Monday, December 7, 2009

Flexibility and finding sleep

This is another in a series of guest posts for Hobo Mama by other bloggers. Read to the end for a longer biographical note on today's guest blogger, Amber Strocel. Amber is a blogger I quite admire, and she's here to tell us about going with the flow when it comes to sleep arrangements for your children.

Guest post by Amber Strocel

My daughter, Hannah, was born in February of 2005. In the almost 5 years since I set out on this parenting journey I have learned a few things about living with small children. For example, I never fill a cup more than half full anymore, or leave a sharp knife lying casually on the counter. You just pick these things up as you go. And each subsequent child just ups the parenting ante. My son Jacob joined the family in August of 2008, and with each passing day I feel more and more seasoned.

One of the most valuable parenting lessons for me has been that it's more important that everyone gets enough sleep, than what that sleep looks like. So, the four people in our family might not all sleep in our own beds. We may wake up in a different room than we went to sleep in. Our rest may be interrupted, maybe even more than once. And tonight may not be the same as the night before. But, on the whole, we're getting the sleep that we need. And that last bit is the part that really matters. The rest of it? Not so much.

Newborn baby Hannah sleeping in her bassinette

Over the years we have employed many different sleep arrangements. We have a bassinette, a crib, and a guard rail on our bed for bedsharing. And when Hannah became a toddler, we bought her a double bed so that I could sleep in her room with her. At various times my children have slept in a separate room, in the bassinette pulled up alongside my bed, in my bed with me, and with either their father or me in their room. And at various times, all of those arrangements worked. At various times, they also didn't work.

10-month-old Hannah not sleeping in her crib

Nighttime parenting is no different than daytime parenting, really. Kids grow and change and need different things at different times. This has been a very useful thing to remember at various stages in my children's lives. It means that whatever I'm dealing with now is temporary, and it will not last forever. This helps me to remain flexible and open in finding ways to meet our family's various sleep needs. It also helps me to get through the times when things aren't going well, because I know that it is not a permanent situation.

The double bed we bought Hannah at 18 months

I think that a lot of the problems that we encounter when confronting the erratic (and frankly inconsiderate) sleep habits of babies stem from the fear of creating bad habits. We fear that if a situation is allowed to continue, it will only escalate and get worse and no one will ever sleep again. I sometimes felt that fear, especially with my first child. I just didn't see how she would ever sleep through the night, how she would ever sleep on her own, or how I would ever spend less than 45 minutes getting her to sleep. As it turns out, I couldn't see how those things would happen because, at the time, my daughter wasn't ready.

3 1/2-year-old Hannah watches newborn Jacob sleep in the bassinette

There is a saying that children don't go to kindergarten in diapers. The idea is that somehow, some way, the vast majority of children have figured out the toilet training thing by a certain age. I have found sleep to be similar. Eventually, kids reach an age where they are ready to sleep for longer stretches, or to sleep in a different bed. These days my husband reads Hannah a bedtime story, tucks her in, and leaves her to sleep. We are there if she needs us, but most nights she drifts off on her own. In her own time and in her own way, she figured it out.

4 1/2-year-old Hannah has storytime with Dad

I have placed great value on being available to my children at night, and respecting their developmental stage. This means that my children are not left alone to cry. It also means that if my preschooler calls for a drink of water, I may let her know that I will be there as soon as I finish washing the last dish. Or, I may even suggest that she get it herself. But when my 15-month-old wakes and calls for me, I respond immediately. Children have different needs at different ages, and I believe that true independence is gained by meeting their needs in an age-appropriate manner, regardless of the time of day.

I admit, sometimes I fantasize about the day that my kids go to bed all by themselves and then get up all by themselves the next morning. I don't relish being out of my bed at 'unholy hour' o'clock. But I know that this time won't last forever. And I also know that, with a little bit of flexibility and creativity, I can still get the sleep that I need. At least most of the time, anyway. And that? Is worth its weight in gold.

When Amber isn't displaying her stunning flexibility, she spends her days trying to decide what she wants to be when she grows up. Suggestions welcome! She also blogs about her daily adventures with her adorable children at

[Editor's note: Amber's in a few contests for being an awesome blogger. You should go vote for Amber now.]


Cave Mother said...

This is an extremely comforting post for those of us still stuck in the stage of parenting where you fantasise that one day you might get four hours' sleep in a row.

It can be so hard to keep the faith that they will figure it out for themselves, especially when everyone around is already sleep training and weaning (my daughter is 15 months old). But it is wonderful to hear first hand from someone who has been through it, that they DO figure it out.

PS I will still do a guest post if that's OK. I'll try and do it this week.

Olivia said...

Lovely post. I think many parents who subscribe to CIO and similar techniques forget that each stage only lasts for a small amount of time in the grand scheme. Baby wants to be held all the time? Well, she'll outgrow that when she gains mobility. Baby will only go to sleep with mom or dad? He'll want to go to his "big boy" bed someday.

I apply this thinking to everything. I don't have time to crochet, but I will someday. I can't just pick up and go to a movie, but I will someday. And so on....

CaroLyn said...

Hear hear! That's just what I was trying to say, though from a new parent of a single four month old baby's optimistic point of view. Thanks for sharing. I like the strategy you've taken with Hannah on getting her a big bed - I've been thinking we might do the same thing when the BP is a good bit bigger...

The_EmilyB said...

I so needed this post Amber! I'm being inundated with suggestions that I'm doing it wrong or that Little Miss should be sleeping more and while I'm getting desperate for more sleep I keep thinking that it will ebb and flow of its own accord. Thanks for making me want to stick to my guns more!

Anonymous said...

What a reassuring post to read! I'm on my 3rd child (with a big gap), a 3-month-old adorable little girl. She will occasionally sleep for 6+ hours at a time, but rarely at a time of day convenient to me. I get down sometimes, missing sleeping with my husband.

At 3 months old, her sleep schedule and needs change on a week-to-week or even a day-to-day basis! I guess I appreciate the suggestions I get from my mom at times, but other times I just want to say, "Shush, we're doing what works for us TODAY."

Thanks for saying it so eloquently and reminding us moms that we're not alone. :-)

Lisa C said...

I resolved in the beginning of parenthood not to listen to those other "voices" who try to tell you that you are doing it wrong, that they'll develop permanently bad habits, etc. I also decided not to listen to my own fears, but to trust my child and follow his lead. Although it is a very gradually process, he is starting to sleep longer and go to sleep with more effort on his part, and less on mine. I trust that one day he won't need to nurse or be walked to sleep. One day he won't even need us to be in the same room with him to fall asleep. I'm in no hurry. (My husband is a bit impatient, though!)

Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

Absolutely. So comforting and so true! Thanks for sharing this bit of perspective. I think it's a message we all need to gain confidence in voicing!

Visty said...

I have a 12 year old who was a champion sleeper from the start, a 10 year old who absolutely needed to scream herself to sleep and then started crawling into bed with me as a toddler, and now an almost 3 year old who has slept right next to me every single night of her life. She is not ready. There is no way on earth I could leave her in her room, no matter what any parenting book or Supernanny says. She will not, and can not, do it yet. I think that her being my third and not my first gives me a lot more confidence in our choices to allow her to cosleep, and a lot more patience with her needs.

rubidoux said...

So nice to see this in print!

I have been asked on several occasions if my new little guy, now 9 months, sleeps through the night, and I can honestly say I don't really know -- because I am asleep. He is in the bed right next to me, so I know if he's upset (very rare), but I could not tell you if or how many times he nurses, as I sleep right through it.

I do sometimes feel frustrated by my six year-old's need to have me lie down with him to go to sleep, but there are days when that's the only 20 minutes that are totally devoted to him and I don't blame him for claiming them. I remind myself that I'll miss it when he doesn't need to be snuggled to sleep anymore.

Although there's been difficult moments, on the whole, I've really enjoyed nighttime parenting and I think it's because I've been able to roll with the punches. I've never had a very traditional sleep schedule myself, and I haven't required it of my littles. Actually, now that my older son is in school, we are all so much more normal about sleeping than I ever was before kids and somehow things have really fallen into place -- even though I never tried to force them there when my big guy was little. Hmmmm....

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to check in and say thanks, Lauren, for having me. I'm really very tickled! I'm also glad to read all of your comments and kind words. We're all just doing the best we can for our kids and our families, and I don't think anyone else is in a position to judge us for it.

Jessica said...

I agree with Cave Mother: incredibly comforting. I wish I'd read it when I was sleep deprived and suffering. Now, 2 years later, I've come to the same conclusions, but boy, it would have been nice to find something like this when I Googled "get baby to sleep" haha.

Awesome post, Amber :) Thanks for hosting, Lauren!

Anonymous said...

I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
And you et an account on Twitter?

Rachael @ The Little Birdie said...

This is an older post I see, but I just found it through todays post. ;) Anyway, I love it. I am going through the exact same situation with my 7 month old right now, and even though I'm not following what all the "books" say, I know that my daughter is just fine. She sleeps 11-12 hours a night and is a happy, bouncy baby in the morning. :) I'm glad to see I'm not the only one not "following the rules"!

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