Three years and six days. That’s how long it took my oldest to realize she could get out of her bed without assistance. Three years and six days of glorious, peaceful, relaxing evenings and mornings. Three years and six days of foolishly and naively taking our sleep for granted. And now it’s over.
Ever since that ill-fated day five months ago, we have watched our daughter’s sleep habits deteriorate. It began with her early rising. Where once she would wake at 6 a.m. and sing or play in her bed until we went to retrieve her from her cushiony palace, she now wakes at 4:30 or 5 a.m. and comes running into our bedroom, full of energy, ready and eager to start her day. (This was awful, but at least it came after we moved the baby into her own room so she was not impacted.)
What followed can only be described as a guide for parents in how NOT to sleep train your toddler.
Rather than improving, she began waking at all hours of the night, each time running into our bedroom in hysterics. Between gulps of air she would tell us she “needed cuddles,” and we would pull her into bed and allow her to spend the rest of the night with us.
In the morning, we would shake our heads at each other and vow to return her to her own bed when she did it the following evening. But we were exhausted each night, and so we buckled and allowed her to snuggle in between us.
Eventually, it was no longer just the middle of the night or early mornings. Around two months ago she stopped being able to comfort herself to sleep at all.
Bedtime became a literal nightmare.
She would begin to sob once we turned out the lights and closed her door. She would run out of her room and beg us, between tears, to just lay with her, for a little while. Honestly, it was scary. I looked at my 3-year-old, panic-stricken, sobbing, unable to catch her breath, and I didn’t know what to do. So we would lay with her until she fell asleep.
But it didn’t matter.
The middle of the night wake-ups continued. The panic and tears. The climbing into bed with me and my husband while we were both in the middle of a REM cycle.
The three of us began looking and feeling like zombies. Red-rimmed eyes, chronic yawns, achy bodies, and a fierce irritability that comes from repeated nights of interrupted sleep.
Eventually, I called the doctor. We brought her in, had her examined, and he deduced that she was simply exercising this new power she had. My daughter understood cause and effect — if she cried long enough and hard enough, we would give in. It was typical of her age, and he wasn’t overly concerned. He suggested we try some tough love. So we tried a baby gate at her bedroom door to stop her from escaping in the middle of the night.
But that didn’t work either. She didn’t escape, but she cried loud and long, proclaiming that she “couldn’t open the stupid gate” and begging for someone to “please save me,” and so we did.
It was heartbreaking.
Listening to what sounded like a 3-year-old having a panic attack, we didn’t know what to do. So we let her sleep with us. And that is where we are now. There is no solution. There is no happy ending or lesson learned. There is a 3-and-a-half-year-old sleeping in the middle of our king-sized bed, contentedly and peacefully.
And because she is finally sleeping, so are we. The two parents who were so proud of our baby’s ability to self-soothe. The two parents who swore we would never co-sleep with our children. The two parents who were so desperate for uninterrupted sleep.
After all, this can’t last forever… can it?