What Not To Say: Toddler Sleep

Can I tell you a secret?

Other moms piss me off.

So I’ve decided to turn my FaceBook freak-outs frustration into a handy, informative blog post.  For all y’all who have some advice to give.  Yes, this is a community.  Yes, your feedback is welcome.  Yes, I am a huge proponent of everyone learning from each other.  With one small caveat.

Before you speak, please say the following words to yourself:  I AM NOT A PARENTING GENIUS.  (Go ahead.  Try it.  I’ll wait.)

As mothers, we are inundated with information about “how” to parent, and “when” to parent, and “what” we should be doing.  While this can be helpful for someone who really has no clue about what’s going on, it can be downright maddening for those of us who have tried.every.goshdarn.thing and are still struggling.  Often we have kids who are atypical when it comes to sleep, or eating, or attachment.  And sometimes we prescribe to parenting philosophies that are not mainstream.  So in an effort to create peace on online forums and in playgroups everywhere, I offer up “What Not To Say: The Toddler Sleep Edition”.

1)  “Have you tried….?”  Do not give any advice that starts with “Have you tried”.  We have.  If our children are not sleeping, we have probably already tried earlier bedtimes/more snack/less snack/longer bedtime routine/bath/books/new blankets/melatonin/chiropractic/quiet time.  While those things may work for some kids, they do not work for all.  And if all that your child needed to fall asleep was an earlier bedtime, then you are LUCKY.  And you have a child who was already wired to be a great sleeper.

2) “You really need to set some boundaries for your child“.  On behalf of toddler parents everywhere, I have to say that making a judgment call about what we “let” our child “get away with” is the perfect way to get us to tune out everything that comes next.  My child has a genuine, stumpthedoctors, sleep issue.  Combined with a genuine needsmedicationforit health issue that makes him uncomfortable when he sleeps.  When I drive him around so that he falls asleep for a nap, it is not because I’m coddling him.  It’s because he can not physiologically turn off his “awake state”, and he will continue to play all day long (and run into things, have huge tantrums, and go glassy-eyed) because he is so tired.  Just like you can’t “teach” a child to not have diabetes or a cold, some sleep health issues are physical and physiological.  They are sometimes laced with behaviors rooted in sleep psychology, but the physical and the emotional are hopelessly intertwined.  A doctor or a specialist can help a family to sort this out.  Not you.  I’m his mom.  I know best.  I have tried everything you suggested.  When Max was awake at 3 am (for the day) and I was driving him around town in the middle of a fucking rainstorm, I was delirious and bawling my eyes out…but I was not babying him.  I was being an excellent mom.  An excellent mom who had been tested, and pushed to the edge, and left alone, time and time again.  Doing that is harder than “shutting the door at 8 pm” on a screaming child.  We’ve tried that.  Enough times to know that something was physically wrong with our child.  Perhaps it was the incessant puking that tipped us off.  Or maybe it was the fact that no matter how hard he cried, or for how long, he never (never, never, never) fell asleep.

Wait….that’s it.  That’s all that I don’t want you to say.  But here’s the best part.  When a parent tells you that their child is having a hard time sleeping, whether it’s a baby or a toddler, here’s what you SHOULD say:

1.  “I’m Sorry”.  I’m sorry that you’re having such a hard time.  That must be really hard.  You must feel really lonely.

2.  “I’m Sorry”.  I’m so very sorry that your child isn’t sleeping.  You must be exhausted.  That must be so frustrating.

3.  “I’m Sorry”.  I can imagine that you have done everything in your power to make it better.  I can’t fix it for you, but I can listen.

It’s like when you come home from a crappy day at work and you vent to your partner.  They go on and on about how to fix it, until you’re so pissed because they weren’t really listening.  You don’t want anyone to fix it.  You just want someone to say “I’m sorry.  Sounds like you really got shit on today.  That sucks.”

4.  “How can I help?”  Can I bring dinner over this week?  Would you like me to stop by and bring my Johnny for a playdate?  You can go upstairs and take a nap and I’ll watch the kids.  Can I drive your older ones to soccer practice for you?  Hey, I’m making muffins for Emma’s class tomorrow and I’m going to bring an extra batch by for you.  I’m headed to the store, text me your list.  Can I take you for coffee so that you can vent?  Here’s some fresh fruit from the Farmer’s Market, going to leave it on your doorstep.

5.  “You are such a wonderful mom”.  I’ve watched how hard you’ve worked to raise your sweet boy.  I know that you’ve been dealing with a lot of unexpected things.  Even with all of his health issues, he is an amazing, creative, loving, brilliant child.  THAT is your doing.  YOU get credit for that.  I know that our parenting styles are different, but that’s ok.  We both know what is best for our child.  I don’t mind that you don’t Cry It Out.  I don’t breastfeed.  You don’t give a pacifier.  I don’t do time-outs.  You don’t formula feed.  We all do what works best for our own child.  And you know how we know that?  We listen to them.  You are such a great listener Mom.

6.  “I’m going to walk this road next to you.  I’ll hold your hand.  You won’t be alone.”  This is scary stuff, this parenting gig.  Throw in an illness, or a life change, or a move, or another baby, and it’s like adding fuel to a raging fire.  Don’t worry, friend.  I’ve got your back.  When you are up at night with a screaming newborn, think of me.  I’m cheering you on.  When you are awake at 3 am with a toddler who won’t go back to sleep, look outside.  Someone else’s light is on, and you are not alone.  I may not be on the same journey, but I will leave my light on for you, so that you know that there are other moms who are sending you hugs and courage in the middle of the night.

Perhaps what I should’ve said before, is that you ARE a parenting genius.  For your very own, unique, special, humanly flawed, incredibly perfect child.  Be the genius for your own child, not for mine.

 

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Comments:

  1. I-Love-This-POST! Well, I love all of your posts, but this one is just brilliant! It’s so true! We’re a part of this “It Takes A Village” community, but a lot of times that community can be super judgemental and not helpful AT ALL! All we want is support and to be lifted up, not brought down because someone thinks we probably haven’t tried options A-ZZ! I’m sending this to my BFF who’s son has MAJA sleep issues – she will absolutely love this 🙂 Thanks Kim for putting into words what the rest of us have been saying in our heads! Love it 🙂

    • Thank you Ashleigh!! You’re so right, there are positives and negatives to being in such a wonderful (and online!) village! Lifting each other up should be the ultimate goal!

  2. Kerry Ingalls says:

    Im sure I’ve been guilty of giving advice, I’m sorry! Honestly, can I be the devils advocate? Or am I going to cause a hurricane of comments?? But as I completely get your point and have learned a lot from this post. I also think people genuinely care and like to throw out their two cents. They may also not know the severity of the situation. They just may think its a FB rant, not an ongoing issue. I think people, ok, me (!!) like to fix things. I’m a social worker and anytime I made suggestions it wasn’t because I didnt think you hadnt thought about it, tried it, etc. I care about you and Max and wanted to make it better. Little did I know it may have been taken the wrong way or was hurtful. Thanks for the tips on here. I do rely on other parents for advice and I’m shocked at some of the very basic, “oh shit why didn’t I think about that” pieces of advice I’ve gotten from others. That’s it! Did it make sense? Just trying to be the other voice on here! And I hope I didn’t offend you or anyone else. PS I saw the post you are commenting on. (Why does FB let me know when you commented on a post of someone I don’t know?!!)

    • Oh Kerry….thank you for saying this! Please don’t feel bad. There’s a big difference between a trusted friend (like you)sharing recommendations in a gentle, empathetic way and some random acquaintance or the lady at the grocery store giving unsolicited advice. The difference is in the delivery, and in the relationship. You know our family, our story, our context. You are open to parenting that is left of center. It’s one thing to say “Let’s brainstorm together” or “We faced similar stuff, and here’s some things that worked for us, but they may not work for you”. Especially if it’s coupled with some “I’m sorry” and “It must be really hard” statements…all of which you do, and do well! You nailed it when you said that there’s a difference between asking for/sharing advice (“How do I potty-train? What baby food do you like best?”)and the basic stuff that OF COURSE we’ve already tried. You get it 🙂 You have nothing to apologize for. You are my own personal parenting guru, so I fully expect that I will be able to steal parenting ideas from you for ever and ever. Because I ask for that interaction, and you deliver it so well. Therein lies the difference! xoxo

  3. Mari Passananti says:

    I think all advice should come with the caveat, assuming child is healthy. If the child in question has a medical problem, the regular sleep/diet/care/feeding/discipline advice may not be relevant.
    Been there and it sucks. My kid did nothing but scream and refuse to eat for nine months of his life. Never slept more than an hour. Only when the underlying medical problem was resolved did any of the sleep training advice work. So my advice (haha) is to be very assertive with doctors. Demanding at they fix the problem/take you seriously/get you in to the right specialists pronto is so key key.

    • Mari, that is such a valuable point that you made about doctors. One of my biggest regrets is that we followed the (wrong) advice of our pediatrician for way too long 🙁 Advocating for your child by demanding answers/help from the RIGHT doctor is key!

  4. I love what you’ve said here…I hope I wasn’t one of those advice filled moms when we were together! I remember vividly when we had a family dinner when Aaron was about 2 or so, and someone related was giving me and my SIL advice about our little guys, I finally looked them in the eye and said “wow, how DID you maintain that level of perfection when you were parenting?” I got no more advice after that! You are right, we should all be more supportive and less advice giving!!!

  5. No Terri, you weren’t at all!! But I do agree with what you said….sometimes people really do think that they are parenting with perfection, and want to spread their brilliance around…so frustrating, isn’t it?

  6. You’re such a huge part of what makes me want to be a mom and have a family so badly. You inspire me SO MUCH chica. You’re doing great. I’m sorry it’s so hard. I’m sorry I’ve not been there for you. I think about you all the time. I hope some day I get a chance to be as great of a mom as you. <3

  7. I’m sorry. How can I help? You’re such a wonderful mom. I’m going to walk this road next to you. I’ll hold your hand. You won’t be alone.

  8. I’m so there with you Kim. My 3yo hasn’t slept since a “typical” child since birth. We’ve tried everything. Now we just roll with as best we can. I find that even the tiniest disruption in our routine sets him back. Travel becomes a nightmare as soon as we get back. We can’t stop living our lives so we just struggle through the transitions. I’m so sorry Kim, the sleep stuff is exhausting and frustrating and heartbreaking. I’m so there with you. Big hugs for you and Max.

  9. It can be hard when you have “friends” who think they know everything. I’m not a parent myself, but I see how some of my mommy friends get treated. And as for your own challenges? Hang in there Mom. I can’t say I know how hard it is, or even how I would react to that situation. But I do know I would be quite lost. You’re a strong, good mom.

  10. Wow!! What can I say…such a fabulous post. Actually, I can say this with all honesty….you are a parenting genius!!

  11. First of all, I KNOW that no one truly knows what a family struggling is going through except that family.

    While we did not struggle with sleep, we had quite a battle with GERD which was difficult to say the least and pretty much shut us down for the first 9-10 months of E’s life. At this moment, I can not count how many friends we lost during that time. To this day I want to scream at some of this people, people who I thought were good friends, people who never even called, visited, or said “have you tried”, or “you should…” Sometimes I think it is my fault that people didn’t get it, because I just couldn’t pick up the phone, or that I painted too rosy a picture of E’s health and what our lives were like. Maybe I am better off without them, but man oh man, in those awful, pukey, tired (no, damn exhausted), how are we going to survive this, I’ll do anything to make my kid feel better days, I think I would have taken some of those seemingly annoying comments because then maybe I wouldn’t have felt so alone.

    So, yes, I agree with you WHOLEHEARTEDLY about what one should say. I do believe (maybe because I have to, because those were in fact the majority of comments I got from friends who stuck with us and family members) that in their own way, people who offer up those what-I-like-to-call Bandaid suggestions really are trying to be supportive and helpful in their own way. And, I am confident, that unless someone has been right where you are, no matter how much they care, they will never know what how hard it is to do what you are doing or much you need a coffee, a meal, a non-puke-soaked shirt, a comforting hug, or a blessed nap!

    Lastly, let me be clear, my offer to watch Max while you sleep is an OPEN one! And, ALWAYS, if there is anything I can do to help, please do not ever hesitate to ask!!!!

    Hugs to you my super awesome mama friend!!!
    🙂

  12. A schedule? THAT’S IT!?! That’s the magic solution? I have an almost-seven month old who does not love sleep. She fights it like it’s the enemy. She hates to nap and doesn’t want to sleep at night unless I’m right there, with her, preferably with head against boob. I’ve heard all the advice, I’ve had people give me the “rod for your own back” speech along with the magical fix-alls that come from the so-caled experts – so frustrating. I think parents who have been there done that forget how hard it is… and tend to remember their babies as being better sleepers than they really were (along with remembering their parenting as being more flawless than they really were). You are not alone!! xox

  13. Loved it!

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