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