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Be Consistent and Ignore Them: Sleep Training for Sleepy Parents

So, Ian and I have been battling with the long-held child tradition of not wanting to go the f to sleep. Basically, over the last few weeks, we’ve realized that our kids’ bedtimes need to get a little later, coming dangerously close to my own. But I have to admit, we’ve had a nice run - for more than a year now, they’ve been going to bed between 7-7:30, which has always stunned our friends and family members, mainly because we somehow convinced our kids that “nighttime” happens while the sun is still out in the summertime. Because we’re goddamn geniuses.

But as they’ve gotten a bit older, they’ve shifted between going to bed at 7 and waking up at 5, and going to bed at 7:45ish and waking up after 6 (note: yes, we tried all different, later bedtimes multiple times and they still woke up before the roosters for years. So this newest development is a welcomed one.) As you can imagine, though, as this shift has occurred, we’ve noticed a lot of stalling. I need water. I have to pee. One more song. One more story. I need an extra kiss. Will you lay with me. I want something cold from the freezer. I want mommy to hug me two times and then turn around three times while tapping her head and hopping on one foot. I want daddy to lose it and leave the family forever because I won’t stop demanding one more song. And this, even after pushing their bedtime to when it’s very clear that they’re tired and need to go the f to sleep.

And so, two nights ago, we had to bite the bullet and circle back to our Golden Rule of Parenting: be consistent and ignore them.

Hear me out. Long, long ago, deep in the bowels of new parenthood, six months into the notion that we’d never sleep through the night again, we found the cure-all for us: being consistent and ignoring our adorable baby. Some people call it sleep-training, others call it parental and child torture, but we call it the best thing we’ve ever done as parents.

I want to be clear: I’m not looking to shame those of you who chose not to sleep-train your kids in some way, nor am I looking to debate the various benefits of the different sleeping options available to families – there are lots of different, safe, healthy ways to parent. For us, the safest and healthiest thing for all of us was for us to sleep. For our babies to learn how to sleep independently from us and for us to help teach them how. Our lifeline, six months into new parenthood, was this site (and no, they're not a sponsor, just our life-saver.) We’d had friends who’d used this or a similar technique and it did wonders for everyone’s sanity. But I, being the new, anxious new mom that I was, still wasn’t convinced. I was nervous that we’d somehow be doing long-term psychological damage to her and that she’d grow up with abandonment issues and hate us forever. I was convinced that she’d think we didn’t love her, that she’d be sad for forever and ever, and that she’d potentially stab us in our sleep for ignoring her little, shrill baby cries as soon as she could walk and hold stuff.

They're all sweet and cuddly until about 2am. That's when their horns emerge.

Until the morning that we went to her six-month checkup with deep, dark circles under our eyes and desperation in our voices. When the question of “how is she sleeping?” came up, I swear to God I almost started crying. We confessed that we were going into her room, conservatively, 5-10 times per night because she’d wake up after an hour or two crying out for us until we came in. Yet, the moment we did come in, that little she-devil baby would immediately turn off the water works, smile and coo at us, and basically be like, “Bitches, I own you.” We realized in that moment that our infant was smarter than we were and she’d be stealing the car and joy-riding with her friends by the time she entered kindergarten.

We asked the doctor what we could do to stop the madness and finally sleep again. And she gave us all of the standard doctor answers, which were basically non-answers, because she didn’t want to say, “You need to sleep train your kid, but I don’t want to get sued by telling you that.” So finally I said, “Ok, I know you can’t advocate for one particular way of doing things, because every family is different. But can you answer this question: of all of your years doing this, have you ever seen any negative implications – health or otherwise – to the baby if they’re safely sleep-trained?” And almost before I had the sentence out, she blurted out, “No, never.”

And that night, it began.

To be fair, both of our kids never gave us the grief I’ve heard others talk about. And it helped that we discovered this technique in the sweet spot of when it’s “easiest” (i.e. 5-6 months old and not 5-6 years old). It basically took less than a week for each of them individually to realize that the jig was up, and then she was like, “Ok, not worth my time. I’ll just go nighty-night.” And it was glorious, you guys.

It was also a huge moment for us as parents. It really was our first experience of talking it out together, coming up with a parenting plan, and saying out loud to each other, “Ok. This is going to really suck, potentially, in the short-term. But in the long term? It will benefit them and us.” And we were right. Yes, I had to leave the apartment on the first night because I couldn’t stand the sound of her crying for literally 90 seconds. But it was so worth it. Plus, ever since then, we’ve said that same or similar phrase to each other so many times during the course of parenting. We’ve just short-handed it now to, “Short-term, long-term" because we're busy and don't have time for full sentences.

So why, if we figured out the secret of all secrets to parenting, did we all-of-a-sudden forget our “short-term, long-term” guidepost and do a total 180 on bedtime? Because they’re cute and manipulative short people who totally have our number and we're dumb-dumbs. Because it’s sweet to lay in their room and sing songs and get extra hugs. Because we created two little talkative monsters who realized that we’d forgotten everything we’d just learned about parenting – be consistent and ignore them. And so the 15 minute book and songs routine turned into a 20 minute book and songs and one more story routine….then a books and songs and one more story and then an extra hug and now I have to pee…..and now I need something cold for the freezer because “I like cold things when I sleep” and then there’s the tense, through-your-teeth, “GO. TO. SLEEP" from daddy because he's about to lose his shit. So finally, a few nights ago, we’d had enough. I’ve got Netflix on pause and an hour before I’m slipping on my eye mask – mama’s on the clock, people!

We needed to do a re-set. And as I’ve looked back over the last few years of this process, I’ve realized that this, too, is part of this whole parenting thing. You figure out something that works, you make it part of your routine, you settle into sweet, blissful comfort that you’ve got it all figured out, and then it changes. And you re-set. Move some things around, adjust, and create a new, consistent normal. Until it changes again.

So last night, after giving them extra hugs, kisses, and a song before heading out the door I said, “Now it’s time to go to sleep. You guys can sing to each other or tell stories if you want, but mommy and daddy aren’t coming back in for any more stories or songs. I love you, goodnight.” Door closed; silence.I'm a goddamn genius.

Cut to: 9 minutes later, they’re both whine-crying for mommy and I’m sitting in the fetal position outside of their door feeling like an asshole.

As it turns out, we definitely don’t have this thing figured out. We mess it up all the time. Which I feel like would be the title of my parenting TedTalk someday. Part I: I Mess it Up All the Time. But because I've gleaned something from all of those years ago when they were little manipulative infants, I just needed to wait about 30 seconds past feeling like the worst mom on the planet. And the whine-crying stopped. And then they started giggling and singing to each other until they drifted off to sleep, dreaming of all the new ways they’d come up with to f with us because we’d figured out this particular trick.

TedTalk: Part II: Be Consistent and Ignore Them

You’re welcome.

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