Thursday, March 01, 2007

My Worst Nightmare!

The New York Times has an amazing feature today Whose Bed Is It, Anyway? about parents putting up with their age 5+ children demanding to sleep in their parents' bed. These "reluctant co-sleeper" parents are living through what to me is hell--never getting a decent nights' sleep unless they give into the tyrannical demands kids who are way old enough to know better.

Actually, the kids are savvy. They know how to get what they want, and they are behaving in a perfectly logical way given their parents' response. The parents are reacting to this abominable behavior with variable ratio reward, the most powerful reinforcement there is. Mom and Dad are paying off like slot machines. Tug on their arms long enough, whine enough, and you're in.

One tired Mom admitted as much:

But sleep is good, sleep is best. Indeed, the best nights, she continued, are the nights when “we don’t actively try to fix the problem, when we just give in and everybody gets a good night’s sleep.”

“It’s when you’re trying to actively parent that nobody gets any rest,” she said. “We’re so tired we only ‘try’ to parent like this once or twice a week.”

There but for the grace of God go I. We were a co-sleeping family, but when it stopped working for us, we moved on. Our daughter slept in our bed until she was about nine months old, then we moved her to her crib in her own room. She didn't really sleep through the night until she was about a year and a half old, and that was because one night we moved her to a room farther down the hall and I couldn't hear her whimper. I had been rushing in way too fast and reinforcing her frequent wakefulness. Forget "Ferberizing"--I was by her side before she was even fully awake. By the time she was nearly two years old, I was a sleep-deprived basket case. I had a full neurological workup and sleep study and in the final analysis, my doctor told me that I desperately needed to "pay back" the sleep debt I had accumulated since becoming a Mom. It took me several months of disciplined early-to-bed routines to get myself back to normal, which was completely worth the investment.

In my non-sleep expert view, it's okay to have a newborn in bed or nearby, but the tranistion to a baby's own crib is key. The article about these unhappily co-sleeping families showed what can happen otherwise: Dad and 5-year-old son sleeping in the parents' four-poster bed ("Harrison...has taken command of his parents' king-size four poster, pushing his father, Paul, to the edge and his mother out completely") and Mom and 3-year-old daughter upstairs in the pink princess bed.

The kids in this report are totally ruling the roost. The article is designed to push buttons and boy, does it succeeed. The kids' behavior comes across as the very definition of "spoiled"--a word I really hate by the way, but I couldn't stop thinking of it reading about this situation. The parents in this article keep talking about failed attempts to "tempt" their kids into choosing thier own bed, by buying lavish beds and decorations for the kids. These particular kids sound like they will never "choose" to move on. The only solution is for the parents to bite the bullet and INSIST that everyone sleeps where they each belong.

I am convinced that my daughter would still be in our bed if we had left the choice up to her--heck, she'd probably still be nursing if I let her! I have had to learn to stand my ground and develop firm boundaries, for her sake as well as mine. Nobody likes a bully and I am afraid that is what kids become when parents don't set limits.

One of my husband's sayings is that "puppy training was parent training." Nine years ago we brought home an adorable, HEADSTRONG Shiba Inu puppy. He is one of the most dominant dogs I have ever met, and it taught me such a lesson to learn how to exert my leadership over him. We were told that if a Shiba Inu senses a leadership void in the house, the dog will be more than happy to fill that role, and be warned that nobody wants to live in a house with a Shiba Inu in charge (think chewing and peeing everywhere)! My husband and I went through a year and a half of obedience training with the dog to reinforce OUR behavior to make sure that we were leading him properly. This was truly the most helpful pre-parenting education I could have received.

Would you want to be ruled by this fuzzball? Trust me, you wouldn't!

Now years later we have a headstrong yet lovable dog, and a headstrong and lovable girl, and I am so grateful for both of them. I am an expert on motherhood but I do not consider myself a "parenting advice expert." I still make mistakes, every day. Ironically, today I had my first checkup with my neurologist since my sleep study 5 years ago. He said I still need to brush up on my own sleep habits: less caffeine, more exercise. But at least I have put the co-sleeping struggle behind me!


Blogger Smiling Mom said...

Your thoughts were very insightful! Thank you. Active parenting requires your kids to know the outcome of their actions 100% of the time....I guess those parents reap what they sew! Off to read the article!

2:02 PM  
Blogger adena said...

Ironically, we have had a return to this problem JUST THIS week. Our 7-1/2 year old is suddenly waking twice a night, coming into our bed, can't fall asleep, etc. etc. Needless to say, we are exhausted (altho he doesn't appear to be...) Not sure why this has suddenly begun, and can't wait for it to end. But it's amazing how quickly kids can fall back into these bad habits, and how hard it can be to get them back into the good habits...

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Karen said...

Adena, your comment reminds me that nothing is ever "said and done." Our 7 1/2 year old, too, is cycling back through this. I surmise that, like us, our kids are subject to the warp and woof, the rise and fall, of every kind of sleep-disturbing circumstance--even the phases of the moon. I remind myself that, as part of a larger family, I never slept alone until I was a teenager, and that my daughter's nighttime fears and isolation are real. Still, I must be steadfast or we will all be merry go-rounding in each other beds til dawn.

7:21 PM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Ah yes, the mysterious ways of 7 and a half year olds. I admit I have not figured mine out yet...and of course, if I do, she will change. Adena, hang in there. Karen, thank you as always for your wise comments. There is a fine balance to strive for, holding our children's concerns in our heart as genuine, but providing parental support to ensure that those worries don't grow into crises.

It's easy to sit in judgment of the parents in "Whose Bed Is It, Anyway?" but I suspect that it is inevitable that we have all been in that uncomfortable parenting place in one way or another (and will be again).

10:35 PM  

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