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The Biggest Parenting Myth I Fell For

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Photograph by Twenty20

In early motherhood, I was so tired all the time that I would wander around my neighborhood with my daughter strapped to my chest in a Bjorn, praying, "Please, please show me how to get this baby to sleep." Four months of her life went by and sleep eluded us. Then another two months passed. Still not good.

I thought, surely, any day now, we're going to slip into a good zone with our sleep. For me, good would have been a two-hour stretch of sleep between 1 and 4 a.m.

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People told me to let her try cry it out, but I couldn't bear it. When we tried, my daughter's screams reverberated through our house, and I simply didn't have the stomach for that. Our fatigue persisted until she was 10 months old, and we found a non-crying sleep training method. The book swore that once we followed its plan, we'd never have to sleep train again.

I'll never forget the day we got that first sweet stretch of uninterrupted sleep from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m.I felt like I had won the Mega Jackpot.

I would never take sleep for granted again.

We repeated that pattern with my son almost two years later—10 months of hell and then a gradual progression of more and more sleep.

I clung to the stubborn idea that sleep problems, like binkies and colic, were just for babies.

Naturally, once I had two solid sleepers, I gave the sleep book away. Why would I need those? I'd achieved the remarkable goal of teaching two babies how to sleep. Mentally, I put my feet up on the coffee table and told the universe to send me the next set of challenges—picky eating, willful personalities, kids who like to be naked all the time. Whatever! Bring it on! Sleep issues? Those were disappearing in my rearview mirror.

And of course the universe delivered. The universe is funny that way. Guess what else it sent? New sleep problems! My son struggled with sleeping through the night when we moved at the ripe old age of 2.5. Then, my daughter started kindergarten and took to waking up every other hour for a few weeks. Each time, it took me a few days to figure out what was going on. I clung to the stubborn idea that sleep problems, like binkies and colic, were just for babies.

To all the new mothers out there, I'm here to tell you that sleep problems happen to big kids, too. My son just went through a six-month phase where he would climb into our bed every night. He's 5. My husband and I spent the spring walking him back to his bedroom every night. Before that, daughter had a two-month run of night terrors that just about destroyed my nervous system. She was 6.5.

What's really special is when both kids have a sleep disturbance phase at the same time. All I can say about that is keep strong coffee and chocolate nearby. And tissues, for all the crying.

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Through each phase, I'd return to my prayer: "Please show me how to get this kid to sleep." I'd also weep openly at my desk, check the Internet and ask friends for help. Each time, I was convinced that we'd never sleep again, that I'd never join the world of fully functional human beings who get more than six hours of uninterrupted sleep at one time. The hopelessness of a sleep-deprived mother is a bottomless pit.

So if you've just completed sleep training and are enjoying some well-deserved good nights of Zzz's, you should definitely celebrate. But maybe hold on to the books.

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