Reconsidering Our Bedtime Approach

When I got pregnant with Dez, I expected that it’d be easier than it had been the first time around because of all that I learned. And truly, I have experienced very few disadvantages in having my second child eight years after my first. Aside from the pregnancy being tougher due to being older, it has been easier for the most part.

There are some unique challenges to having kids so far apart, though. The biggest being that all the things I learned about being a parent were geared toward being a parent to Jack.

toddler

Jack, age 2.

I had eight years to get to know Jack very, very well. And over the years, I have gotten used to him and the way he works. And after all those years, it’s probably not much of a surprise that I went into parenting my second kid with what I will call “Jack-colored glasses.”

From the moment Dez was born, I couldn’t help but compare and contrast him to Jack. I wasn’t thinking in terms of better or worse; I simply made conclusions about Dez based on how his actions differed from Jack’s. And somewhere in those early days I got caught up in how different they seemed and couldn’t see beyond that.

On a recent night David and I had some time to talk before bed, which is very rare (Dave and I don’t see much of each other after 8pm, as you’ll read). We talked about Dez and the various things we’ve tried to make bedtime easier and reviewed how many things have totally failed. It was during this talk that it really hit me just how ALIKE my two kids really are. I’ve spent so much time thinking over the last two years about how different they seem, and not realizing that it’s only that they express the same issues differently. Ultimately they are both very sensitive little creatures with more emotion and personality than they know what to do with! Their behavior may look different, but it often comes from the same place.

With Jack, I was able to figure out by about 5 months that he needed a solid nighttime routine plus a dark, fairly quiet house. The bedtime routine became getting dressed for the next day, brushing teeth, reading three books, and cuddling a bit before saying goodnight. (For a while that happened in my bed, then he transitioned to his own bed around 2.5 years.)

Bedtime with Dez has been a mess from the start, though. Partly, I think, because instead of trying things that might work best for him, we tried things that we felt worked best for us. It seemed like a simple thing to have the new baby fit into our routine instead of rework how we did things. This was somewhat out of necessity, as Jack was still going through chemo when Dez was born, but we all had trouble adjusting to “normal life” even after the chemo stopped.

As time went by and a routine did not suddenly implement itself, David and I both started tearing our hair out over bedtime. We had many dark nights where we each just lasted as long as we could trying to get Dez to sleep.

At some point I finally went and did some re-reading of all kinds of parenting and bedtime advice. I thought about what I had done with Jack and what our parenting philosophy and goals are now, and I threw some ideas out at Dave. And somewhere in that mishmash of reading and talking and trying various things, we landed upon a couple of things that turned into some semblance a routine.

Thing 1: We must factor in time to wind down. It takes Dez a lot longer than Jack to wind down, which can mean 8 books instead of Jack’s 3. And that means Desmond’s bedtime routine can easily take 2+ hours. There is nothing we can do to make it go faster and if we try, it only makes the situation worse. (He’s stubborn just like the two of us!)

Thing 2: Both kids are noise-sensitive. Jack is unnerved by loud, unexpected noises (like garbage trucks) and avoids them, while Dez gets amped up. We tried a sound machine for a while, but it ended up just keeping him awake. Other noises in the house will also keep him awake, though! So, unfortunately, the rest of the house has to shut down at bedtime. All screens and lights go off at 8pm. The only “excitement” will be in Dez’s room.

Thing 3: Consistency is KEY. I put Jack to bed and David puts Dez to bed. EVERY NIGHT. Because if we don’t do the same thing every night, Dez will stretch things out waiting for the other parent to come in and “save” him, and that will just drag the whole thing out even longer.

These three things may not seem like game changers, but knowing them and acknowledging them has made things go more smoothly. Bedtime is still hard for us because, frankly, those 3 things kind of suck! Our evening (and any chance at couple time) is over by 8:30. No fun!

BUT so far there is less screaming from an overtired Dez, and that improvement alone is pretty awesome. It also makes a big difference for us to know that the bedtime routine will take a big chunk of time no matter what we do. I think once we stopped agonizing over how long it took and just went with it, we all felt calmer.

Hopefully things will improve even more as Dez gets more sleep, gets older, and has even more consistency from two clued-in parents.

We just need to remember that we are not perfect parents, and this surely will not be a linear process of improvement. But at least we can say we tried some things and they worked and this child isn’t a complete little troll who is trying to bend us to his will at every opportunity (probably).

In fact, he is quite sweet when he is well rested. He gives the best little kisses and loves to chant “click clack moo” and gives us pep talks complete with pats on the leg while we get him some grapes to eat! And he is full of great big belly laughs.

Toddler belly laughs

Little toddler, big belly laughs

Dez is full on adorable when he’s not screaming and refusing to sleep. And he absolutely deserves a bedtime routine that works for him, just like the rest of us.

And with that, I bid you all goodnight. I need to get some shut eye before he drags me into his bed before dawn and wraps his arms around my neck while breathing hot toddler breath in my face…

Half-asleep mumblings

Poor Jack has a cold for the first time in a while.  He doesn’t have a fever but he is visibly exhausted, snotty, and quite hacky.  Last night he woke up twice bawling.  I *think* he hit his head when tossing and turning but it’s hard to say because he was pretty out of it (now I know what David deals with when I try to talk to him while half asleep).  After getting him to bed the second time, I had trouble falling back to sleep and kept thinking I heard him crying.  I’m tired today.

It astounds me that I dealt with regular night waking for almost two years straight when Jack was a baby while holding down a crazy-busy full time job and getting absolutely no down time.  How did I do that?  How does anyone do that?  After being so unused to it now, I feel like a complete zombie today.  It’s a miracle that I can type!

Thank goodness we’re in an easier phase overall!  It’s days like today that remind me why I haven’t had a second child yet.  The easier things get with Jack, the harder it gets to go in the second child direction…

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I guess this is the part where my mom gets payback

It’s happened.  I’ve been dreading this development…Jack has figured out that he can climb right out of bed and come knock on my door at night.  He has apparently decided that no more will he lay there idly in bed calling for me – he’ll just go ahead and get his mama when he needs her.  Or, more accurately, he will plop himself down outside of our bedroom door and play with his toys noisily until we open the door.  When asked why he isn’t in bed, he will reply, “I had a bad dream.”  He pays no mind to me when I point out that I know he hasn’t actually been sleeping…

Added to this new interest in leaving the island that is his bed, he has also decided he’s not very tired at night.  Sunday night he didn’t fall asleep until around 1am and he was up at 8am.  Last night it was closer to 11 even though he had a shorter nap than usual and we started the bedtime routine (brush teeth, don PJs, read books) at 8.  David and I take turns going into Jack’s room to reassure him that he’s safe, we love him and will protect him, etc.  He gets lots of hugs and kisses and we snuggle, too.  And after all that and not falling asleep until late, Jack was up this morning bright and early at 7:30 but clearly still tired!  I don’t get it!

I know this is a phase and it will pass and in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a horrible one.  I am aware that staying in bed when you can’t fall asleep isn’t a healthy sleep habit, so it’s not as if I’m going to lock him in his room.  I just worry about leaving him to his own devices while I go to bed because I clearly remember being of a similar age and disposition…my mom still has the dresser that is caked in the evidence of one of my late night “baking” experiments.  She is also fond of reminding me about the time I climbed out of my bedroom window (at 2 years old) and ended up in the neighbor’s yard down the street crying because I was lost.  These are not things I stopped to consider before having a child of my own.  Doh!

Unbelievable!

I was having issues trying to get Jack to go to sleep.  We would read our bedtime stories (three books usually) and lay down and snuggle and then he would climb all over me or kick me or hit me or whatever until either he fell asleep or I lost patience completely.  A few nights ago, after about an hour of trying to get him to go to sleep, he decided to up the ante and started stripping…I left the room and hid in the dark dining room, head in my hands, shaking with anger while listening to Jack yell for me.  David stepped in and distracted Jack, diapered and clothed him, and got him in bed.  Jack asked for me so he told him to wait there and he would get mama, then he walked out.

Here’s the unbelievable part – Jack fell asleep almost immediately.  I didn’t go into the room.  Yesterday was a similar situation – after an hour of trying to get him to sleep and fed up with being treated as a bounce house, I left the room and grudgingly asked David for help (yeah…it’s hard for me to ask for help).  He repeated his previous experiment – went in and got Jack to lay down, told him to wait for mama and walked out, closing the door behind him – and Jack fell asleep without a peep.

Tonight we changed it up.  I gave in to the awesomeness that is ‘David the natural step-parent’ and on his suggestion, I read to Jack and got him to lay down, told him I’d be back in a bit and to wait for me, then left the room.  I fluttered around outside the door for a bit waiting for him to call or cry.  I didn’t even hear a peep.  He fell asleep without making a sound.  When I looked at David he had a huge grin on his face and I guarantee he was thinking, “Yeah, I am so rocking this step parenting thing!”

I’m in awe of both the males in my house.

Not always sunshine and lollipops

Jack slept terribly last night perhaps due to nightmares?  It’s hard to say but he cried out in his sleep without actually waking up.  I stumbled to his room and lay down with him for a bit and he was fine.  Who knows, maybe he was just cold (he refuses to sleep with a blanket).

This morning, he woke up cranky as heck.  He yelled for me at the top of his lungs (getting louder the longer I took to drag myself out of bed).  When I went into his room, he told me he needed to snuggle and take a nap.  I told him it was time to get up and he started crying (well, more like whining as there were no real tears).  He walked over to his bedroom door and tried to shut it several times, slamming it against the frame because he neglected to turn the knob.  When I helped him out he was upset and made me open it again so he could do it.  Then he decided he DIDN’T want it closed – instead he wanted to look for his rocket in the dining room.  He cried that he didn’t want to stand in front of the heater to get warm when I huddled next to it and even went so far as to insist that I take my sweatshirt off (crying when I refused).  I was able to get a shirt and socks on him, but then he didn’t want to wear “that diaper” and would not wear shoes or sandals.  Furthermore, he got upset when my cell phone was referred to something other than a spaceship, did not and then DID want friendship bread, didn’t want to go outside or to daycare this morning, freaked about not having his cup of milk on the way to daycare and then asked over and over again where his friendship bread went (“Dude, you ate it!  It went into your belly!”)…this all in the span of about 45 minutes.

Needless to say, it’s days like this that make me insanely happy that I work.  Now if I just had a sleeping bag with me…