Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Child is Broken. Help Me Fix Her.

This morning, at 10:45 to be precise, I woke up in my bed, stretched my arms, and rolled onto my right side to find that my daughter's brilliant blue eyes were open.She smiled at me, gave me a hug, and we agreed to go downstairs to watch a little Toy Story 3.

Sounds heavenly, right? I'm sure to those of you whose kids wake up with the sun no matter how late they stay up, it sounds downright luxurious. Sleeping in till almost eleven? On a Wednesday? It's a dream come true!

Except it is more of a nightmare. While I am glad that after passing out from sheer exhaustion at 11 P.M. Charlotte didn't decide to greet the day at her usual time of 8 A.M., I am dismayed by the fact that she has been cranky from the moment she woke up and will most likely take a 2-3 hour nap to make up for how poorly she slept, then be up all night once more.

Or, there's the even more dire possibility that she will NOT nap, and STILL be up until all hours. It can go either way with her. And, yes, the nap would save me a lot of sanity (though from the sounds coming from upstairs, I'm not optimistic) but what I really need is for her to be on something resembling a toddler's schedule, as opposed to that of a teenager on summer vacation.


Okay, many hours have passed since I started this post. Update: she did not nap. And she was less than pleasant for the remainder of the day. It was quite the debacle. Chris usually has great luck with putting her down for naps and even sometimes for bed. But, lately she has been freaking out if I'm not around, and once I am in the room with her, there is little chance of me leaving it without her.

So, here's what's going on: I take Charlotte up to her room for her vitamin and to have her teeth brushed. We read a couple stories. I sing her a couple songs. We turn out the light, she gives me a big hug, I put her in her crib, tell her "Goodnight" and walk out.

Or, at least that's how it used to happen. The last week or so has gone more like this: Charlotte prolongs story time as long as possible. Even after I tell her the story we are reading is the last one, and she agrees to this, she says "Again?" or "Different book?" as soon as I am done reading. She starts whining about wanting to come to my bed before I even sing her songs. We turn off the light (after much cajoling,) and right as I am about to put her in bed, or right as I am about to leave, she starts crying.

I struggle with this part a lot, but sometimes I walk out anyway. If the crying abates within a minute or two, I don't go back in. I feel guilty for the rest of the night, but I am glad that she's asleep. If, however, the crying doesn't stop and gets more intense as the seconds pass, I go back in.

I hold her. I rock her. I tell her that I know she can go to sleep in her crib. That she's a big girl. It doesn't matter. At this point, I'm basically stalling because she WILL end up coming to my bed. She cries so hard and asks so pitifully, that not only do I end up caving, I also feel like a horrible parent for even trying to get her to sleep in her own bed in the first place. I know. I'm a huge wimp.

But, seriously, the crying is very unsettling. And she says things like, "Don't leave me here!" Or, she'll ask (through sobs) "Can you go get your bed ready?" I know it sounds like I'm being a wimp, but I get the feeling she's going through something. If I'm rocking her to sleep in the rocking chair, which doesn't work anymore, by the way, and she starts to doze off, she will startle herself awake, and her eyes will frantically search for me. Only after she is sure I'm still there will she start to doze again. But, once I try to lay her down in her crib, even if she appears to be asleep, she'll cry and cling to me.

Once I acquiesce and bring her to my bed, a new battle begins. She tries to talk to me and play. I tell her it's time to sleep and try to ignore her. She nudges me with her elbow or drapes her entire body over me. Anything to get my attention. Last night we were in my bed for an hour, after being in HER room for an hour, when I gave up. I know how stupid it is to reward her for not sleeping, but I hadn't eaten dinner, and I needed a break. So, I brought her downstairs and let her watch a little bit of a movie while I ate and tried to psyche myself up for the next round.

By the time we went back upstairs to my room (She started hyperventilating at the very thought of going to her room, so I didn't even try) she was so exhausted that she passed out in five minutes. Then she slept so restlessly that no one really got enough sleep. She talks in her sleep. Sometimes she laughs, but usually she seems upset. She calls for me a lot in her sleep. Sometimes she wakes up and has to find me and be touching me in some way before she will go back to sleep. Once, she woke up, and I was in the bathroom. She SCREAMED.

So, what do you guys think? Am I being a big wimp, or does she really need me? And, in either case, what can I do about this since it is clearly not working? Any and all opinions are welcome.


  1. All I can tell you is my experience, which could have been much like you describe. We teach our kids to do lots of things. We also sometimes have to teach them to sleep. For me, this is non-negotiable. I must sleep for my health, and Kellen has to sleep in his bed.

    Kellen went through a rough patch a couple weeks ago. I sat outside his room through the screams. Every five minutes or so I would go back in his room, put him back in bed, and tell him good night. Nothing else. After 3 nights of this, he stopped. And he's back to falling asleep like he used to.

    It hurts. It makes me sad. Every instinct in my body says go in and hold him. Bring him into my bed even. But I know that will only prolong the bedtime battle. For me, setting a firm boundary about sleep and being consistent has worked. It might not work for you, but I can only speak from my own place of parenting.

  2. Also, coming from a childhood behavioralist perspective, it sounds like she knows that at some point she will get what she wants. Even if it's not tonight, she will keep trying knowing that sometimes her efforts will pay off. If you want to change the behavior, you have to change the pattern.

  3. Yeah, she definitely knows that she's going to get what she wants. And that bothers me because I don't know if she's just performing now, or if her actions are genuine.

    I guess the reason I have a hard time with it is that we have been through things like this before. It hasn't been this bad, but we've gone through periods where I rock her to sleep every night or just generally have a hard time getting her to bed. And she always gets over it without e changing anything. One day she's just ready to sleep again.

    So, part of me feels like it's a phase, and she needs me, and I will be there for her until she doesn't. And part of me thinks I need to be more firm. And it's that uncertainty that keeps me from meaning it when I tell her that she needs to sleep in her own bed. And she can sense it, of course. So, it's a vicious cycle.

  4. Duuude. As you know, I've totally been here. So, what I did, back when I had some semblance of patience, was to issue an extremely stern preamble and then walk out and pretty much ignore the screaming fits (that is, unless they lasted for more than five minutes or so). It sounds harsh and horrible and cold, but that's what I had to do, and what I still have to do at times (albeit much less often these days).

    It is a phase, and it will pass, but you have to do your best not to cave.

  5. Ok, so my opinion may be invalid because I don't have children.

    BUT, I did some reading on the internet (like ya do) and saw some possibly useful articles.

    So Mr. Internet recommends you try things like creating a transitional object (ie blanket, stuffed animal, or other object) to help her feel secure during the night and in her own bedroom.

    Another site mentioned helping her create an imaginary friend because it could provide a sense of comfort and security for her. "Act like you're tucking your toddler's imaginary friend in at night and pretend it's a real person. If your toddler gets scared during the night, they can look to their "friend" so they won't feel so alone." Lastly, it talked about being firm and consistent with the bed time.

    Every site I looked at mentioned giving in to their cries will only make the problem worse.

    Again, I don't have kids so what the hell do I know. Just trying to help.

    And if none of the above work, NyQuil will do the trick EVERY TIME!

    BTW, good use of the word cajoling.

  6. @Lex- It doesn't sound harsh or horrible. I get it. I really do. I guess I should have mentioned in the blog post that I have always (and still do, occasionally) have a really hard time with sleep. I had horrible insomnia as a kid, and I have always been grateful that my mom allowed me to come sleep in her bed when I wanted to and was really patient with me. Does that mean I'm handling this situation properly or that I'm not totally being played by my two-year-old? Not at all. But, it's what keeps me from having the resolve to do what I might *need* to do. If I don't believe it's the right thing, she won't either. I guess that's what I'm struggling with.

  7. @Yury- I appreciate you doing some research for me, and I wouldn't discount anything you have to say because you don't have kids yet. I asked for ALL opinions.

    She has a "transitional object" in her favorite bunny, and believe me, that has gotten her through some tough times. He goes to bed with her every night. Unfortunately, lately he hasn't really been doing the trick for her.

    I know for a fact that giving in to her crying by taking her to my bed is only encouraging her to do the same thing every night. Tonight I got lucky and she only cried for about thirty seconds when I left the room, so I didn't have the opportunity to cave. That might be the encouragement I need to be more firm about staying in her bed. But, I can't promise I won't fold when she starts the plaintive wailing again...

  8. Oh my! I am going through something similar. I hope it's not schadenfreude that it makes me feel better to know others out there are going through the same thing at the same time! Apologies for the length of this. I hope my story help you!!!
    My little one is 15 months. We started out "doing Babywise". It actually worked great in the beginning (other than occasionally breaking my heart)
    She went to be easily & slept thru the night from about 14 weeks to 7 or 8 months old. Viola! I was a perfect parent.
    But then we went on Christmas vacation, and she slept with me. When we got back, teething started in earnest.
    Short story long, we had to start over. I did not want to do Babywise/CryItOut again. I felt like it was too emotionally traumatizing for both of us. If it worked & that was it, great --- but if any little or big change means you have to do it again? Forget it. I went with a middle ground. The BabyWhisperer. She rec's trying a little earlier bedtime + "Pick Up / Put Down." You comfort, but then you're supposed to stop as soon as the crying stops. It can be exhausting, but it's more emotionally acceptable to me. The idea is that baby gets what she needs but eventually gets bored and gives up. The problem is that it is SO easy to wear out before she does. (Especially, when I know I have to get up for work!) However, I did get her back on track this way.
    UNTIL --- grandparents babysat, let her watch a movie to fall asleep instead of keeping her in her room. I was weak the next night, and now she's teething again. It's been about a month, and she now wakes up at least once nightly. I go in & pat or rub her back, and she goes right back down. Sometimes, she's more insistent that I stay by her side. (This has actually been easier to do now that she's in a toddler bed - I can sit & have her in her bed!)
    I actually just decided that I needed to start back to Pick Up / Put Down. What's toughest for me is that she usually does go right back to sleep. It's just she's up again an hour or two later. Sometimes we get a stretch of five! Last night though, she was up every 15 minutes between 11:30 & 1am. That's when I threw our travel cot on the floor and snuggled up in there. (I sleep in there instead of bringing her in my bed; it makes me feel better - ridiculous, I know!)
    SO - after much blabbity blah -- my rec's -- 1. Pick Up / Put Down. 2. May try putting her to bed a little sooner.
    On a separate but related note, it makes me so sad how much guilt we parents put on each other about this whole "sleeping through the night" schtick. It's like you're a bad parent even if everything else is good. Still, I do notice the worse sleep is getting her - she's less the happy sweetheart the past couple weeks, so I know the sleep is important. Just don't beat yourself up.
    Hang in there, and know I'm right there with you tonight! I'm counting on coffee coffee coffee tomorrow! :)

  9. Dude, I totally hear you. When Kale was 18 months we had a family vacation to Calgary. The entire vacation was spent at my brother's house and we three stayed in a windowless room in the basement, Kale in a pack and play and Ross and I in a bed right beside him. And every night we'd struggle miserably to get Kale to bed (sleeping had always been a process but not being at home made it 100% worse) and eventually one of us would just stay down there with Kale asleep with us on the bed. From 8PM onward in a pitch black room. It sucked! I wanted to enjoy time with my brother and sister in law and have some Christmas drinks and trade stories. But no, we were playing "spell off the bored adult while the kid slept" BLAH. So, when we got home, we decided we had to make things change. This was not going to work anymore. The best advice someone gave me that applies to everything is "pick the thing that bugs you the most and work to improve it - don't try to improve everything all at once". So, for us, it was the 45 minute long process to get Kale to sleep that involved rocking and shushing and blah blah. Also on a hunch, I decided to move him from the crib to the "big boy bed" so we talked about it for a week or so and then let him help Daddy disassemble the bed and convert it to the toddler bed. We made a big stink about how awesome he was and how he was a "big boy" who could "sleep in his own bed!" Turns out part of his objections were to being trapped in a crib, because that alone helped immensely.

  10. It does sound like she is very needy right now. I am not sure that making any big changes (like the ones I outline below) would 'take' or 'work' when she's in such an emotional place. I'm inclined to think it's more than just "i don't want to" for her, it sounds like she really can't be apart from you right now.

    (Did any of your miscarriages happen at night? Would she be extra-worried about letting you out of her sight because of that? Just a passing thought. Maybe if you said, during the day, "I know you were worried about me when I went to the hospital. That's all over now. I will be here when you wake up." or something?)

    Which ... if you want you can ride out. You can wait a while and see. Pick a number. 7 days? 5 days? Then plan to make a change.

    Or, if you're UP TO HERE, you can make a change right now. Sometimes it's better to do something, even if it doesn't work. Or to have a plan, even if it ends up failing.

    When my kidB was 13 months and we were first trying to teach him to sleep in his crib, he would get hysterical when we went near his bedroom. It broke me. It was so hard. I didn't want him to fear sleep, or his crib, or his room. He eventually went to sleep in his crib at bedtime but still needed to be rocked at naptime, and he slept in my arms, in the living room, for what felt like months but was probably a week.

    I think trusting your instincts is good and has worked for you for a long time. She needs you, or thinks she does, (it doesn't really matter -- end result is she thinks she needs you and you can't change a toddler's mind) and you want to respect that. But it also sounds like you have had enough. And you need rest. You have to look after her all day! You need to be rested

    What has worked for us, sleep-wise, in order of priority:

    - other parent does bedtime. She will wail and scream and cry and lose her shit. Other parent has to just power through and put her to bed. Every night. You? Go for a walk. Put in earplugs. Hard? YES.

    When you're the primary caregiver (like, all day), the attachment is STRONG to you. Which is good. But also bad, because you can't separate when it counts, and she can't either. Separation is as important as attachment. My kids are very different with my husband. And he doesn't have the same "i grew you, birthed you, fed you, look after you all day" history with them, you know? He's still attached to them and them to him, but differently.

    And please, feel free to rebut for any of this...just my experience.

    - gradual go-to-sleep-on-your-ownness. Other parent is doing bedtime..good night...walk out and close the door...if she cries, go back after 5 minutes. "Time for bed, Charlotte. I love you." walk away. If she cries, go back in 7 minutes. Repeat in bigger increments. (This is Ferber, by the way, and it worked for us with both kids at 10 months for kid A and 13 months for kid B.)(I haven't done it with a 2 - 2.5 y/o and the thought scares me, frankly, because they are stubborn and crazy, and we had a sleep regression with kid B at 2.5 that made me question having children, so..grain of salt)

    I got tense just reading about you trying to sleep with her in the bed. I would lose it.

    Interesting angle about the childhood insomnia. Some kids are definitely better sleepers than others. I am a good sleeper. My husband used to stay up all night and read under the covers with a flashlight. Our children reflect this.

    If your instincts say "the situation needs to change" then I think you need to try to change something, one thing, the most important thing. Whatever that is.

    OH HI. Longest comment ever.

  11. @bestshot- It's so true how ONE night of deviating from the routine can totally ruin all the progress you've made. I tend to beat myself up for keeping her out past bedtime and messing up a good routine, but my husband always says I can't stop living my life.

    I might try the earlier bedtime. She goes down around 8 or 8:30 (which turns into ten most nights) so maybe I should start earlier.

    I agree that we put too much pressure on ourselves (and others) but it's true that kids are MUCH more agreeable when they're rested! So, I will keep at it. Good luck to you, as well. :)

  12. @Jen-

    Oh, man. I have so been in that situation. Whenever we sleep away from home, and I'm looking forward to chatting with freinds or family after bedtime, there ends up being NO bedtime, and I have to just go to bed with her. Well, not always. But, it's so frustrating because in addition to the stress of getting a kid to sleep who doesn't want to sleep, you're also feeling rushed because you want to enjoy your company.

    I've thought about moving to the bed, but that prospect is pretty scary, too!

  13. @Clara-

    My instincts are all over the place. On the one hand, I do feel like she needs me right now for whatever reason. I never had to leave her during the night to go to the hospital, but that doesn't mean all the stress from those times in addition to all the times I had to leave her during the day, didn't do a number on her.

    I actually don't mind her being in my bed too much. We sleep better when she isn't, but that isn't the part that bothers me. It's the GETTING her to sleep that sucks. Chris can do it when he's home, but he works nights during the week, so I have to do it most of the time.

    I just keep thinking it will change on its own like it always does, but I'm starting to wonder about this now. I'm leaning toward being more firm about *going* to bed in her room, but not making her stay there if she wakes up in the middle of the night screaming. Because I think the delaying of bedtime is just an excuse to stay up and play, whereas the middle of the night thing is just wanting to be with me. Maybe. I don't know.

    I've thought about the Ferber thing, too. Worked like a charm when she was 9 months. Last time I experimented with it (about 18 months) it was ridiculous how much it didn't work. Kid is way more stubborn than me!

  14. I think you are amazingly lucky to have the Internet now, and such helpful friends. It's great that everyone can share their experiences, and you feel less isolated. I have no suggestions, by the way. I was totally winging it when I let you go to school late because I didn't have the heart to wake you up when you had a difficult night.

  15. I think everyone has covered anything I would have said! haha...:) Good luck and stay strong, it will be good for her to be in her bed, no matter how much she will refuse! :) *hugs*

  16. I think everyone makes good points, but I like Clara's the most. I mentioned in my email the intense separation anxiety I had around C's age. What I didn't mention was my mom's theory about the trigger. Her school district was on strike at the time, and she thinks I overhead a joking conversation in which my cousins were asking if the teachers would be put in jail for striking. So basically, she thinks I thought that any time she wasn't in eyeshot, she was in jail.

    It's an interesting theory. But I bring it up because of what Clara said about the amount of times you've had to go to the hospital over the past few months. NOT that you could have done anything to shield her from it, because you couldn't have. Our kids live in our houses and are exposed to our stresses, even if we never talk about them in front of them. And C is a smart cookie, so it's very possible her fears stem from that, or from some who-knows-what.

    As for my separation anxiety, I grew out of it. It took time, though, and I have no idea where my parents got the strength or patience. If E did the same, I'd go nuts.

    Okay, enough amateur psychology. :) The other point of Clara's that has really worked for us is the timeframe (Clara gave me the same advice when E was driving me batty about something, and it really works). Pick whatever you think you can take: maybe, since you have the weekends with Chris helping at bedtime, a four-day window. Then, on day five, do whatever you think you need to do for you. One day of it might not work, but like Clara said, having a plan is always good, just to make you feel like you've got more control.

    The only other thing I can think of: the radical reset. Sometimes E is like a broken record, and when he gets into a crappy pattern, the only way around it is to make the pattern impossible to keep. So I'm thinking, is there a friend or family member who would let you guys sleep over for a night? What I'm thinking is that the change of environment would be enough to snap her out of whatever's going on.

    E has been sleeping in our bed lately, but this only works because it makes his sleep better, and we don't mind. I don't think there's anything wrong with the family bed (probably because I've had friends who've done it, and my parents did it too, and so did my husband's). We were talking about sleep problems with our real estate agent once, and her theory was that everybody lets their kids into their beds, but nobody talks about it because some people make such a big deal about "over-attached" kids.

    Whatever. I'm 31. I don't sleep in my mom's bed. I do, however, always feel better when she gives me a hug. I do not think this means I am maladjusted. :)