Para-whatta-whatta aka “no sleep for moms and dads”

Yep, none.  So here it is: we’re changing the way we sleep in my family and we’ve been busy focusing on that for the past two weeks (which is why I have scarcely written).  The subject of sleep is a constant in our lives; as adults, we’re told to get at least eight hours a night to maintain optimal health.  As parents, we’re told everything from let your baby cry alone in a crib (at most any age), training them how to sleep on their own to co-sleeping with your baby in your bed to comfort them, nurse them, whatever they want until they’re ready for their own bed.

I’ve had VERY strong opinions on these theories at different times in past and have surprisingly, tried both.  Desperate?  Absolutely?  In the end, I never felt like letting my child cry was the right thing to do, so we co-slept because it was the only way we could get a smidge of sleep.  Now what?  For most of us, that is the big debacle that only you and your partner can answer.

My six year old son sleeps well enough, but we’re still laying with him after reading books, until he’s just about asleep.  We’re ready to end this cycle.  We’ve been ready for a long time.

Our two year old has some significant sleep issues causing her to co-sleep until a week and a half ego.

Why now?  Because our family is falling apart.  My husband and I have no time together; we’ve forgotten why we love each other and more importantly, why we like each other.  If he’s putting our son to bed, laying with him, he falls asleep for the night and is off to work before we wake in the morning.  So we’ll see each other for an hour or so in the evening.

If I put our son to sleep, I fall asleep with him too.  If we put our daughter to sleep in our comfy bed, we’ll fall asleep with her for the night.  We don’t see each other or spend any kind of quality time together and it’s making not only our lives tense and uncomfortable, but it’s seeping into our children too, who have become quiet, sometimes angry and snappy, just like mom and dad.

A week and a half ago, our daughter was diagnosed with parasomnia, as well as significant sleep attachments, which any co-sleeping child will have.  At the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital Boston, parasomnia symptoms have been discovered to be:*

  • confusion arousals and sleep terrors (incomplete waking, crying or screaming, thrashing, looking upset or frightened)
  • sleepwalking and sleep talking (while only partly awake)
  • teeth grinding (bruxism)
  • bedwetting (nocturnal enuresis)
  • periodic limb movements in sleep (leg or arm jerks every 20 to 60 seconds while asleep)

She can have severe episodes between 2-15 times a night.  Most nights she averages around 5-10.  It usually takes 30-60 minutes to calm her enough to get back to sleep.  It’s torture for my husband and I to see her so dramatically  upset, thrashing, hitting and punching us.  We were so thankful and relieved to find out that she doesn’t remember these episodes and has no emotional memory of them.  Put this all together, including our son waking either from sister’s crying or his own bad dream and you have a mom and dad who are completely, utterly, miserably sleep-deprived and not functioning well (or at all) in their daily lives.

Two and a half years.  It’s been that long that we’ve gotten any kind of respectable sleep.  It’s been that long that things have been falling apart.  It’s been that long that we haven’t been the parents to our children that we should and want to be.

Controversial tecnhniques to stop the maddness abound and we decided to use an updated Ferber plan.  The doctors have found that when the children go to sleep easy, by themselves, without their sleep attachments (me, in my daughter’s case), they have less parasomnia episodes throughout the night and become more rested, happier children.  I hit the jackpot; that’s what we needed … you know what happens to kids when they’re not rested, even worse, when they’re exhausted.  Let’s just say, we’ve been dealing with major tantrums for over a year now and we were ready for them to end on day two.

I’ve always considered myself an attachment parent, based on not only the theory of attachment by John Bowlby and later Mary Ainsworth, but also by Dr. William Sears.  I thought letting my child be in distress, or having them cry for me when I’m not holding them (but maybe just in the next room) for an instant, would hurt them psychologically.  I still stand by much of my previous thinking, but I am immensely proud of myself and my family for listening to professionals who have spent their lives studying sleep for infants, toddlers, children.  Out of desperation, obvious exhaustion and depletion of every other resource, we did something we had never believed in before.  We chose the technique we had completely disagreed with days prior.  And it’s saved us.

Really.  We’re saved.  Day five our girl was a sleep champ, going to sleep on her own, sleeping a few hours here and there (we’ll take it!) and having less parasomnia episodes than she’s ever had.  My husband and I have finished watching Season 7 of Dexter, we’ve chatted and had dinner together.  We remember why we love each other and why we like each other.  Our family is back.  Now getting that six year old boy to sleep on his own …

*www.childrenshospital.org

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2 thoughts on “Para-whatta-whatta aka “no sleep for moms and dads”

  1. It is so great to hear that you have finally been able to get some sleep! I feel like sleeping patterns are one of those things that you can’t understand unless you have lived with them. Adam has had sleep issues since he was born – the waking, the crying, the attachment – and we have struggled with low-sleep nights quite often. We have to retrain him to sleep every couple of months using what might be similar techniques to what you used. We have been comparatively lucky though because he only gets up a few times a night and does not always require assistance. Zach also sleeps extremely well and rarely wakes up even when Adam screams at the top of his lungs for long periods of time.

    I can’t imaging what it has been like for you two have been through – Sally and I get snippy with each other after a couple nights of reduced sleep, let alone two and a half years. We often feel guilty after a night of waking because we end up angry at Adam for being awake and we don’t want to be angry at our children for things that they have little control over. We aren’t attached-parents but we do struggle with how to handle sleep issues. Sally is more attached than I am and wants to hold and cuddle him. She doesn’t like to hear him cry and be upset. I am more open to letting him cry it out so that he learns how to calm himself but I can go to extremes. Between the two of us we try to keep a balance but it is a constant conversation. Nothing that Adam is doing is nearly as bad as what you have gone through and I hope it doesn’t escalate. We’ve just had a few weeks where he needed us every night, but it was only once or twice, not fifteen times.

    I applaud you for stepping out of your comfort zone and pushing your belief boundaries to try something new. It takes A LOT to do that. Hopefully you can still retain the qualities of attached-parenting that you enjoy and believe in while getting some sleep for yourselves. Despite your internal struggles you have raised some amazing kids. You deserve some slumber for it!

    PS – You really have quite a nice blog here. You are a great writer and I enjoy the humor you apply to the stories you tell.

  2. Wow, Jason. Thank you so much for your kind thoughts and support. It’s amazing how challenging parenting is, isn’t it? I think of it as a fluid thing that keeps changing month to month, year to year. What I learn now is different than what I will learn later. Thanks, again!

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