Monday, January 17, 2011

Can You Be Zen about Not Being Zen?

I think babies can tell when you are about to crack and do something that they won't like. Anyway, that is the only way I can explain the fact that every time I start to get tired enough to consider doing some sleep training with Petunia, she shapes up on her own. She had been waking up for the first time in the night as early as 9:30, which most nights is just ten minutes or so after I'm sure that Pumpkin is finally asleep, and not going to call me back in to flip her pillow over or something. The lack of time in the evening was driving me nuts. I told Hubby that I was going to start a new regime, in which I would go in to her, but not nurse her or bring her into bed with me before 11. And that night, she slept until 11:30.

I also told Hubby that I was going to start trying to delay the second nursing in the night, to see if we could get back to her old routine of waking once, nursing, and then sleeping solidly until morning. So that night, she nursed twice in quick succession, and then slept until morning. (That, unfortunately, only lasted one night, but she is stretching the time between the first and second nursing out, and I suspect that if I'm just patient, we'll be back down to one nursing soon.)

I'm struck by how I'm responding so differently to Petunia's sleep patterns than I did to Pumpkin's. I was always trying to improve Pumpkin's sleep. I always had an idea to try out, or a new plan to implement. I believed the sleep advice that told me that if I let her co-sleep we'd "never" get her out of our bed, and I was sure that I must be doing something wrong, because her sleep was so bad. People kept telling us to let her cry, but I didn't think it would work with her- the one time I let her cry at bedtime (because she woke up while I was in the bathroom, and Hubby was out that night), she worked herself up to the point that she threw up, leaving me with a wide awake baby who was now freaked out about throwing up, and a bunch of laundry. So we didn't try to let her "cry it out", but I harbored guilt about that decision. We did successfully partially nightwean her, getting her down from five wakings to one or two. She always resisted dropping that last night feeding, and we didn't get rid of it until she was about 21 months old or so, when we started partial night co-sleeping with her. It was an unorthodox but very successful method of nightweaning.

Things are very different this time around. Every once and a while, I think I should come up with a plan to help Petunia learn to sleep through the night. I might even start implementing it... but then her sleep gets a little bit better, and I get less tired, and I just drop it. I started bringing her into bed with us after her first wake up during the sleep disruption that accompanies the advent of separation anxiety at about 9 months, and she's been sleeping part of the night in our bed ever since. I actually think a cry it out sleep training method would work on her, but I don't want to use one, so we haven't. I feel no guilt at all about that, and I'm pretty happy with the co-sleeping arrangement, as long as she waits until midnight or so to wake up and join us.

Part of the reason for this difference in approach is the difference in the baby's starting point- Petunia's sleep has always been much better than Pumpkin's, since her first week home from the hospital. The situation we're at now with Petunia (waking once or twice in the night to nurse) took us a lot of hard work to reach with Pumpkin- although I wonder if we might have gotten there without the hard work if we'd just started partial night co-sleeping at ~9 months with her, too. I'll never know, and it doesn't matter.

Another factor is that a truly helpful book on sleep came out right around the time Petunia was born- Bedtiming, by Isabel Granic and Marc Lewis. The authors are developmental psychologists, and they explain the course of a baby's cognitive development, and highlight points in that development that might be particularly good (or bad) for working on sleep. Understanding why your sleep has suddenly gone to hell makes it much easier to deal with- or at least it does for me. I also use the book to guide me in picking times to try interventions. In fact, I used the advice in this book to help me decide when to finally extricate myself from Pumpkin's going to sleep routine.

But I think the biggest reason that I'm so much more laid back about sleep these days is the difference in my starting point. We followed our guts and did a bunch of things that the sleep experts label as "wrong" with Pumpkin, and things turned out OK. She moved out of our bed well before graduating from high school. She goes to sleep on her own, after an involved but manageable routine. She sleeps through the night (most nights) in her own bed now. I know that Petunia will get there, too, so I don't worry about doing the things that the sleep experts say will "ruin" her. We rock her to sleep- and most nights, I like that. I think Hubby does, too. It is nice to hold a snuggly baby! We co-sleep, and again, most nights I like it. When it works well, and I get woken up after a decent amount of sleep by a smiling baby who is patting my face and babbling, I think I'm the luckiest woman in the world. I know that she'll start sleeping through the night eventually, and she will move out of our bed eventually, and then eventually I'll miss having my snuggly baby.

I was congratulating myself on reaching this level of parenting Zen this weekend. This, of course, was a sign to the universe to remind me that I'm not as Zen as I think I am, and that I don't have this parenting stuff all figured out. I was talking to my friend after our girls finished their Chinese lesson, and she asked me if we were planning to start Pumpkin in any sports or other activities. I shrugged and said I didn't know. I hate to fill up our weekend schedule, and she's still so young. My friend agreed, but offered a cautionary tale about her older child (who is about eight). He is trying out ice hockey and is really discouraged by the fact that all of the other boys on his team have been playing since they were three and are therefore much, much better than he is. She has decided that it is best to expose her younger kids to a bunch of different sports and activities when they are preschoolers, to see what they get interested in. That way, they won't be intimidated out of doing something they really like just because the other kids have a five year head start on them.

Um, wow. I remember feeling the intimidation her son is experiencing... when I was in college. A lot of the other students at the college I went to had gone to expensive prep schools. I had gone to a so-so public school. They were way ahead of me in the introductory courses. I almost quit, but didn't, and in the end I pulled off an A- grade point average in a really tough major. I have always credited my success to the fact that I had to put my head down and really learn how to study in the first year of college. By the time we hit the more advanced courses that no one's high school had prepared them for, I knew how to study and a lot of my peers did not. Which is all well and good, but I'm not sure that applies to an eight year old who is realizing that all of her peers have been taking dance or playing softball since they were three.

Of course, my first instinct was to panic, and think about putting Pumpkin in some more activities. But then I remembered my original reason for not doing that- that it would cut into our family time on the weekends. So clearly, Hubby and I need to talk about this and figure out what our actual parenting approach should be. Whatever we do, I'm pretty sure some expert will think it is "wrong". So I guess I need to find my parenting Zen on this, too.


  1. My then 7 yo told me that she needed to sign up for a summer soccer tune-up camp so she can keep up with the other kids in AYSO.

    We are kind of resigned to her NOT being a soccer star. She will keep playing as long as she enjoys it, but she is definitely not keeping up with the kids that practice 7-10 hrs/wk and attend summer soccer camp.

    OTOH, she took a creative writing class and wrote epic poetry last summer. Her honors English class is reading Beowolf this year. She's already read it and discussed it in that small class format.

  2. Some of the details are different, but my approach to sleep issues between child one and child two is exactly the same. Especially that each time I come up with a strategy to 'fix' his sleep it changes again. I've contemplated night-weaning, but it's lot of effort for something that may not even prevent the waking.

    I often tell myself that if our almost 4 year old can sleep so well after such bad sleep initially, the 20 month old has to sleep better someday...

  3. What a lovely post - thank you for writing it. I have struggled so much with my 15 month old's sleeping and eating patterns and have been very conflicted by all the contradictory advice I have read (it all sounds good in theory). It is great to hear your perspective and experience with two children. Hears to more periods of zen!

  4. I hesitate to comment on Annie's sleep as I'm afraid I'll jinx it. Lets just say its pretty good, considering she's been sick and has started daycare.

    And I never really considered the whole get your kid in activities so they won't be behind later thing. Huh. Its a good point. But enough for me to sacrifice our family time on weekends? I don't know. We do have Rosie registered in Sportball right now, for an hour on Saturdays. She starts this week. Its basically a class that introduces the basics of lots of ball sports (soccer, basketball, softball, etc.), which we thought was appropriate for a 3 year old who doesn't know what she likes yet. And its an all girls class, which she'll love, because she's so girly and already thinks boys are yucky.

  5. Even though my second is only 6 weeks old, I can totally relate to how you're way more Zen about sleep the second time around. Le Petit's sleep was terrible, and we went out and read a ton of sleep books (including creepy ones that advocated cry-it-out for however long it takes from the minute they get home from the hospital, which luckily we weren't gullible enough to try), and were convinced we'd messed everything up irreparably. Then, hey, it turned out that just following le Petit's lead with some gentle nudging and a TON of patience and time (and some laziness, too -- fuss it out worked for us, often) and now he goes to sleep easily and quickly. So with Mademoiselle, I just kind of shrug and count my blessings that she's a good sleeper for her age, and groan that yeah, I'm still short on sleep and probably will be for some time.

    As far I can tell, the crazy activity over-programming that's overtaken the US isn't so widespread here in France. Also, school days are longer so that Wednesday is a full day off from school, and a lot of activities can therefore be programmed mid-week and not interfere with weekend family time. Le Petit doesn't do any activities yet, since most things start at age four. Next year I'll sign him up for music classes (if I can get a spot -- another issue), since it seems to be something he's naturally enthusiastic about. But I plan to be super low-key about it all.

  6. Anonymous12:49 PM

    It amazes me how there are so many opposing views are out there, and how certain people can be so sure that theirs is the only right one. Luckily, Hubby and I have found a nice middle ground amidst all the clutter. It really does take some Zen (and possibly some really good meds ;) to see through it all.

    I don't have a good idea on how we'll eventually handle activities since Monkey is only 10 weeks old. But we'll probably follow my parents' lead when he's school-age and put him in one mental (probably some sort of music lesson) and one physical (likely sports) activity. More than that just seems like overkill.

  7. It's amazing how zen I am about the sleep thing now, too. I imagine it's much harder to be zen about your second's sleep if your first slept like a dream. So in a way, I'm almost thankful that my first was so rough in the sleep department. Almost.

    I only sign up for a few activities with the kids, and usually just in the spring. I do it just to spend some one-on-one time with each kid on the weekend. But we are about to sign up my girl for some creative dance classes. She is just so full of energy and I really think she would love a class. But I'm trying to schedule it for late afternoon on a week day so it doesn't interfer with our weekends. I've just got to figure out the logistics.


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