Wednesday, January 02, 2008

To Sleep or Not To Sleep??

Note: If you are not even remotely interested in hearing about a preschooler's sleep habits, you probably don't want to read this entry. On the other hand, if you are interested or perhaps have experience in this area, read on and send along any thoughts you might have.

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis know by now that I am a believer in co-sleeping. Grace and I co-slept for quite a while when I was single, and even when she moved into her own bed, her bed stayed in my bedroom. I sincerely enjoyed co-sleeping, especially since I have worked full time since Grace was six weeks old--spending that extra time with her at night really helped me (and hopefully, Grace) feel like we were able to reconnect after spending almost all day apart. I found it valuable to be able to be "right there" for Grace if she woke up in the middle of the night if she needed something and hopefully that helped her feel more secure. And, since it was just the two of us, co-sleeping just made sense.

When Grace and I moved to Milwaukee and in with Aar, I decided to try and make the transition from having Grace sleeping in her own bed in my room to having her sleep in her own bed in her own room. Grace's bedroom is right across the hall from our room so I felt that I would still be able to respond quickly to Grace at night if she needed me, and I hoped that being so close to Aaron and me would still help Grace feel secure. Surprisingly (to me, at least), this arrangement seemed to work out...for a short time. About a month or so after we moved to Milwaukee, I went back to work, and soon after that we started to have problems with our new sleeping arrangement.

First I started having loads of trouble getting Grace to sleep at night. I would lay her down in bed and stay with her for a few minutes, and then she would scream when I tried to leave her room. I have never been a big fan of the whole "crying it out" school of thought, so I would generally stay with her until she was fast asleep. Sometimes I would spend up to an hour or more with her, which started to stress me out, because I wasn't getting my much-needed "me time" at night.

Then, Grace began waking up several times each night. She would come into our room and cry for me to come and sleep with her. More often than not I gave in out of sheer exhaustion so I ended up spending more time in bed with my daughter than I did with Aaron. This wasn't a good situation, either, because I felt like torn between spending my sleeping hours with Grace and spending them with Aaron. I was a walking zombie during the day because I never got more than an hour or two of uninterrupted sleep at night. And, clearly Grace wasn't feeling secure if she needed to have me with her at night.

Finally, Grace began to climb into bed with Aaron and me every night. We have a queen-sized bed, and the three of us crammed into this bed was a less-than-ideal arrangement. None of us slept very well and because of that, bedtime was becoming something that I dreaded every night. I went so far as to try to put Grace to sleep in our bed and then move her into her bed after she fell asleep, but inevitably, she would wind up with us within an hour or two.

My sense was that this downward spiral was caused my all of the changes that were taking place in Grace's life. I knew that Grace had to deal with a big transition in a short period of time--we moved to a new city and to a new house, she left a daycare she liked and started at a new center with a whole new set of kids, and she had to adapt to living with someone other than just her mommy. It was a big transition for all of us!

I talked to my mom at length about this and did tons of research, and finally Aaron and I decided to allow Grace to sleep in our bedroom, but on a separate mattress. She resisted for a couple of nights and tried to climb into bed with us during the night, but I was firm in telling her that she needed to stay in her own bed while reassuring her that I was right next to her if she needed me. After a week or so, the night time protests stopped and Grace (and Aaron and I) started sleeping through the night without fail. This was about two months or so ago, and things are still going well. Grace is in her own bed in our bedroom, and she very rarely wakes up at night. She goes to bed at night with little fanfare and doesn't ask to come into our bed anymore. Everyone is sleeping, and Grace is going to bed early enough that Aaron and I get to have some time to ourselves before hitting the hay.

So, what's the problem?

The problem is, Aaron and I are getting outside pressure to change this situation. We never intended for this arrangement to be permanent...we know that eventually Grace will need to sleep in her own room. However, I don't see the value in rushing things. Others, who will remain nameless, have taken every opportunity they can to remind us that what we are doing is wrong and that we need to change things immediately or we will cause permanent damage to Grace. They site examples of people they know whose school-age kids are still sleeping with their parents or at least in their parents' room and who are clearly maladjusted in some way because of it. They remind us that it will be difficult to conceive another child with Grace sleeping in our bedroom.

Hmmm...could it be that these other kids are having issues for reasons other than their sleeping arrangements? And, there are plenty of other rooms in the house other than the bedroom that can serve nicely as a love chamber. Trust me.

As I said, I don't see the value in rushing things. Aaron, bless his heart, has been nothing but supportive in my efforts to help us all get the sleep we need, but I can tell he is starting to feel the pressure others are applying. My biggest fear is that we will try to put Grace back in her room before she is ready, and we will end up making things worse again. When I try to talk to Grace privately about sleeping in her room, she says she will but that Mommy will sleep there too. When I correct her, she says she doesn't want to sleep in her room. This tells me that putting her in her own room is gonna lead us right back to the sleepless nights and the frustration. She is only three years old and I feel like if she needs Aaron and I around right now to help her feel secure, then we can indulge her for the time being. And, frankly, I don't see how any damage is being done here. Grace is a well-adjusted kid who is getting adequate rest and is thriving. I don't understand how allowing this, for the time being, is a bad thing. I know the time will come when she will have to be in her own room...I just don't see why it has to be RIGHT NOW.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe Grace would surprise me and would not have a problem moving into her room now. Maybe I am spoiling her. Maybe I am making things harder for myself by putting this off and by not forcing things. As my father-in-law likes to tell me, parenting is hard--kids don't come with instruction manuals. I am just doing what feels right and what is working for our family right now. What works for our family might not work for another and vice versa. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.


Anonymous said...

As you know I read your blog from time to time and I have never commented. I enjoy reading what you have written. Having said that, I feel like I must comment on this issue. My opinion is that you are not doing anything wrong with letting Grace sleep in your room. How could making Grace feel safe and secure at night possibly do her any harm? You have been the one constant in her life and if she wants you near, so be it. There will come a time, soon enough believe me, when she will want her independence and she will sleep in her own room. For now, you do what you think is right.

Sara said...

i heart my dad.

Angie said...

I heart Rog too. (and I agree with him....)

eff those people who tell you what to do.
you've got good instincts...quit second guessing yourself my love. you're a damn good mom and you'll do what's right for Grace and for you and Aaron. You always do.

Carrie said...

I heart your dad too! That is so sweet.

Totally, Sara. You know what Grace needs more than any outsider does. I'm sure you know that sleeping in the same room and even the same bed throughout childhood is the norm throughout time and most cultures -- so how could it be damaging?

We have a very similar situation at our house and we have not even taken the step of getting her to another mattress in our room (altho your story makes me think it might be worth trying). Nutmeg has told me herself that she might be ready to spend the whole night in her own room when she's 4. Personally, I'm hoping that when her little sister is old enough to share a queen-sized bed with her, they'll both stay put.

This is getting long but one more thing: I have proof that it is not all that difficult to conceive another child with the first one in the room. OK, never tell that to Nutmeg, ok?

Sara said...

OMG Carrie...LOL. Your secret is safe with me.