy, but she doesn’t make me feel crap at 2am so I give her imaginary tea and cake and she sticking around for now
4. Try to shut out all the other noise and see if you can hear the little voice of your instinct. If you can hear it, see if you can really listen to what it’s saying. If you can do that then why not trust it too? After all when it comes to your child you’ll probably quite quickly find you are the only parenting expert worth consulting.
So how does my son sleep through the night?
With wakings, with company, with contact, with support.