If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times; Sweet Pea is an extraordinarily easy child. She is sweet , kind, careful, and cautious. She is empathetic- yes, at 21 months!- and obedient. She responds well time out. She says please and thank you, usually now without even being prompted. He even exclaims, "Bwess you!" when I sneeze.
But obviously, she is human, and she is not perfect. She is definitely stubborn. She has a bit of a strong will, and will scream "MINE!" like a lunatic if another kid takes her toy. She can be a little clingy and whiney, and that separation anxiety thing still isn't completely gone.
One thing she's never struggled with is sleep, much to my joy and well-restedness. Show me a parent who is struggling with parenthood and I will bet you that said parent has a child who isn't sleeping. Anyway, going to sleep has never been a battle for us, until recently.
I don't know how it started. It kind of snuck up on me, and one night after my millionth trip up the stairs I asked myself, "What is happening to me?". I think it started around the time that her canines and incisors started coming in, and got coupled with crazy schedules, a little cold, being super busy, and me working part-time. All of a sudden, our bedtime champ wasn't.
We would put her to bed, and she would panic. Scream her herself hoarse, even gagging herself. She wanted me to cuddle her until she fell asleep, which I did by accident a few nights in a row when, after long and fun days, she didn't stay awake through the bedtime routine. We would do our routine, and then I would blow her the last goodnight kiss and turn to leave when her little body would leap back up and she would start asking for milk, or saying she wanted to potty, or saying he was hungry. At first, because this was new, I catered to the requests. When this became regular at nap time, too, I knew I had to put my foot down.
Enter the banshee screams. I am pretty sure my neighbors think I torture my own child.
I want to be a consistent parent. I want to teach my child independence and self-soothing. I want to know when to hold my line but also when to temper my rules with grace as the moment needs. I want to cuddle as much and as often as possible, knowing these little days fly so fast, but I also know that I am human and sometimes I need a cuddle break. I want the expectations and limitations to be clear and constant so I don't send my child confusing signals. I want her to feel safe, secure, loved, and aware of grace.
But it is really, really, hard to ignore the screaming cries of your child repeating, "Mama! Mama! Cuddle! Cuddle!" Talk about rip-your-heart-out. Cry-it-out was definitely also applying to me.
I used to think I would be a cry-it-out mom, that I would be strong and know that I was doing the best for my child. I figured I would roll my eyes and laugh at my child's shenanigans. In the real moment though, my whole insides are so twisted with anxiety that I can hardly think straight. So up and down the stairs a million times it was until we took a good look at what we were doing and how to fix it. First, we knew whatever we chose it had to be our system together so that we were consistent and in agreement as parents. Then we went with cry-it-out, except we did it more a la Super Nanny and let her cry for few minutes, then walked back in for quick reassurance, left again for a little longer, walked back in for even briefer reassurance, and so on. You aren't even supposed to make eye contact. The idea is to let the child know you haven't abandoned her, but that you are serious about bedtime.
That system worked okay, but what has really worked best for Sweet Pea is reasoning it out with her. It shocks me how much she understands. We tell her we love her and that we can cuddle more in the morning. We stretched out her bedtime routine, and now it includes more music time and walking around her room saying goodnight to all her her toys. (My mom's suggestion- brilliant!) And finally, what truly worked? I put her in bed, do the final kiss, then say, "Baby, Mama needs to go potty. I will be right back, okay?" Hilariously, she totally gets that. "Oh-tay..." her little voice whimpers, and I can walk out with nary a peep. No panic, no crying- remember when I said she is very empathetic and compassionate? :)
I come back, rub her back for a minute, then tell her again that I need to go somewhere or do something, but this time I end with, "...and I will see you in the morning." And then I walk out and she falls asleep!
This parenting gig is tough. It takes a lot of thinking on your feet and being creative about what works for your own unique child and your own personality. I could cuddle that baby all day, but I am glad we are sticking with helping her get to sleep on her own. Plus, I still get to scoop her up and cuddle her after she is asleep almost every night- I love that! And most of all I love that bedtime is happy again.
Here's a picture of Sweet Pea sleeping with her cousin a couple of weeks ago, part of the crazy sleeping weeks.