So I have two 'best friends'. I think every girl probably does. You know, the one you have from way back when you were just a kid, doing stupid things and thinking you were cool. Then there is the one you made when you grew up, maybe you met at work or the gym or somewhere else. The one who knows about your childhood, but wasn't there to experience it with you. (And this doesnt even begin to cover family.) Yeah...I have one of each. And I have to be honest, meeting a best friend's other best friend is very unnerving for me. What if she hates me? Shouldn't I be friends with my friend's friends? Yes, I am 36, but still a little girl on the inside. It recently happened that I met my other best friend's best friend and what a relief it was. We fell in love and quickly made it Facebook official- we are now friends too! Yippee!
Over dinner we explored topics that included: why we are awesome, recipes, our favorite wines, and kids. I've thought about our 'kid' conversation over and over again since that time. The statement was made "no one ever tells you how incredibly exhausting it will be- not just in the beginning, but for YEARS!" I guess that's true. You know the early days will be rough, but what about the months and even years that follow? We all know the moms who say their kids are sleeping through the night at 8 weeks. Lies. I mean, maybe their kid is some sort of miracle child, but I know way too many women who have gone sleepless for too long for me to believe it is ever that simple.
I was always of the opinion that my children needed me in the middle of the night and 'crying it out' wasn't something I could let them do. Turns out, that wasn't such a bad thing for them. I recently read and reviewed the book, "How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character", which seemed to completely validate why I subjected myself to sleeping on the floor every night for months. Author Paul Tough cited research that indicated cortisol levels of children, under one year of age, who are left to 'cry it out' are higher than desireable. That means stress people...something I loathe as an adult and made me more than my fair share of sick in my lifetime. Is that something I could consciously let my child experience at a time when rational thought or comprehension of the environment was out of her reach? Nope. So I slept in my own bed for a few hours, was awakened nearly every night for 9 months in the first year and dutifully lifted my sweet curly haired angel into my arms, often falling asleep with her in the rocking chair. On nights when I stayed awake long enough to return her to her crib, she almost always woke the second I took my hands away from her. At that point- so wrought with exhaustion I could barely stand; I laid a blanket on the ground, found a pillow, and cuddled her near me as we slept together on the floor.
At about 16 months old, I had a short reprieve. Both girls were sleeping all night and I stayed in my own bed. At about 24 months the waking started all over again. Both girls had begun to climb out of their cribs, a sure sign that toddler beds would become part of our lives. Que the sleepless nights. Newly installed toddler beds meant two wobbly kids were free to scitter down the hallway immediately after bedtime and all throughout the night. And they did. I quickly became a zombie once more and recreated my make shift bed on the floor. One night Izzy would awaken, the next night it was Lily. Many nights I laid on the floor, weeping with exhaustion, and held hands with both girls until they drifted back to sleep.
In retrospect, I'm not sure I would've done anything differently. They needed me. They needed reassurance that I was there, they were safe, and they could count on me. But, it did go on too long. Worn thin and constantly sick (for a variety of reasons, some loosley related to my lack of sleep) along came a terrible ear infection that left me temporarily deaf in one ear. That was my breaking point. I couldn't do it anymore and I firmly believed that my 2.5 year olds were intellectual enough that I could tell them why I wouldn't continue getting up every night- I wasn't healthy and needed rest to be the best Mommy possible. They got it- sortive. With their brains still wired to be self-serving and impulsive, they continued to get up and try to rouse me. They knew I needed to sleep, but they were 2.5, their ids were in full swing. So, one night the husband and I decided we had to do something drastic. We closed their bedroom door. We did not lock it, they were not trapped. But they did received a clear signal that they had to stay put. I was just deaf enough that I couldn't hear their cries, and that was absolutely for the best. The husband made multiple nightly checks on them to verbally assure of our presence and our love. And thanks to my temporary deafness, I slept and was excused from the guilt that has plagued so many of my friends in a similar situation. In less than two weeks, we were all sleeping through the night and, ever since, waking is only from the occassional bad dream or growing pain.
But the guilt. It's a bitch. As I've said before, today's woman is somehow wired to believe that she must do everything and do it perfectly. But we can't, we must let go at some point and realize that we are not harming our children because we must occassionally choose ourselves. To any of you who fear that you are a bad mom, because you choose your own health or your own needs, let me tell you that you- you are not bad. You must take care of yourself and the line has got to be drawn somewhere. I continued to believe that my kids needed me. For a long time, at night, the hugs were sweeter. But I also believe that somewhere along the way, waking up at 2am and pulling me from sleep happened as a habit and not so much for consolation like it once had been. When the reason was habit, it was time for the tide had to be turned. I had to teach them self-assurance was more than a hug from mommy.
I have no scientific evidence that 2-2.5 years old is the right time to teach that skill or that at the age of 2.5 all children are able to reason and rationalize about the needs of others. I do believe it was the right time for my kids and family. And I know many who had very similar struggles, at the same ages, that my kids did. And to all of those who struggled I shared my story. I told those friends that their kids would be fine. No, I told them their kids would be more than fine...they would be GREAT. And to you? I say tell that little voice inside to get lost and remind yourself that you do love your kids excessively, tell that voice you are raising your children to be strong and to think and to empathize with others. Remind yourself that self-assurance is a skill they will need for the rest of their lives. And please trust...they will thrive all the more for it and you will once again feel human after a few nights sleep.