Samantha had been sleeping well through the night for over a year when she sleep regressed at 22 months. Bed times were smooth and life was good. Then at 22 months she got a nasty stomach bug that, in addition to ruining all attempts at potty training, completely ruined her sleep patterns. She started completely freaking out at bed time. I am not just talking about a toddler not wanting to go to bed at night, this was a complete hysterical fear. I was really getting worried.
We tried all sorts of things: longer bedtime routine, shorter bedtime routine, more light, less light, hotter, colder, etc. We even tried letting her cry, but hours of anxiety-riddled cries were not acceptable to me. Nothing we tried worked and inevitably she ended up crawling into bed with mom and dad. My due date with our third child was fast approaching and the lack of sleep was killing me. One night, completely fed up, I moved her crib mattress onto the floor in our room so at least this exhausted fully pregnant mom could get some sleep- at least that kept her out of our bed. When that seemed to get her to sleep, I wondered if she was over her crib and that she felt too constrained in her barred up little bed. So we took down the crib and put up the toddler bed. She seemed to like that more than the crib and at least wasn't panicking when first put in it. In fact, she started playing "night-nights" climbing into bed and pulling the covers over herself and fake snoring. But at bedtime, when we left the room, she would often cry until falling asleep, often laying down behind the door on the floor. I would feel so guilty when I would discover her there the next morning. We eventually put a twin sized mattress on her floor so that one of us could have a comfortable place to sleep when she woke up freaking out. We hoped that it would make her more comfortable in her own room and not result in a toddler in our bed as the new baby arrived.
The sleep problems continued even after the new little one arrived. Now I had two little ones waking me up. I knew there must be a better way. One night, while reading Good Night Moon to Sami, it hit me. I needed to be like the "quiet old lady whispering hush." The little bunny was not having to brave the big green room alone. There, sitting in the rocking chair knitting, was the quiet old lady, dutifully sitting guard as the little bunny drifts off to dream land. Sami was always calm as long as someone was in her room with her. Maybe, like the bunny, all she needed was for someone to sit with her. It was worth a try.
I thought of a conversation I had recently had with one of my closest
friends, Liz. We talked about how often times our struggles with our
kids have more to do with our own issues than our kids. I thought about
how this may have been impacting our biggest struggle- bedtime. Bedtime seemed so difficult because I was always trying to rush it and get on to something else. Whether it was cleaning, feeding the baby, or vegging out on the couch in front of the television, I
felt I had to finish bedtime quickly and get on to the next thing. I decided I needed to find a way for me to be patient and just enjoy the bedtime. Truly, nothing in the evenings was more important than making my child feel loved, safe and secure. (Certainly not television or cleaning)
The next night, we did our usual bedtime routine: books, Bible story, prayer and snuggle and rock. I put her into bed, kissed her goodnight and as she began to panic, I sat in the rocking chair, whispered hush and reassured her I was staying. I don't knit like the "quiet old lady", so I opened a book of my own I had brought into her room with me and read quietly. I had left the new baby in the capable hands of my husband and I knew I had no where else to be. I read for 40 minutes as she drifted off to dreamland, peacefully and in her own bed. It was the most peaceful night we had experienced in months! I happily left the room, knowing that I had helped my 2 year old avoid the bedtime anxiety. She slept through the night and I cheered for her in the morning when I found her in her bed. YAY!!! The next few nights, she drifted off in less and less time. One night, I even stayed in her room longer than necessary because I was enjoying my time to myself so much. We have now been practicing this for weeks. We have taken turns with bedtimes but follow the same routine. Sometimes it takes longer and sometimes it is really quick, but all the time it is better than it was, for all involved.
Today, as I was going to write this blog, I read the Wikipedia entry on Goodnight Moon. It pointed out a fact that I had not yet noticed. As the story progresses, you watch the bunny get into bed and say goodnight to everything. One thinks this would be pretty quick. After all, the book only takes a few minutes to read. But if you look carefully, this book takes place over an hour and a half! The quiet old lady sits with the little bunny from 7pm to 8:10 when he finally falls asleep. In a world where there is always something else we feel we need to be doing, very few people sit with their children for such a long period of time. I know I am guilty of wanting to wrap up bedtime to get on to something else. These years are short though and the time will come when my teenagers want nothing of bedtime routines with mommy and daddy. So for now, we will sit with Sami as she drifts off to sleep (and enjoy a little quiet time to ourselves as we do so.)