When, despite your best efforts, it’s been a rough night, recognize that energy and patience levels are low…Being a parent is a very tough job, made even more challenging when you are awakened in the night.
Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, Sleepless in America
Disclaimer: I am not a fan of parental “advice”. This story is told in the following spirit: “Wow, something actually worked! Maybe it will work for someone else!” Maybe not. But for any parents who have despaired of ever succeeding in helping their child change some unproductive behavior, then enjoyed a glimmer of hope one day, this may resonate. I hope everyone else will come along for the ride.
All right, everyone buckled up? OK, let’s head back to that early Saturday morning…since it’s been awhile since my last post, you might not remember, but anyway we’d basically been up all night with the junior members of the household.
As I sat up in bed, nursing my baby and rubbing my eyes as much to shield them from the sunlight as to assuage their burning, I took careful stock of the day ahead and made a mental list of our assets (the liabilities were pretty obvious):
- For the first time in a long time, our family as a whole had no plans on the calendar. No place to be, no need to rush.
- My eldest (the only family member who had slept all night) had a play date scheduled with a neighbor whose mom was happy to pick my son up and drop him off (yay, thanks Tracey!).
- It wasn’t raining (here in the Pacific Northwest, that’s always an asset) and the temperature was mild.
I decided at that moment to make my goal an afternoon nap for the four of us, and to pursue it with unwavering commitment, taking into account the following facts I had learned while reading about children and sleep:
- Morning sunlight helps set the “body clock” so that it’s ready to sleep at the appropriate time (television has the opposite effect).
- Exercise is important in preparing the body for sleep at a later time.
- Most children become sleepy about half an hour after eating lunch.
- Sensitive children sleep better with a “nest” of security blankets, special pillows or “lovies” around them.
This day, my daughter and I would put all of these statements to a pretty extreme test. What did we have to lose? Sanity was already well on its way out the door.
I got out of bed, donned my slippers, and shuffled out into the living room, where my older kids were eating cereal and watching Netflix. Knowing that this was heading down the wrong path, I announced that after this episode of Spongebob was over, I would be turning off the TV and taking my daughter out for a walk. Surprised, she acquiesced pretty easily. I grabbed a quick bite, dressed myself and the baby, and bundled him into the stroller. Then out we went (I think the element of speed as well as surprise helped this happen without complaint. We were halfway down the block before she knew what happened).
We spent a pleasant hour wandering our neighborhood, noticing the way that the leaves on some of the trees had started to change, admiring our neighbors’ gardens, and running in circles around the parking lot of a nearby elementary school. By the time we returned, my eldest had left on his play date, and my husband had started to make lunch.
As lunch concluded, I talked to my daughter about rest time, since she does better when she knows what’s coming next. My husband took her to her room to read stories while I nursed the baby. As soon as he was asleep, I tiptoed into my daughter’s room to relieve my husband (who has sleep apnea and needs a CPAP machine to nap decently). To my surprise, I found my daughter relaxed and ready to rest. We snuggled up under her blankets, and few minutes later, we had slipped into sleep.
Oh, blissful, blissful slumber!
90 minutes later, I awoke refreshed, and found my daugher still zonked. Quietly, I crawled out of her bed and listened at my bedroom door. Hubby and baby were also still out. I enjoyed about 15 minutes of “me time” before my husband, rested and smiling, joined me. The little ones both slept another half hour.
Ahhhhh, grown-up conversation with the father of my children!
When my eldest returned from his play date, he found a family restored to peace and calm. We enjoyed a rare family night, making dinner together and playing games. And everyone went to bed on time and slept all night (well, not the baby, but it was just the usual up-once-and-back-down routine).
What started out as a nightmare had turned into kind of a dreamy day. I have to acknowledge the light schedule was a serendipitous factor in our favor (one that will make me reconsider keeping appointments when have a rough night in the future). And I do feel like God had mercy on us. I am glad, though, that we were able to take advantage of what we knew about physiology and temperament to set the stage for recovery from one very bad night.
In the two months since, we’ve attempted to employ these strategies again, adding a few more (a Pandora lullaby station, an alternate location for napping), with varying levels of success (a picture from one of those successful days appears above – yes, she really is sleeping!). Like so many other aspects of parenting, there’s a lot of trial and error involved. But somehow the memory of that day when it all worked keeps me going.