We’ve been dealing with sleep issues with Elizabeth. With Elizabeth WHO IS FIVE YEARS OLD. Actually, that looks young when I type it (aw, FIVE!)—but it seems like I wouldn’t still be working on sleep-training issues with someone who knows how to do air quotes.
This time it’s that she started waking up in the middle of the night wanting to come to our room. That was fine periodically, but soon it was every night, and soon after that she started waking earlier and earlier until she was waking up before our bedtime. I thought she was old enough to have this situation explained to her, so I told her now she would need to go back to sleeping in her own bed.
After that, she continued to wake up night after night crying, and I’d go down there and explain it to her again, and then she’d cry for an hour, or an hour and a half, or TWO hours. I would lie in bed, wide awake and simmering with angry resentment, going down periodically to reassure/re-explain through clenched teeth. She’d finally go back to sleep, but meanwhile my frustration and awake-in-the-middle-of-the-nightness would have turned itself into a full-color review of Every Situation In Which I’ve Ever Felt Angry Resentment.
So I decided to break up this fight. Trying to force Elizabeth to do things my way in the middle of the night has never, ever worked: not when she was brand new, not when she was an older baby, not when she was a toddler, and not now. She has recurring sleep issues, and maybe there is a way to deal with them that would solve them, but my guess is that we’ve tried everything at this point (I’m reluctant to try to decree absolutely that no suggestions for books/methods could possibly be useful, but I do think that we’ve heard all of them by now). Trying to do things My Way is leading to misery and anger, and it’s not solving anything. So last night, she cried and I brought her up to our room.
William gets Night Sadness: feeling in the evening or around bedtime that everything is too awful and sad and hopeless to be dealt with at all. He goes long periods without getting it, and then some daytime thing will show up as nighttime stress. Right now it’s his Monday schedule: he gets pulled out of the classroom FOUR TIMES on Mondays for various things. William is not a Sharer, talking-wise, so the first we really understood the depth of the problem was when two Monday mornings in a row he was “sick.”
I preferred he not drop out of any of the four things, so my first way of dealing with it was to try to treat the Night Sadness. I taught him the various things that help me deal with my own; I used my dad’s Nightmare Cure, which I might have changed over the years but still think of as his (turn lights on, pee, chew a Tums, drink of water, brush teeth); I let him stay up a bit and sit with us. Nothing was working.
So my second attempt was to ask him if perhaps one thing was stressing him more than the others. Last year he was stressed to tears by a writing group he was in, and it got bad enough that we said to the teacher that we didn’t really care at all if he wrote below his ability PERMANENTLY, it was too much stress to be worth it. But this time he said he didn’t really want to drop any of the things, he just wished they weren’t all on the same day. So I asked if I should contact the teacher and find out if things could be spread out a little, and he explained the various reasons why the schedule can’t be budged.
So my third attempt was to ask if he could think of anything we could do to improve Mondays in OTHER ways. He couldn’t think of any, but I started thinking of some. Like, maybe he could get hot lunch on Mondays and not have it count toward his “once a week” limit. And if the hot lunch that day was one he didn’t like, I could make his lunch for him instead. And he could bring a chocolate-chip granola bar as his snack. And he could get a pass that day on practicing his clarinet.
Last night when he had Night Sadness, I put him through the Nightmare Cure, and as he was doing it I reminded him that in the morning he wouldn’t have to pack a lunch. And he could have deviled eggs for breakfast. And he wouldn’t have to practice his clarinet.
These things cause older-brother Rob to hit the ceiling, of course. Why can’t HE have an extra hot lunch on Mondays?? When HE took clarinet, why didn’t HE get to have a skip day?? I try to be understanding about this (I too was a firstborn, and I too had a fine-tuned sense of Justice Betrayed), but I also think it’s a good opportunity to discuss how we make different accommodations for different people. Elizabeth gets a pass in the middle of the night right now because she can’t figure out the sleep thing and neither can we. William gets spoiled on Monday mornings because he’s having trouble handling his Mondays and yet doesn’t want to get out of it either. When Rob was younger he had social and speech issues that meant he’s the only one of our children to have attended two years of expensive pre-kindergarten plus three summers of expensive “preschool camp.” Henry’s getting extra time with Paul right now, because for whatever reason he’s going through a Daddy-craving stage and nearly has a breakdown during the week, so on weekends Paul doesn’t expect to get anything done without Henry attached to him.
And then it won’t be long before some of these things shift around. Maybe Henry will go out of this Daddy Stage, but then he’ll need something else; maybe Elizabeth will start sleeping all night in her own bed again, but then she’ll need something else. The hard part, to me, is that it’s so SHIFTING, and that it’s so different from child to child: it’s not something that lets me say to Rob, “Well, when YOU were five, YOU got to sleep in our room.”