Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Good Night's Sleep, Part 2

WARNING:  Strong language in the video

My oldest son has never been a good sleeper.  Sure, I knew that he was active in utero, but that was nothing compared with what he was after his "escape" because you can only imagine what a prison the uterus was after you saw him on the outside.  In fact, the doctor had told me to wait to push during delivery and then changed his mind, saying, "You might as well push 'cause he's crawlin' out anyhow."  The big one (then the little and ONLY one) was constantly moving, always looking for something new.  He never liked to sleep.

Like most new parents, we tried random things.  We held him.  We bounced him.  We tried to let him cry it out (FAIL!  FAIL!  FAIL!  FAIL!).  We tried inducing sleepiness through changes in body temperature--a hot bath and then slow cooling off period.  We tried swaddling.  We tried freedom.  We tried the car for miles and miles and miles and miles.

As he got older, it didn't get any easier.  As he settled on a bedtime around 2:00 AM, his brother decided to get up at 5:00.  AM.  This was when we were living in Korea and all sleeping in the same room.  We were not happy.

When a friend of mine linked to this bedtime story, I could relate.  But part of me wanted to laugh while the other wanted to cry.

You see, while I feel Adam Mansbach's pain, while I have been that parent, while probably EVERY parent has been that parent, there comes a time when sleep issues are more than just willfulness on the part of the child, and the blame of the child by the exasperated parent does very little good in fixing the problem.

Like most aspects of parenting, the topic of getting your child to sleep is well covered in the literature.  Baby Sleep Advice lists 10 separate methods, not steps, mind you, full-blown methods.   And we have tried them.

In the beginning of his book Lost at School (excerpt available online), Ross Greene writes, "Many adults have never given much thought to their philosophy of kids.  But if you're trying to help kids with behavioral changes, you're going to need one, because it's your philosophy of kids that's going to guide your beliefs and your actions in your interactions with them, especially when the going gets tough.  The philosophy that serves as the foundation of what you're about to read is 'kids do well if they can.'  This may not sound earth-shattering, but when we consider the very popular alternative philosophy--"kids do well if they want to"--the significance becomes clear."

And it IS the second philosophy that motivates the parents in Mansbach's book, many of the sleep theories, and, to be honest, a lot of my less-than-open-minded attempts at parenting.

And it is so hurtful to everyone involved that it might be time to ponder, just ponder, whether motivation really is the issue.

It was the third week in April 2011 when I finally caved to various pressures and gave the kids melatonin.  I had already talked to countless parents, the psychologists, and three pediatricians.  I hated the idea of medicating our kids--so much so that I only gave the big one half a dose (of the children's dosage) and the little one one-quarter.  But at some point, we all NEEDED SLEEP.  I think I waited an appropriate time period.  The oldest was, after all, six and three-quarters and had never slept well.

Both children were fast asleep at 8:40.  PM, not the morning after, mind you.  It was the first time.  Ever.  Since birth.

But the real kicker is that they could tell the difference.  When nighttime comes, the oldest one often begs for melatonin, saying, "I am really sleepy, Mommy, but I just can't hold still and sleep," or, when I have decreased his dosage too much or tried a placebo to see if it's not a psychological effect, "Why can't you just give me the medicine?!  You know I'm just going to lay and lay and lay here!"

It is definitely the medicine, and it definitely works.

And all of those years of screaming and blaming and crying and exhaustion could have been severely shortened if I had just changed my own attitude, listened a little more.

So while Mansbach's book is funny, and we've all been there, the question is, Do we need to be there? What might the future hold if we looked at the problem from another perspective?

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