I’m back at work after maternity leave. The baby is finding a rhythm now and consistently waking about the same time each night. But the 2 year old? She’s waking up 3 times a night! Every night! And yelling so much that she wakes up the 4 year old in the basement. I’m so angry and frustrated by it that I swear and criticize my husband in the middle of the night. Of course I blame it all on him. It’s the middle of the night. And I can’t go back to sleep right away because I’m so frustrated. Why isn’t my 2 year old sleeping through the night?
How did we get here?
Ivy slept through the night earlier than either of our other two kids. At two months old she was sleeping through the night and it was awesome. Then I went back to work when she was 3 months old and that was the end of it. It was devastating.
It was hard because she woke up at random times every night and there was no rhyme or reason. I knew she could do it, she just didn’t. One night she would be up at 10pm, the next night it would be 1am. She did this until she was about 9 months old, when she started sleeping through the night consistently (again).
She seems to always revert back to waking up during the night though. If she gets sick and wakes up once during the night, she’ll continue doing it for weeks until we finally realize she’s not sick anymore. So we talk about it with her and then we don’t go in her room for a night or two when she calls out. It’s hard to listen to her calling out and not answer, but we know she doesn’t need anything and if we do what we say we’ll do she’s back to sleeping through the night.
This time around the problem has been a long time coming. When I was pregnant with Clara, our youngest, Ivy was calling out pretty often. At first she said she needed medicine. Then later it turned into “I need a drink.” At some point she didn’t need anything. My husband would go in, tell her to go back to sleep and then cover her back up. That was it.
She went back to sleep right away so it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. I got upset about it sometimes, but it was one of those things that I would say needed to change, but nothing changed. I wasn’t usually the one getting up so it wasn’t that big of a deal for me. Sometimes I didn’t even hear it. But when you have an infant that’s sleeping better than your 2 year old, who doesn’t actually need anything, you realize it’s time to put a stop to it.
Why is it so frustrating?
It’s frustrating on so many levels. She doesn’t need anything. It just gets worse. She starts calling out multiple times a night. The baby sleeps better than her. She’s so loud she could wake up the whole house. I’m already getting up with the baby, I don’t want to wake up more if I don’t have to.
The real frustrating part though is that I disagreed with my husband about how we should resolve it. He thought telling her every time he went in there that she didn’t need to call out was the answer. To me it didn’t seem to be working. He knew it wasn’t the best answer, he just didn’t think it was that big of a deal, so he let it go on.
Until I really lost it and told him it HAD to change. It was no longer acceptable to me.
What can we do?
Since I was the one that had a problem with it, I took charge of the situation. At dinner I told her we weren’t going to come in her room anymore. Of course that night, she started yelling 10 minutes after she went to bed. And I yelled right back from the other room “Go to sleep! We’re not coming in your room!”
She didn’t give up and at some point I opened her door and talked to her from the doorway. Technically I didn’t go in there, but it didn’t work out great.
We tried again the next night. That night she was stuffy. She called out. From the doorway I told her “You need to be quiet and go to sleep. I’m not coming in.” She said she needed a tissue. How could I not go in? She was stuffy and needed a tissue. I went in and brought her one.
The next night, same situation but she looked at me while she held her blanket over the edge of the crib and let it fall on the ground. You know that move right? Where they just drop it? She did that. So I went in and retrieved the blanket.
Clearly this strategy was not working. I told her the wrong thing. “We’re not coming in if you call out” was not the way to go. It needed to be, “No calling out.”
Just to be clear, I will go in there if my kid is sick or really needs something. I trust that I know my kids well enough to know whether or not they actually need something. That’s why I think it’s ok to say that to my kid. If she is really sick, she’s not going to call out. She’s going to cry.
She won’t be in her room going “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Mommy! Daddy! I need a tissue! I don’t want my elephant! I don’t want my dolly!”
I had another talk with her and told her no calling out. We talked about how we should only have to come in if she’s sick. (She’s not potty trained so she doesn’t have the excuse of having to go potty.)
Also, on the suggestion of a friend, I reminded her that she has a music box thing attached to the crib and I told her if she woke up she could turn it back on to go to sleep.
That night, she called out at midnight. It started with “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” When she realized that wasn’t happening it changed to “Mommy!” Then it moved into “I need a tissue! I need a tissue! I dropped my tissue! I need a tissue!” We still didn’t go in her room. She tried another one “I don’t want my dolly!”
My husband and I were both upset. I hate listening to my baby yelling and I knew she was upset and it kind of broke my heart. But I knew I couldn’t give in. The only way to get over this was to show her that we meant what we said. When we said no calling out, that we weren’t going to come in her room (unless she was sick or hurt), we meant it.
We know she understands, but it was still really hard. We showed it by being kind of angry. We wanted to tell her she was in trouble but we knew that was the last thing we needed to do. We didn’t want her to get even more upset. It hurt to just ignore it, even though we thought it was for the best. If we acknowledged it, then we failed again.
So we held out. It was terrible. We tried to go back to sleep, but our emotions were so high we couldn’t fall asleep. Finally, after 15 or 20 minutes she stopped yelling and went back to sleep. Eventually we did too.
The next night, she did the same thing. Around midnight she started in with the yelling. She was going through a whole litany of things while we lay in bed. This time, we weren’t upset. We were just tired. We had gotten through it once, we knew we could get through it again and we were just plain too tired to get upset. She kept it up for a while and eventually fell back asleep.
Did it work?
The next two nights she slept through the night without waking us up at all. I got to tell her how proud I am of her that she slept through the night without calling out. We had the time change (you know, fall back) and she slept through the night Sunday night. Monday morning instead of the usual morning routine of “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Mommy!” yelling, she just called out when she heard us moving around and said “I’m awake!”
She was in a good mood. Everybody was in a good mood. It was Monday morning and we didn’t have any meltdowns. We got out of the house 15 minutes earlier than usual. It was a good way to start the week. We felt good that she wasn’t upset during the night.
This next morning she told us when she was awake, but not until after we were up. I got her dressed and she asked me to paint her toenails, so I did. (I had told her a few days ago that I would do it and I like to follow through with what I say I’ll do, plus it seemed like a nice reward.) Then I got in the shower and got ready.
Have we resolved the issue forever? Doubtful. It’s only been a couple weeks and she may do this again. And we’ll probably do the same thing again next time. I’m usually the one that finally puts down my foot because I really value my sleep. I’m also the one that prefers to do the hard things right away to make life easier later (I talked about this a little under Be Agile here)
If we teach her a bad habit or let a bad habit go, it just gets harder to break. If it’s something I can’t live with in the long run, or if it will make me unhappy in the long run, I do my best to figure it out right away. This time, I let my husband deal with it and the only input he got from me was mean comments in the middle of the night. Not so helpful.
So next time, I’ll just have to remember that criticism is not helpful. If I really feel that strongly about something, I better make an effort to have a real conversation with my husband when I’m awake and preferably not upset. Then we can decide together how we’re going to deal with it.