When I was pregnant, one of the precious moments I looked forward to was a baby falling asleep in my arms. I longed for the warm, heavy weight of a child drifting to sleep and the sweet smell of their head when I kissed them goodnight. I couldn’t wait to end each day by tiptoeing into the nursery, making sure my child was snug and then sighing with wonder at the little person my husband and I had created. What bliss!
I am now 3 years into this journey of motherhood and there are a lot of words I would use to describe putting my daughter to sleep, but bliss is not one of them. Not even close. Even when my baby did drift to sleep peacefully in my arms, I didn’t feel blissed out. I felt exhausted and trapped, unable to move off the couch or transfer the baby to her crib because I was terrified she would wake up. And tiptoe into her room later to kiss her goodnight? Are you crazy? And risk waking her up again?
Trying to get my child to sleep, for both naps and the night, has been the most exhausting, frustrating and emotionally charged challenge of my life. If you have an infant right now and are nodding in agreement, thinking that you know exactly what I’m talking about and that you’ll find solace in this piece, I urge you to stop reading here. Because you might not be able to take what I’m about to say next.
The horrifying truth is this: If you think putting a baby to sleep is hard, try putting a toddler to bed.
Once the bars of the crib come down, all hell breaks lose. The minute they move into a real bed and simultaneously learn how to speak their own mind, all that co-sleeping and/or crying it out you went through when they were younger has come to naught. You’re starting again at zero. Putting an infant to sleep is about being able to offer comfort and calm while teetering on the brink of complete exhaustion. Putting a toddler to sleep is less a test of physical endurance and much more about mental fortitude.
Are you prepared to yield your full authority as a parent only to have your offspring not only disregard you completely but find your anger highly amusing? How many times can you walk your toddler back to their room before you snap? How many times can you repeat, “Stay in bed, close your eyes and go to sleep” before you lose your mind? Are you able to speak calmly about how our bodies need sleep to be healthy while a crazy voice inside your head is screaming profanities? How adept are you at navigating the minefield of clever toddler demands, all of which your child will urgently plead for, as if each is the one thing they need to fall asleep? Do you let them take 7 trips to the potty (they’re potty-training after all) but not grant the wish for a tissue to blow their nose; should the plea for another stuffed animal be ignored but when they say their bottom itches do you acquiesce? Even though you feel 98% sure their bottom doesn’t itch?
Even on my very best days of parenting, when I have been unfailingly patient and selfless and joyful all day, the hour (or two!) after I turn out her light always breaks me. Toddlers cannot be nursed or rocked or bounced or walked to sleep (at least not mine). Getting my daughter to sleep is a precarious blend of timing, luck, negotiation, and being loving but extremely, extremely firm. Some nights I get it right, but on many nights I fail miserably. On those nights I am so far from the parent I want to be. I feel like every other parent out there is singing sweet lullabies and stroking their child’s head while I am completely losing it.
But here is the obvious thing that I have only recently realized: Toddlers are driven to assert their independence. Their self-control is in the very, very earliest stages of development. They are afraid of the dark and of monsters lurking in the corner and yet are so chatty that co-sleeping is no longer an option. Toddlers know there is a big, exciting world out there full of new experiences. Imagine if you had just tasted your first chocolate ice cream cone, flown your first kite and saw your first starfish on a beach all in one day. Would you want to go to sleep?
What I’m saying is that the system is rigged. Putting a toddler to bed is an impossible task destined to fail. Acknowledging this has made me less stressed about bedtime and more forgiving of myself and of my daughter’s bedtime antics. Maybe she’s a bad sleeper. Maybe I’m a bad put-to-sleeper. I’ve stopped trying to figure it all out. Some nights she’ll fall asleep fairly easily, others nights it will take forever. That’s just the way it is right now.
What I have finally, finally learned is that parenting doesn’t get easier. Ever. When this whole bedtime fiasco finally blows over, some other drama will take its place. But as all of us parents know, between the many moments that try our patience and drive us completely nuts, there are so many moments of bliss. These moments don’t happen at predictable times or when we thought they would before we had kids.
Although I have to say, now that my daughter is almost 3 and she no longer wakes up from the creak of every floorboard once she’s finally sound asleep, I do go into her room before I head to bed. I pull her covers up, kiss her chipmunk cheek and stare in complete wonder at this willful, smart, curious and energetic creature my husband and I have created. What bliss!
What We’re Eating Over Here Now:
Buckwheat Harvest Tart from Sprouted Kitchen: I didn’t make the same filling as this recipe, but I did make the buckwheat flour crust and really liked it. I’m starting to play around with buckwheat flour a bit. More on this later.
Bon Appetite’s Coconut Quinoa: We ate it with sauteed kale and garlic for dinner a few night ago. This morning, I warmed up the leftover quinoa up for breakfast.
Kale with Toasted Coconut from the cookbook Super Natural Every Day: I wasn’t actually that crazy about the coconut mixed in with the kale, but baking kale with with olive oil, sesame oil and soy sauce was really delicious.
Carrot Macaroni and Cheese (with tofu and roasted red pepper): For a change of pace when you’re tired of your kid eating mac and cheese all the time.