Saturday, February 19, 2011

They Call Me The Sleep Sergeant

Today's blog post is actually coming by request.  Last night we had a big Shabbat dinner at my house - there were 14 of us, including 4 generations of family.  One of the reasons we always have Shabbat dinner at my house is because I'm the Sleep Sergeant.  Anyone who has been to our house for dinner invariably comments on bedtime - at 7:30pm (8pm on Shabbat), I tell my 6 and 3 year old it's time for bed and off they go happy and willing.  We give kisses and hugs and it's over in about 3 minutes.  This is the routine 99% of the time (there are always exceptions).  There is no crying, no hissy fits, no pleas to stay up later.  And of course, I always get the question, "How do I do it?".  Last night the topic of my new blog came up and my father-in-law's girlfriend suggested that I share my secret (especially since her daughter just had twins!).

So let me take a step back.  When my son was born, he was a VERY difficult baby.  Call it colic, call it whatever, it was horrible getting him to sleep and he had a scream that made strangers come up to me and tell me there was something wrong with him.  I would try everything, rock him to sleep in my arms and then try and slowly put him down.  Put him in the stroller in the house rocking it back and forth till he fell asleep.  Put him in the bucket (aka the "infant carrier") bouncing him in it till he fell asleep.  No matter what I tried, about 10 minutes after putting in all of this effort, he would wake up screaming.  Recovering from a c-section, I was beyond tired.

When he was 6 weeks old I went to Florida to see my parents - my mom said, no problem, she's dealt with all kinds of difficult babies and she would "sort it out" for me.  I'm not sure if it was around 3 days into the visit (or less) that she said she gave up.  Nothing worked.  So of course, I turned to what I know best when seeking answers or help.  Books.  I bought as many books as I could about how to get your baby to sleep, including The Happiest Baby On The Block, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and Secrets of the Baby Whisperer:  How to Calm, Connect and Communicate with your Baby (to name a few).  The two major lessons I gleamed from them all:  your baby needs a schedule and is pre-programmed to go to sleep at 6:30-7:00pm every night AND to look for sleep signs during the day and put that baby down as fast as you can when you see them (i.e. you don't even have a 5 minute window... it passes and then the baby is over-tired and will be even more difficult to put down).  Now, not everyone has as difficult a baby as I did, but I practised this religiously. 

Every night at 5:30 I gave him a bath, then a soothing baby massage, then I either breast fed or gave him a bottle (he started refusing the breast at 3 1/2 months, but that's another story), swaddled him as tight as a burrito in The Miracle Blanket (another life-saving discovery), turned on the white noise or soft classical music AND PUT HIM DOWN IN HIS CRIB at 7pm.  I didn't deviate by a minute - just ask my family who sometimes HATED me for being completely inflexible (because of course, they wanted to come by in the evening to see him - not to mention my husband who didn't get much time with him after arriving home from work).  I didn't take him out to restaurants or to anyone's house for dinner because when I did, it was a miserable experience.  We spent the whole time trying to get him to stop crying.  At first my husband (the un-planner and more laissez faire character) was totally against this and didn't believe in the "schedule".  He came around when all of a sudden we had nice adult dinners together without a screaming baby, and then later, when I went back to work, and he tried to deviate from the schedule.  He suffered the consequences!  He apologized profusely and said he now totally got it.

Sleeping "through the night" didn't happen immediately.  At first, after I started the "routine", he started going stretches from 7pm to about 11:30-mindnight, and then the rest of the night was a disaster.  When I started giving him formula around 4 months the stretch between midnight and 6am got longer (he'd wake up 1-2 times).  By 5 months, he was sleeping 11 to 12 hours a night and that was that.  As for letting him cry, I started letting him cry aournd 4 months.  Before that, I picked him up every time he cried.  It was HELL.  I remember sitting on the stairs in tears myself.  At first I would go back in every 5-10 minutes and just let him know I was there.  I think the longest I let him cry was around 30 minutes.  But I will say this, within 4-5 days, it stopped.  Everything is about CONSISTENCY.

So back to why Shabbat is always at my house - at the end of the day my kids are tired, they get whiny and demanding, and they want to go to bed.  When we're at my house, they can go upstairs and do their own thing and I can enjoy my company and not worry about having to rush through my dinner and leave 1/2 way through the meal so I can put my kids to bed.  When it's bedtime, I simply go upstairs and put them to bed and rejoin my guests for the rest of the evening.  Now that they are getting older (my daughter will be 4 next month), I'm less strict about it but I stilll make it a habit 98% of the time.  And Shabbat at my house has become the habit (which I LOVE).

We all have our "things" as parents and mine is sleep/bedtime.  The routine may have changed as they have gotten older, but I'm still strict with bedtime - it's non-negotiable.  My strategy may not be right for everyone, but if you do follow the schedule as closely as possible, I'm telling you it works.  Some of you may have easier babies so you may have more flexibility than I did.  My best advice, is do what works for you.  Nobody can tell you how to do it because they are not living your life.  I did it because it made my life much easier (because he was better rested, he was also easier during the days).  As a parent (especially a first time parent) you will get advice (both solicited and unsolicited) from everyone (all of a sudden everyone is an expert, even if they are not a parent!).  So listen if you want, but at the end of the day, follow your own intuition - after all, Mother knows best ;-)


  1. Thank you for writing this! I'm not sure why, but I was crying reading this! (Probably a combination of total sleep deprivation, the realization that I will have to become much more disciplined as a mom, and hopefulness that becoming a 'sleep sergeant' might help!)

    I don't know how you find the time to write on top of everything else that you do! Looking forward to reading more of your blogs!

  2. I totally get it! I've been there and all I can say is that this will pass - I promise! It may not make it easier in the moment, but maybe knowing that this phase doesn't last forever and that you are definitely not alone will help a little. That's the whole reason I decided to take this on (despite my already full plate). Knowing there were others out there like me was help in and of itself! Call me anytime :-)

  3. Hey Jacqueline - just read this and totally agree. I am also rigid about the sleep schedule and have endured ridicule from extended family, but as mothers, we know what works for our children. Glad to hear I am not alone!

  4. Hey Tamara! I definitely endured a lot of crap about how inflexible I was... but not anymore. Not once people see what a breeze bedtime is in my house is... we all have our things and this one was/is mine!