"Dodo" & Co.
Updated: Apr 14
Last week the hubby was out of town, in New York and I welcomed my girls into our bedroom. The week before that, they have had the sniffs and an off and on coughing spree. Which means they got to sleep 3 nights in our bedroom as well. Next week I leave for Ghana. It is going to be the first time, I am that far and long away from either of my kids.
I predict for Bubby, it will be the most traumatic. Mainly because I am still breastfeeding, and co-sleeping.
For many of the above reason, my kids have been and will continue to sleep in our bedroom until I get back.
This isn’t a regular happening for my toddler though. I mean except for the our family's living room “camp out” weekends once a month, out of 365 days in a year, I’d claim, with certainty, that 250-300 days involves her sleeping in her own bed/bedroom. For Bubby, co-sleeping has been a standard since birth. With no exception, till 1, Loulou had that standard.
I, myself, slept in my parent’s marital bed, off and on, till I was 11. Mind you they had a King sized bed. Something we don't. And even with all that space to go around, my poor dad often complained that my feet and elbows still landed in his face like clockwork. On many occasions, I had even pushed him out of bed. So when I got pregnant with my first, and I was at an all-time 3rd-trimester discomfort, I was ready to get this baby out, have my body comfort back and get her into her own crib. That never happened though. Not until she was one. More so, my body comfort was never restored. I simply got used to things like carpal tunnel syndrome, which I have had for the past 4 years.
When she was born for the longest time, I was pulling all-nighters and “dayers”. Beckoning to the call of breastfeeding demands that sporadically reared its head, every 15 mins to 2 hours and sometimes lasting as long as 2 hours at a time. In this zombie-like period, Co-sleeping felt like a major key to a good nights rest. Then at 6 month, and again at 8 months in, I tried transitioning her to her crib. If you know anything about me, you’ll know, I don’t give up easily. Even at the risk of my own mental well being. So I tried every technique out there; letting her cry it out, the sneak (crawling) off, climbing into the crib with her, giving her the paci, perfecting bed routines, putting her down slllllllooooowwwwwwwwllllllyyy, and even jazz sleep therapy...
Like they say “She just was not ready”.
Throughout this self-inflicted ordeal, the one thing I wouldn't compromise on (once the colic was over) was "teaching" her to self-soothe. Though she seemed to struggle at first, she got there quickly. When that bridge was crossed with such ease, it made me realize I had been forcing her out of my bed, even though I was not really ready to lose close proximity and the other benefits of co-sleeping, just yet. So I decided to relax about it all and actually started to enjoy what little time I would have left of bonding through co-sleeping.
Once I eased off and got rid of the self-imposed pressures, I was able to start introducing her to her room and bed as “hers” by choice. Then a week after she turned 1, she made it known that she wanted to go “dodo” (sleep), in her bed. I was left scratching my head and then laughing at the stupidity of my previously directed soap operas.
Then I had Bubby. The minute I held her in my arms, it was as if it had never stopped having a baby. I was totally well versed in co-sleeping and all things motherhood. Even with all these familiarities and confidence, I found myself climbing a new and unfamiliar mountain. I had been dreading this change throughout my pregnancy, but now I felt a shift in my relationship with my firstborn, just 7 hours after giving birth. And here I was trying to make room for her while reestablishing and redefining what seemed like a once well functioning and well-oiled machine. Sleep, routine and boundaries being the most pressing.
Any parent knows this too well; for the most part, “us time” (mom and dad), happens once the kids go to bed. When your kids do not want to go to bed or, as they put it, "can’t". There is no “us time”. No series bingeing, no raw convos, no hardcore rap music, no winding down, no touchy-feely thingies….nothing. And what you are left with at the end of each night, a parent that is tired, wound up and resentful.
Although this was short-lived (1 month), and to be honest we should have seen it coming, that rough patch felt like forever. Loulou rebellion against self-soothing, that I knew she was capable of, felt like straight up defiance. She refused for her dad to tuck her in and wanted me to fall asleep with her every night.
Since she was 1.5, Loulou would “read” herself to bed alone with her door open and bedside light on. Now here I was, recovering from a reopened C-section wound, adjusting to juggling two, keeping up routine, breastfeeding, diaper changes and managing a household. And now this toddler didn’t want to sleep??
I couldn’t take one more thing on top of everything else.
Let's just say, my response wasn’t in any way understanding or pleasant. After a night of threats, back and forth, tears (some fake), my husband voiced his doubt in my approach and temper. So I stayed up till 5 am that night, and I read up. After a night of additional psychoanalysis, I accepted what I knew all along, I was in the wrong. My child wasn't fighting me. She was fighting for her place. Looking for reassurance. This was her way of trying to say “I am here, your daughter, remember me?.” It was time to readjust, and compromise.
Readjustments and compromise didn't mean she got to move into my bedroom at night, or that I did into hers. It meant I had to figure out what worked for all of us, define freedoms and boundaries and translate this into a clear routine.
This is what that now looks like for us:
- I reintroduced my daughter to her room and made it a space designed to make her feel in charge in and hold ownership of. So I spent a day "Montessori-ing" the issshh out of her room with her. I asked (presenting options) where she would prefer to place her things and then encouraged her to rearrange herself. Got her a bed she could access herself. Cribs never really worked for any of our children, and after I got familiar with the Montessori method, mattresses spoke tenfolds more to me. Even an age appropriate cover and pillow.
- She is in charge of getting herself ready for bed, and her bedroom is designed to facilitate that happening. It takes some reminding and at the start a learning curve but we've gotten there now. She puts off her own clothes, puts dirty clothes into her laundry basket or folds clean clothes and puts them back into her chest of drawers. She located and puts on her PJs, uses the bathroom one more time and brushes her teeth. She preps a wipe, and brings it to me with her hair brush, while letting me know she is ready for bed.
- I had previously associated to "punishment". I knew I had to reinvent it. It is now a calm and reflective zone. Think more "time in", rather than "time out". To really drive this feeling home, I removed everything over stimulating in her room and replaced it this things that promote calming activities. For example, her room has many book designated areas, including a bend and corner of her bed with a reading lamp. This way Loulou considers it as a place where she can self reflect and calm down in, rather than be sent to out of frustration and anger. She now applies this concept and attitude to everything she chooses to do in her room, including sleeping. Ps. Still working on it.
- I put Bubby down in the room with her and then leave while Loulou was still awake. She loves her sister, doing things with her and taking care of her. So this one works well. On my way out, I handed her the responsibility of laying with her sister, reminding her that she was not alone.
- I leave the door open, tell her what I am going to do in the next room, and that I will be back to kiss her before I go to sleep. This gives her the reassurance that I am not far because she can hear me and knows what I am up to is nothing secretive.
- I came up with the 3 x 3 =1 routine. I have 3 familiar bedtime routines, that I allow her to pick from and participate in. They all end in one thing: sleep. They involve 3 things, that can be rearranged 3 times over. Sleep, lights out, and a book/song. She picks the book, asks for the song, turns off the lights and most of all she sleeps in her room and bed.
- I got a night light. This way she can still see and not feel lost, while still avoiding "sight" light that stimulates. When I have to night feed, it helps to situate myself without waking up anyone. Seems like such a small adjustment, but now we even take it on holiday.
- No screens an hour before bedtime. Seeing is key in comfort, but too much light makes wining down hard.
- Never go to bed upset. Hugs and kisses are a must.
- I had a conversation with Loulou about why Bubby might end up in my bed, and breastfeeding. I constantly remind her that she got a year of co-sleeping as well, and it is only fair her sister gets to do so, while she breastfeeds at night.
And as for co-sleeping, that is clear cut, my kids get to co-sleep only under the following circumstances:
- When my kids are sick, I keep them close incase they need me and so I can keep an eye and ear on them. In a 6 month period, they vomited a total of a total of 3 weeks and yes, you guessed it. They stayed as close as they needed.
- When either mama or papa travels, for emotional support.
- When we camp (only on weekends), in the living room. As bonding time.
- If I am still breastfeeding at night. Easier for me and baby.
You might shriek at the idea of co-sleeping. Look, by now, I’ve figured, a ton of things I choose to do in relation especially to my kids and their upbringing is still considered controversial. I’ve even read and heard others call these things “new age”, “out there”, “unsafe” and “irresponsible”. At this stage of parenting, I am over it.
Like many other parents, I do what I see is best for my kids and the truth is, it might not be the same for you or yours. The other side of this truth is, it might though, and you just don't know it. There are also basic human needs that a child craves, and then there are the “luxuries”. Things that can be considered after the basics. Getting to do those things, facilitate emotional stability, awareness and growth. Co-sleeping is one of those “luxuries” in my eyes.
I would not recommend it without precautions though. Don't do it if you or your bed sharing partner drinks, smokes (anything) or rolls over in your sleep. Make sure to shield your baby from falling out of bed. Then again, maybe after 6 months, consider it might happen. Never place them at the edge of the bed. For us, until we felt secure about them sleeping "in" the bed with us, we used a side bed for 4-6 months, after which I pushed my side of the bed to the wall. Once Bubby and Loulou were both able to get out of bed by themselves (by 9 months old), I stopped having to push my bedside to the wall. I never let my babies sleep on their tummy unsupervised until they were masters at turning their heads from side to side (by 6 months old).
All in all, I say all of this to say this; be patient and flexible, but don't give up on finding and creating a routine. I see in myself and with other parents a panic surrounding bedtime. Another one of these "natural" things that we are supposed to know how to teach or our children are innately equipped to reach deep down inside and do. The truth is, it isn't. There is nothing wrong with us for not knowing what to do, especially when first faced with it. With kids, things change constantly. You might have a great sleeper from birth (like bubby), or like with Loulou, one that had a hard time with it. And with what seems like overnight, things change. Its soo cliche to say this, but each child is very different as well. Are you and your partner the same? Do you and your siblings share 100% of the same DNA? not even twins do, and even with them, characters and actions differ. The similarity we all have with sleep is the necessity of it. Even more so the ability to wine down, in order to bring our bodies to rest. I think, as long as you are working at or aiding them with the goal of them one day doing this for themselves, rest is will become achievable.
So, Chin up, you are doing great!