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ParentingThe Struggle to Get Child to Sleep Through the Night

The Struggle to Get Child to Sleep Through the Night

Other parents like to tell me I’m lucky that my children sleep. That they sleep in their own rooms, in their own beds, with sound machines and night lights and their favorite plush unicorns and seahorses.

I laugh when they say “lucky” like it didn’t take endless nights of reading books on repeat and tucking in corners of blankets just right and checking under the bed for monsters to get things this way. That it just happened to be that I had perfect little sleepers, and not that I broke apart night after never-ending night when they cried and cried and cried and worked harder for sleep than I had for a promotion in my old job.

I want to tell them it wasn’t luck that got us here—it was me.

I remember telling the pediatrician how the baby was waking up every few hours, how I knew she could tell just by looking at my puffed-up eyes and my greasy hair and the traces of spit-up on my neck. She asked me about what happens at night and I told her he wakes up, he cries, I pick him up and every time I try to put him back down he wails.

She asked how long he cried when I put him back down and I said I didn’t know, that I never waited to see because I was afraid he would wake my daughter and then I would have two crying babies. She asked if the baby had ever woken my daughter yet. I said no, but, and protested that he is so loud when he’s crying and it always wakes me and it is bound to wake her, too.

“Ah, but you are his mother,” she reminded me, as if I need reminding. But in this case, I did. I needed reminding that his cries are louder to me than any other living being because he came from within me and changed my hormones. He changed my brain, wired it to worry for him. 

At home, I set a timer when he cried because five minutes feels like fifty when your baby needs you. I was astonished to see that only seven minutes had passed when he laid back down and closed his eyes peacefully.

So, it didn’t feel like luck that got us here. It maybe should have felt like relief, but instead it felt like I should have known or I should have tried that and guilt, guilt, guilt.

And then sometimes, those other mothers, the ones who tell me I’m lucky my children sleep in their own beds, they make comments about those mothers who do that awful cry-it-out method and how I could never do that. They ask: How could a mother not go to a crying baby?

I want to tell them that you set a timer, that it’s not easy, that I am not an awful mother, that I was going to break if I didn’t get some sleep, that it was only seven minutes. I want to tell them it wasn’t luck that got us here—it was me.

At work, I used to get titles to serve as badges for my accomplishments: Manager, Director, VP. Some days, I wish we could flash those mothering honors: her children sleep through the night scrawled on a satin sash that drapes from shoulder to hip, or a tiara that reads her baby has never had a diaper rash. But I know it would also come with badges like her daughter hasn’t eaten anything but dairy in weeks, or she took her eyes off the baby and he ate mulch from the flower pot. Maybe that’s why the sleeping success feels so gratifying: there are so many other failures in mothering every day. We must celebrate the wins.

Most nights, the children kiss my cheeks, throw their little arms around my neck and whisper, “See you in the morning,” and blow me kisses as I shut their doors with the cute little signs I got from Etsy that say “Quiet, nap in progress” swinging from the door handles. 

But some nights, the children crawl into my bed in the abyss of night, escaping their rooms silently and tiptoeing down the hall, little hands patting my face until my eyes open, squinting through sleep, and I instinctively reach out my arms, wrap up their warm bodies and pull them up into my mess of blankets.

Some nights, I have little limbs stretched under my back, over my head, tangled up in motherhood. Their little palms reach for me, rubbing the fabric of my shirt between fingers, tugging a strand of my hair, ensuring in the darkness that this is mother, this is safety, this is comfort. I contort my own limbs around their figures and find a way to doze off again amidst the hair in my face and the tiny feet kicking at my ankles. 

Some nights they don’t stay in their own beds. Some nights I am lucky.

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