Being a parent of more than one child poses a rather repetitive problem: how to balance the (often competing) needs of each child and feel like you’re doing at least a decent (good enough) job most/some of the time?
I’ve developed a cold and awful sore throat just in time for the holidays so this problem has been magnified exponentially for me this week. Lots to do and desperately in need of rest and two little ones to care for.
Sleep. Rest. This is a challenge for most parents in some way, isn’t it?
We co-sleep. We co-slept with our son until he was about 3 and then we gradually transitioned him to his own bed in his own room. At least half of the time, he still has a sleep partner in his room or in the living room. He rarely comes into our bed because four is just too many (even in a King size) for me to get any amount of sleep. We chose co-sleeping for a variety of reasons (and that’s probably a separate post) which were still valid when our daughter was born and thus, we did it again. However, I have found that both of my children were/are persistent night-wakers and had/have a serious habit of needing to nurse back to sleep. Was this because of co-sleeping? I don’t know. Perhaps they would have done that anyway and co-sleeping allowed me at least a bit of sleep. Or perhaps they were so used to the accessibility that a bad habit developed. I can’t really go back and answer that question.
What I do know is that after 18 months of night-waking (for the second time round), I definitely feel like I need some good quality sleep. Of course, this is underscored now due to my being sick. But I digress.
I do not believe in letting my children cry-it-out. Again, for a lot of reasons. Read some here. And here. It’s been important to me to try night-weaning in a gradual gentle manner. With my son, in the end, it wasn’t as gentle as I might have liked but having returned to work, I was getting desperate and overall, I feel that we did the best we could. Yes, there was way more crying than I would have liked. But it always occurred in someone’s arms. My son was never left to cry himself into a panic of puking and exhaustion-stress-caused sleep.
We are trying now to night-wean my daughter. I am trying to be gentle and patient with this. One of the graces of a second time parent is the insight that things do indeed change. As a result, I am much more patient with sleep struggles with my daughter than I was with my first-born. I have the awareness that it will pass even when it feels like it will take forever. I am much more willing to applaud the small steps forward and wait it out.
But I am beginning to wonder if I really have that luxury.
Preschoolers are infuriating at times. Age 2-5 used to be my favourite age…until I had to live with a child in that bracket. My son is four and right now, he is pushing and challenging me like I have never been before. He needs every bit of patience, consistency, re-direction, repetition and love that I can muster. And as a person chronically sleep-deprived, I do not have those qualities in me in the quantities he needs.
Daniel Siegel, author of The Mindful Brain and Parenting From The Inside Out talks about being mindful and aware in our reactions. I am paraphrasing here but in general, this involves the ability to step back and see the situation and be aware of our intentions and other’s intentions before reacting. He described it as the ability to dive below the surface where the water is calm. From that place of stillness, you can look up at the storm raging above, realise it is there but not be affected by it and not choose to have it determine what your actions will be. However, Siegel notes that this is a very difficult achievement if you are hungry or tired.
This is the way I would like to interact with my son. I know that he is just a kid, just learning, just pushing his boundaries. I want to be able to acknowledge that he’s not trying to make me frustrated or upset. I want to be able to react firmly yet lovingly when he needs re-direction.
But right now I am too damn tired. All of my emotions are right on the surface. He’s always touching a raw exposed nerve. And I’ve become a parent who just reacts instantly, without thinking, without that chance to dive down to the deep and see what is really happening.
Clearly my son needs me to change that. And soon.
So I find myself stuck in the realization that choosing not to rush my daughter to night-wean makes my son suffer.
I don’t think I’ll ever be a cry-it-out parent. But I also think it’s time to put my son’s needs first for a little while. Right now, I think my son needs a rested mother more than my daughter needs to night-wean at her own pace. At least this week.
How about you? How do you balance the differing sleep needs of your kids?