Sleeping Like a Baby

“Is he good at night?”

Why yes, my son is bloody wonderful at night! At this very moment he’s practising crawling by lunging out of his bedside crib and onto his daddy and showing no signs of slumber at almost 11pm. Earlier this evening he managed to rotate a full 180 degrees while unconscious, then woke himself up because he needed to expel some gas then beam at us adorably. He’s taken to bellowing, “mamamamama” in my face at bedtime, then trying to eat my nose, which hurts a lot more now that he has his bottom front teeth. Once he’s settled down he still wakes regularly in the night, particularly in the early hours, usually just to say, “hey mama and daddy, I’m here,” and a cuddle or a few minutes holding his hand is enough to help him settle again. He gets hungry too, usually at midnight and again at 3 or 4am, but he always drifts off, full, milky, and happy, on his daddy’s shoulder, swaying gently, and I know those are the most precious moments of Big T’s day, and of mine, watching my two boys dancing to their special nighttime music.

But of course that’s not what you mean when you ask if Little T is ‘good’ at night. You’re asking if he ‘sleeps through’, and the answer to that question is no, he doesn’t.

Does that make him ‘bad’ at night? It was my understanding that babies are incapable of being ‘good’ or ‘bad’; that’s surely the heart-melting joy of them! My six month old wakes up during the night because he’s a baby and that’s what babies do. I admit that sometimes I look back on my eight unbroken hours of sleep pre-parenthood and inwardly curse myself for not appreciating them at the time, and I am guilty of nudging a dummy into a quietly stirring face when I’m desperate for an extra 15 minutes under the duvet, but ultimately I let Little T lead. He has amazed me every day with how well he knows his own needs. He sleeps when he’s tired, not when I’ve decided he should. Naturally there are nights when he’s exhausted but ferociously fighting it and at those times I try to facilitate his needs rather than control them by creating a relaxing environment that’s conducive to rest but not forcing him to settle. Nine times out of ten he has a little wriggle around and then decides on his own terms that he’s ready to go to sleep, and up he goes into mummy or daddy’s arms, and he’s out like a light.

We don’t have a routine at night, not strictly. We eat together, then Big T takes Little T upstairs to get cleaned up and into his pyjamas while I load the dishwasher and tackle the high chair. Then he brushes his teeth (and by brushes I mean chews), and has a story and a cuddle.
And that’s it.
Sometimes he falls asleep straight away, sometimes we’re up with him for hours, but our attitude is always to support rather than control. We stay with him once he’s asleep because we enjoy the time together, talking or reading or *ahem*ing. He sleeps in our room in a cosleeping cot flush with our bed and cosies up to one of us in our kingsize at around 6am before getting up for the day at 7.

This system works for us, and it works for Little T.
And the thing is that we aren’t chilled out, relaxed parents. Big T and I are down-to-our-bare-bones control freaks, but Little T is an independent child and he doesn’t respond well to being forced into doing anything. There are plenty of babies who thrive on schedules and need parents to support that, and it’s that intuitive support I’m advocating in this post. Baby led sleep isn’t about letting your child run riot and become overtired; it’s about creating an environment that supports your baby’s natural ways of winding down, whatever they are. (Easier said than done when there are acrobatics or tears at 4am, I know, but that’s what cake, gin and Facebook rants are for.)

I do wonder though, why we as a society seem so keen to turn our babies into miniature adults when they’re barely out of the womb. Our expectations of our children are so high and our patience so thin that we forget that these supposed ‘dysfunctional’ behaviours are actually typical and healthy. I can be no more frustrated with Little T for waking during the night as I can that he goes to the toilet in a nappy. Don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not an earth mother with an air of superiority about this – you only have to read my past posts to know that there were times when Little T was very small that I sincerely wanted him to go away, to get off my breasts, to lie down on his own and fend for himself. My patience was wafer-thin. The books told me to buy a Moses basket, so why wouldn’t he bloody lie in it? The midwives advised against bedsharing so why was he only settling curled up next to me? It was only when I took a metaphorical deep breath and actually educated myself that I realised the unreasonable pain in the arse was me, not my tiny newborn squish. Looking back, he was remarkably calm considering how little we understood him. Poor bug.

Occasionally Big T and I check in with one another about our feelings on Little T sleeping in our room. It can only work for us as long as we’re all happy, and we are. Little T does have his own bedroom though, with a cot he’s never slept in and is used mostly as a temporary play pen while I answer the door or disinfect the changing mat. His room is largely for his clothes and toys to live in and for him to play in. I imagine he will sleep in there before we’ve left this house and I’ll feel proud of his independence, sad that our bedroom will be a quieter place, and relieved to have a bit more space! But he will always be welcome in our bed. Always.

I last shared a bed with my own mother when I was a teenager, perhaps 15 or 16. I was never ever turned away. As she said when I asked her about it just two days ago, “loneliness is the worst feeling in the world and comfort is a basic human need”. I’m grateful to her for showing me by example how important it is to show your children that you are always available. I have some lovely memories of waking up in my mum’s bed to the sound of local radio and the unique glow of electric light on dark dreary mornings.

I hope to always keep bedtime from becoming a battleground, and to create special memories for our family along the way.

And I hope all the ‘bad’ babies carry on doing what works for them – don’t worry little ones, you’re doing grand. 🙂

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