My son is about to turn 6 months old and he’s pretty awesome in almost every aspect. He doesn’t fuss too much. He smiles constantly. He enjoys simple observation and seems genuinely inquisitive. However, there is one department in which he sucks pretty hard. And I’m not talking feeding time. He is a miserably terrible sleeper.
To him, naps that I’d rely on to get some work done, are just momentary pit stops in the ongoing party that is his life. The faster and more efficient, the better. Why sleep away all those precious hours when you could be drowning the masses in torrential cascades of drool, or proving beyond doubt that your newly discovered shriek will, in fact, be heard by elderly persons in Belgium (so far his two major contributions to society.) At night, it’s only slightly better. As I’m not equipped to feed him, I was mainly off the hook for those hours and would resume shared responsibilities in the early AM. However, I was still keenly aware that he was waking every 2 hours or so, just to top off and doze with a contentedly full belly. He was living the dream of every sloth-driven stoner friend I’ve ever had. Party when you can, get up for a quick fix when you can’t. Heaven!
Unfortunately, his heaven was turning into a parental purgatory. Hell would be a bit of a severe description, but on nights when his caterwauling reached fantastical crescendos he may have placed me firmly into the realm of Beelzebub’s front yard. Something needed to be done and all evidence was pointing to teaching him to learn how to sooth himself, lest his reliance on instant gratification and hand-me-outs drive him to a lifetime of millennialist befuddlement.
So the night came that I was going to put him into his crib on the other side of the house and “sleep” in the room with him. He was now removed from his food source (mom who usually did the all-nighters) and when he woke, the plans (developed by some experts somewhere) said to allow him to know I was there for him, but to not pick him up. Just talk gently. Sooth him back into a gentle slumber with my voice and soft touches on his arms. He was supposed to quickly learn to feel safe and within a short period of time, he will have drifted off. Miraculously, it worked almost instantly!
Just kidding. It sucked so fucking hard for so fucking long. The estimated 10-30 minute window of crying before sleep returned was called into question at minute 83. I stayed there through the night assuring my little guy that he wasn’t alone. But rather than the thankful and settled look I was hoping for, I got looks of confusion and desperation as the poor guy undoubtedly wondered why I was torturing him like this. If he were capable of an internal monologue I suspect it went like this:
“What the mother-fuck???!!!! You know I see you, right???
YOU’RE. RIGHT. THERE!!!!!!!!!!
PICK ME UP YOU BLITHERING IDIOT!!!!!!!!!!!”
I felt like suuuuuuuuch a dick. I started to understand a bit of the physical pain it causes my wife to hear him crying out.
So, needless to say, the first few nights didn’t go particularly smoothly (fun fact, he started breaking his first 2 teeth just as this started!! What great planning!). My son and I spent a few nights brimming with contempt for each other. I, wondering why he’d come millimeters from falling back to sleep before charging headlong into another 20 minute bout of wailing and he, wondering why the person that’s so nice, loving and fun to him during the day turns into a heartless sociopathic tormentor at night.
Luckily, after a few evenings it really did begin to work. His sleeps went from 2 hours, to 4, to 6 or 7 hour stretches. As with almost all things, the work to accomplish the outcome was terrible, but the results were worth it in the long run. He still has his relapses, but hopefully we’ve gotten through this with my little guy knowing that his parents will always be there for him as he works through difficult times. Or not. I mean, he’s 5 months old. He’s still trying to remember how to work his hands for God’s sake, I doubt this will scar him too badly.
***** I know many out there will wonder if this is the best method and question the parenting wisdom and safety and blah blah blergh…… He was fine and will remain so. I promise. *****