One of the mothers in my ongoing support group has a 2-year-old daughter who had a really hard time falling asleep. This is her story:
Ever since our sweet little daughter was an infant we had to help her fall asleep, which meant sitting by her bedside for two hours (every night!), patting her head and back, giving her water, and feeling like we were there against our will. And in spite of this bedtime routine, she usually woke frequently and demanded our presence during the night as well.
Ever since she was a baby our daughter has been going through many different medical procedures that have made her life and ours pretty challenging. And I kept feeling that, as her mother, I could not cause her additional pain and frustration. Watching her cry for a long time in bed was hard for me to handle, and this was keeping me from doing what I needed to do, and knew I should do.
For a few months I worked on my own feelings about this issue in my listening time in our support group. And then I felt like we were ready to move forward and bring some change. It took both my husband and me to be there with our daughter and our older son. We started by telling them over dinner: “Tonight, we are going to try something different at bedtime, something that will help you sleep better in your bed without mommy and daddy staying in the room the whole time.” Then, after taking a shower, both kids got to do some Special Time (5 minutes for each child with each parent). Then there were some more stories and a few songs, followed by a hug and a kiss. And then we suggested that we were going to go to the other room and fold the laundry.
The first few nights this suggestion was not really accepted (as can be expected…) and there was a lot of moving around and going in and out of the room. Some nights there was crying and resistance to our leaving the room. At that stage, I generally tried to stay as close as possible to allow the crying to flow and to reassure my daughter, saying, “Mommy loves you,” and “Mommy will always keep you safe, even when she’s in the other room.” Bit by bit, over many nights, I moved farther away from her as I listened to her feelings pour out until the crying subsided and I could leave the room. I always had to keep the “right distance” for the feelings to come out, because if I came too close then the crying would stop but she still couldn’t fall asleep without me.
During this process I had a lot of feelings of my own, including uneasiness and fear about what this process was going to look like and for how long it would last. How much more crying would we have to face? I was getting a lot of help and support from my husband as well as my Listening Partners.
After a week or so there was no crying (!) at bedtime, but there were still some difficulties in falling asleep. What I tried to do then was to stand at the doorway and tell her some reassuring words and leave again. After a few days you could tell by the look in her eyes that her bed felt like a safe place to her, and she wouldn’t want to get out of it.
Today, a month after we started this process, my daughter falls asleep quietly and happily, and the quality of her sleep has improved significantly. She wakes up very relaxed and does not cry as she used to before.
This whole process helped me, and my partner, enjoy our evening once again. On top of that, we feel empowered in our ability to make changes in our family and move things forward. It reminded us that our role as parents is to lead our family and not get “trapped” by our kids’ behavior.
As for me, I feel that helping my daughter through this hurdle has allowed me to finally see her clearly with joy and vitality, without any filter of anger, guilt, or the need to go easy on her to compensate for the medical procedures she has had to go through. All I can see now is how proud I am of her and how much I love and admire her.
I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart (as well as the three other hearts in my family) for this precious support that we are getting from you and from the support group you’re leading. This has made this whole process so doable, sensitive, and real. And thank you to all the moms in the group who are also a big part of this great gift!