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Parenting Stories

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Whether it’s a moment of joy or a moment of distress, we can learn from each other.

Will my son ever sleep through the night?

Jude Doble, Waterloo, ON

My son was 3.5 years old before he was able to sleep through the night. Somewhere in there, I began to despair that it would never happen.

Most nights he would wake up two or three times, the word “Mommy!” reverberating through the silent house. After a while, it didn’t take too long to get him back to sleep, but for me – that was another matter. Each jolt from my sleep left me exhausted, grumpy and often fully awake. Returning to sleep could take me up to an hour each time.

Being chronically strung out on too little sleep does not set you up to be the most patient or generous person.

I learned a few things during those early, sleep-deprived years:

In the grand scheme of things, those sleepless nights will be temporary. Yes, 3.5 years was a long time to go with such fractured sleep but now at eight years old, he is a brilliant sleeper, and most mornings I have to wake him up so he won’t be late for school.

Whatever was going on in his little mind and body those days, he needed me in the night. Each time I went to him, he experienced a sense of connection, and it settled him. He knew he could count on me to be there for him. Now, he is a loving and independent kid, who still likes his bedtime cuddles (phew!) but falls asleep on his own, often reading himself to sleep.

Sometimes you will be so exhausted and frustrated that you will lose your marbles in the middle of the night. You’ll sob and maybe say things you wouldn’t normally say, thinking you’ll never, ever recover from this nearly soul-crushing, mind-bending time. You aren’t going to be the best or most loving parent at those moments. But, it’s ok for all of us to remember that we are human. After all, sleep deprivation has been used as a torture technique for valid reasons. Give yourself a break and think of the next morning as a learning opportunity to show your child that grownups can act poorly too and apologize for their behaviour.

Being frustrated about not sleeping, didn’t help me sleep better or fall asleep sooner. So I’d get up and make a mint tea, read a book or fold some long-neglected laundry. Getting out of bed prevented me from lying in bed hopelessly fretting that I was lying in bed but not sleeping. Eventually I’d be so tired, I’d fall asleep. Some sleep, even though fractured, is better than no sleep at all. I needed to keep telling myself that.

I was not alone. Whatever weird sleep rituals I had going on in my house, someone in my broader social network was going through something similar (or worse!) – they just weren’t talking about it. I started asking other parents real (and nosy) questions about their children’s sleep habits and quickly realized we all do what we have to in order to cope and collectively hope that what we are doing won’t ruin them for the future. But we can make it out the other side. Our kids, too!

As I reflect back, I realize that being there for my child made all the difference. He was stressed in the night as well and he needed me. I was not always good at how I managed myself, but I was there for my son. Now he is courageous and loving and independent. And a great sleeper!

Jude Doble is a mom, a writer and a lover of arts and culture. She lives in Waterloo with her husband, son and three cats: Kumiko, Daisy and Tiny Elvis.

Editor’s Note: We thank Jude for her reflections on those early, sleep-deprived years. We all know how important sleep is–for ourselves as well as for our babies and children. In Waterloo Region, we are fortunate to have a program that helps parents and care givers learn strategies to help their infants sleep. Check out our article titled, Sleep and Your New Baby, and then maybe check out one of the sessions.

We also found this lovely version of Brahm’s Lullaby, recorded by Jewel. You can listen to it here.

One other note: the baby in these pictures is now eight years old and was part of selecting and consenting to the use of his photos. At Parenting Now, it is important to us that children give their informed consent to the use of pictures about them.


5 Responses to “Will my son ever sleep through the night?”

  1. Nadia says:

    Thanks for sharing. I remember my struggle when I had two boys only 15 months apart. The challenge was to keep the other asleep if one of them woke up in the night. Oh my!

  2. Hayley says:

    Thank you, Jude! My daughter just turned 4 and has JUST started sleeping through most nights without calling out for us two or three times during the night. You are spot on about how it feels in the moment, and it is reassuring to hear that you went through it and both of you came out alright on the other side 🙂

  3. Teresa says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I was just having a conversation with my daughter in regards to sleep as her two oldest children had difficulty sleeping through the night and their youngest sleeps very well. We talked about her feelings of loss of energy with the first two and how she feels so “normal” (whatever normal is) with her third.

  4. Melodie says:

    This is so timely! My husband and I were both up last night with our 3 year old. It’s so hard to get up and settle him without getting frustrated at him (or each other if one of us was up more than the other). Thank you for the reminder that this is just a season.

  5. Shaykhan says:

    Jude, this was a great read, thank you. I remember my wife having to wake up and tend to our girls when they were months old. She finished the whole Harry Potter series in a year or so, it was pretty incredible. My wife would say, it was hard losing sleep and everything, but she also said when the girls are a lot older, they won’t be easy to hold, or they might not even want hugs. Enjoy the moment.

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