Growing up, my aunt and uncle—who had three kids under three—had a joke from their children's babyhood, an expression that summed up the surge of resentment almost every parent feels at some point when a child absolutely refuses to sleep. For days. Weeks. Months. They called it "eyeing the knife drawer." After walking and rocking and feeding and begging a baby to sleep, hour after hour, night after night, someone's eyes might just drift over to the kitchen and land on the drawer full of sharp knives.
You know, just for a second.
I remembered that phrase last month when my two-year-old
daughter was going through a brutal sleep regression. Out of nowhere, she went
from sleeping 11-12 hours to waking several times a night, unable to
fall back asleep without me or my husband rocking, singing, or sitting by her
crib for hours at a time. It was hellish. "It's a regression," we told
ourselves. ''It will end."
But it didn't.
And eventually, we found ourselves up
and desperate at 4:00 a.m. "eyeing the knife drawer."
That rush of anger at your child is a shocking thing to
feel. Here's this tiny person who you love more than your own life. She's
your heart. You would do anything for her. But she won't let you sleep. And as
much as you rationally understand that this is part of her development, the exhaustion
and desperation finally take over and won't let you think rationally. You just
need it to STOP. PLEASE GOD, just go the f*ck to sleep!
All the patience and parenting strategies that you had in
daylight somehow fade away in the middle of the night. You end up giving in to
any demand, doing anything your child wants, you don't even care if it will
buy you another hour of sleep.
Yesterday you were a capable mom with (most) things under control, and today you're a total mess with no idea how to cope!
The terrible thing about sleep regressions isn't just the exhaustion.
It's also the disorienting fact that all the rules have suddenly changed and
nothing you're doing works anymore. It makes your head spin. Yesterday you
were a capable mom with (most) things under control, and today you're a total
mess with no idea how to cope!
At three years old, my eldest cousin constantly demanded
warm milk or apple juice or both in the middle of the night. He referred to
them as his nightly "beverages." Worn out by months of this, my aunt suggested
that they make a list of alternative things my cousin could do when he woke up
in the middle of the night.
She then proposed that they each cross off one item from the
list. My cousin crossed off "turn over and rearrange his covers." Thinking she
was totally winning this, my aunt crossed off "call for beverages." Wrong move. "Noooooooo!!!" my cousin screamed, wailing inconsolably. Nice try, Mommy!
Sometimes there are no strategies. There are no
experts. And there's nothing you can do but let your child grow and change—and
try to change with her.
And forgive yourself for once in a while "eyeing the