The days are long, but the years are short.
If you’re a parent, you’ve surely heard this. And as each year ticks by, I can say it is so true. I’m only on year 4 as a parent, and I can’t believe that next year Evie will be in kindergarten all day long. She will be spending the majority of her time away from me instead of by my side. I can’t believe that Theo, my baby is almost turning one and prefers moving to snuggling most of the time. I can’t believe that our middle child, Tommy, is still being such a picky eater and driving me nuts every meal. It almost seems like a dream when I think about the days in the hospital greeting our little Kubly babies. It almost could feel like playing house, playing dress-up. I’m not old enough to be her, a mom of three. But this is it, these are the days.
It goes fast, but the days are long. Sometimes it is all I can do to make it to 7pm bedtime. I’m feeling the dread of winter and being stuck inside with three little ones who can be so very loud. You can almost feel the boundless energy crackling off their warm, soft skin.
And if you have a baby, the nights are even longer than the days. Three of the past four years I’ve been up at night, rocking, swaddling and nursing, clocking the moon as it silently floats across the dark sky. I’ve gotten used to our shadowy house at night, the tick of the clock, the hush of toddlers and husband sleeping, and the creaks as I go to lay our baby back in the crib. It’s second nature to steadily float my hand across his back until his breathing settles, and I tiptoe back to my own bed, letting out an exhale I didn’t even notice I was holding in.
The Third Time Around
You would think the third time around, parenting is a lot easier. That is really true, I feel less stressed, less anxiety and a general understanding of how life progresses through stages. With my oldest, the future felt like an unknown. I couldn’t picture what life would feel like in three months, so everything felt whirly and out of my control. I didn’t know when babies generally did things (when do they sit? when do they talk? when do they sleep through the night? how often do they nurse?), so each stage felt like it would last indefinitely, like I was constantly hurtling over a cliff into an abyss (yikes! also, #hormones). I think that is the big shift with multiple kids – you know more of what to expect. You’re grounded. The parenting of an infant is easier now.
On the flip side, you also have multiple kids and your hands are really full. You’re wiping noses, wiping bottoms, grabbing Cheerios out of the container, and clipping your nursing bra back together again. No longer do you get to just lay on the couch and snuggle a sleeping baby or “sleep while the baby is sleeping.” You still won’t know exactly what you’re doing with the firstborn as she is learning new things, leaping over new milestones, and probably old enough to play mind games with you. So, its safe to say – you will always and forever be kept on your toes as a parent.
What I really want to tell you though is this – even the third time around, sleep deprivation will still play its nasty tricks on you and make you question everything you thought you knew. The thing about milestones is sometimes they just happen and sometimes it takes a little nudge from the parents to make a leap forward. And you can drive yourself bonkers by these tiny decisions, multiplied by three kids, to which there is no “perfect” answer. (Should we potty train him? Is it time to sleep train? Should we transition from two naps to one? Is it time to remove the paci? Switch to a big girl bed? and on and on).
So, the days ticked by this year, and Theo was about nine months. He had a consistent 7pm bedtime like the older two, but he was still waking up around 3am to nurse. I knew he could be sleeping through the night. It sounded so delicious after months of uncomfortable nights during pregnancy followed by months of nursing every two hours. I also knew from prior experience that it takes a few nights of training to help him over the hurdle. With our older two, I think I hopped that hurdle around 6 months. But it is so much easier to quickly get up and nurse him than to listen to crying, which made my whole back feel like it was on fire. (Thank heaven for yoga to work out some of those knots!) The scales were finally tipped in favor of sleep training when I realized that our family would benefit from a well-rested mama more than Theo was benefiting from nursing at night. It was time.
Our Play by Play of Sleep Training
So, here’s what it looked like for all you mamas who are craving sleep and have a needling suspicion that your baby is old enough he could be sleeping if you’d just give him a nudge in the right direction.
- You have to really commit. Make sure your husband or your mom or friend is on board to back you up, because sleep-deprived-you will question everything once the baby starts crying.
- Let them cry through the feeding and settle back into sleep. It might be up to an hour, but each night they will self-soothe themselves quicker and quicker. For our kids it was 3 or 4 nights of crying. I generally don’t go in and pat them or talk to them (although some methods do this, I just knew I would cave the minute I walked into his room). Our kids used pacifiers, so a couple of times, I would have Zach go in and put their paci back in if it had dropped to the floor.
- On that first magical night when they sleep through the feeding, you will still wake up. You’ll wonder if they’re ok, and they totally are! Then your body will slowly adjust, and you’ll both be sleeping. Suddenly you will have patience, gentleness and be able to follow a train of thought (the skills you thought you had lost forever).
- He will probably need to nurse more during the day to make up for the calories he was consuming at night. Totally normal.
- If he is teething or sick, he may wake up again at night and you can/should soothe him back to sleep with rocking. Then you may need to do a night or two of sleep training when he is healthy again to get back on track. The good news is, this time around you know he can do it!
A Few Other Notes
– Sleep training shouldn’t start before 4 months or 15 pounds, according to our pediatrician. I always liked to get the “ok” from our doctor before starting. It gave me a lot more peace in the middle of the night.
– I totally agree that for the first four months a baby can’t be “spoiled,” so hold them while they sleep, don’t try to find a rigid schedule, and when they cry, feed them, rock them, change them.
– This worked for our family, and it’s certainly not the only way or the perfect way. I just wanted to share how we moved forward, because I know I was second-guessing myself and going crazy (and I had already done this twice before and ended up with two kids who sleep 12 hours a night!). Just hoping to give some real life experience in case you need that, friend.
Other Amazing Milestones
(that seem like they will never, ever happen to your child when you are in the thick of new parenthood…)
Holding their own fork and spoon
Buckling a carseat buckle
Turning on a light switch
Brushing their own teeth
Going. On. A. Toilet. Hallelujah.
Putting on their own pants and shirt
Throwing dirty clothes in the laundry basket
Reading a book aloud
Saying “thank you” without being prompted
Going down the stairs without you having a heart attack
Putting on their own shoes
Each of these take so much behind-the-scenes work to build up to. It is like climbing a mountain, only to be faced by another task that your caveman toddler doesn’t know how to do yet. But wow, it’s amazing to see glimpses of a lovely, kind, polite human being around 4 years old. And now it feels like just the beginning – the start of helping each of our kids grow into adults who can be wise, humble, kind, generous learners and leaders. They are each an incredible gift and teach me so much every day.
all photos by our dear friend, Amanda Elpers. (Note: These are newborn photos, NOT when you should sleep train. We don’t use a bumper and prefer a sleep sack to a blanket)