As parents of small children, sleep is a luxury. Sleep deprivation is a torture technique for a reason that all parents understand, and the obsessive writing about sleep on parenting websites is understandable. How do you get your baby to “sleep through the night”? Of course, sleeping through the night is a completely variable definition ranging from 4-12 hours straight depending on who you ask. When both our girls were sleeping from the time we put them to bed at night until 6am, I was so ecstatic that I declared we would have no more babies! I stand by this as one of the best sleep decisions ever, though my lovely mother-in-law would say that I’m being a chicken. No more babies for us and two girls who sleep through the night should settle the sleep discussion right? WRONG!
Naturally, being the insane parents that we are, we had to go and shake up a good thing by moving our slumbering angels away from their comfy beds in their very own rooms all the way across an ocean and into bunk beds in a shared room. Berlin in Winter is a very dark place. The days are overcast and the nights are long. I know that Sweden is much worse, but it is still really depressing when the sun comes up at 7:30am and then goes back down at 4:30pm. Did I mention that is after it made the solstice turn and the days are getting longer? Now imagine how much fun it is to be in the dark all the time, and you’ll start to have a better understanding of why they drink soo much coffee and tea here.
Back to the kids: Mayzie is in a big girl bed waay before the experts would put her there, and Annika is too young to sleep on the top bunk, but I like to think of them as our little over-achievers. The initial fun of “hey, that’s my sister up there” and “look mommy, I can shake the whole bed by wiggling my butt” has now given way to a new game in our house. The game is called “Can Annika sneak out of bed without waking her sleeping sister?” At this point it is a 40/60 endeavor meaning that every morning when Annika has to get up to pee, Mayzie is awakened by the radical shaking of the bed as her sister sleepily stumbles down the ladder in a run to the bathroom that almost always ends in 2 drops of pee on underpants that then need to be changed. Mayzie then ends up crying and not wanting to go back to bed, no matter what time that happens. The range of times this happens seems to stick pretty much between 4-6:15am.
My own natural sleep rhythm is 11pm-7am, and we’ve almost gotten the girls to sleep (or at least stay in their room) until 6:45am. The exception seems to be the potty scramble, as I will now call it. We got them to stay in their room by plugging a little night-light into a timer that keeps it on from 7pm until 6:45am. We told them if the light is on that it’s time to stay in bed, the potty scramble is the only exception. Otherwise, the light works perfectly, especially since Annika is really happy to have a reason to boss her sister around in the morning by keeping her in the room until the light goes off. Oh yes, and the other exception is when Annika comes to tattle on her sister about getting out of the room when the light is on, typically after yelling at her for a few minutes and trying to carry her back herself. I typically lie in bed and laugh at this. The potty scramble is another beast however. One of us parents always has to go to their room and settle things back down before they will go back to sleep.
There are two situations when this settling them back down really is awful. The first is of course when they take more than 5 minutes to settle down. If I am the one who’s settling them down and they take longer than 5 minutes, I won’t get back to sleep. If Andy’s the one settling them down, I usually can go back to sleep, though getting him up in the middle of the night is a challenge of a different sort completely. The second awful situation is when the potty scramble happens at 6:15am, resulting in a 6:30am “should I even bother trying” debate in my head. By the time I get them settled and get back in bed and almost asleep that darned light is going to turn off and force me out of bed. But do I, as a parent just lay in bed awake while making them stay in bed out of the light principle? Yes, yes I do! I did this morning actually. Sometimes I even lie in bed and check my email or facebook while waiting it out. I know other parents that would not take this approach, but they also are not Annika’s parents! Little Miss Annika is turning into a bit of a master negotiator and is constantly trying to lawyer her way through the holes in our rules. (Can I use lawyer as a verb there?) Ahh, the curse of the intelligent sneaky child!
Of course, one of my three amazing sister-in-laws likes to remind me of the lovely adage that “they won’t be little forever”, and yes, I completely get that. I know that they won’t be adorable and cuddly 18 months & 3 ½ years old forever, and I’m REALLY glad about that. I hear that eventually they will even be able to dress themselves and always deal with their own poopy. I’m not wishing this lovely time away, and I don’t mean to suggest that we aren’t enjoying our kids. I’m only suggesting that a little more sleep would do us all some good. I’d be perkier for sure! I know that someday we’re going to have 2 teenagers who will want to sleep the day away (as their brains are programmed for them to do by the way), and I will be the lonely mom making breakfast for them and wishing they’d come talk to me while I drink my coffee. The long view is important here for sure, but that doesn’t negate the short view or my obligation to teach my children good sleep habits. Everyone has their own way to achieve that, & this is how we try to do it.