Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What To Do When Your Kids Refuse To Sleep

It's been a long three weeks. That's a major, horrendous understatement. After switching the 2 year old from her own room downstairs to the upstairs to share a room with the 4 year old, things have not improved at all in those 3 weeks. The first few days they were waking at 6:30am. Every day that got a bit worse until our current situation; they wake around 5:15am every single day. They won't nap. They sometimes don't fall asleep at night til 9pm. Or later.

I am nearly 31 weeks pregnant and that in itself is tiring. My day starts at 5:15 and goes all day long with no break since they aren't napping and then Jake gets home from school around 3:45 and it's organized chaos getting chores, homework and dinner done by 5pm for him to be out the door for sports or school concerts/programs. Often our night doesn't settle down til 8 or 9pm with sports and school stuff. Every day is a long day. Then I just want a minute to sit with my hubby or just breathe without breaking up toddler fights or folding laundry...but by then it's already 10pm and I've been awake for 15 hours and the braxton hicks are raging and I'm exhausted and very irritable.

The lack of sleep has made me feel like I just don't know myself anymore. I know there is a happy, funny person in there somewhere, but I just can't seem to will her to come out and play. All that's left is a cranky, beyond irritable mother who yells despite never wanting to be that mom. I force myself to stay awake while driving kids around to appointments and such....I am chronically over tired, frustrated, and exhausted.

In my mind, there's no reason why the girls shouldn't be sleeping more. They have a huge bedroom and each have their own cozy bed on opposite sides of the room. There is only one window that is sealed with black plastic and covered with blinds AND a blackout curtain AND they have a sound machine. It's like a cocoon of coziness in there. Yet still, they won't sleep.

I've been feeling sort of panicked thinking of adding being up every 2 hours nursing a baby with also having kids up too late at night and up too early in the morning and also up several times at night (yeah, did I mention that part?). It's enough to make me think, "why do people have kids? why did I get pregnant again? will I ever sleep again? will I live long enough to get to sleep again?"

A lot of the stuff that is supposed to help with sleep just doesn't phase my kids; Benadryl occasionally works, until it stops working 4 hours later. Calms Forte hasn't made a dent. That left melatonin as an option. A simple Google about *melatonin and kids made me scared to even try it with them. I finally called the pediatrician this morning and she squeezed us in right away.

Here's my basic notes:

Moving kids around and having them share a room throws things off immensely. It can take months for things to normalize and that takes a lot of work sleep training them. 

It usually works best to have one child go to sleep 30min before the other (we've been doing that for about a week and it does help).

Kids usually have to nap in separate spaces or nobody ends up sleeping.

They have to learn that unless somebody is hurt or in danger, they are not to leave their room until a certain time. They can read, play, try on every piece of clothing in their dresser, but they cannot leave their room other than going pee and then right back in their room. If they fight, they sit in timeout chairs for 30 minutes. 2 rules: 1)no fighting, 2)no leaving the room.

At the first sign of being tired, put them to bed. That might mean they nap at 9am and it might mean they go to sleep at 5pm. Just put them to bed. They won't die without dinner and will likely just eat a bigger breakfast the next day. Do not let them stay up past 7pm at night. They need to be in their rooms by 7pm at the latest. Let hubby be responsible for the teenage nighttime schedule so I can be home with the girls. While it might feel like I don't love my kids if I put them to bed at 5pm, it's really a good thing. They didn't get yelled at and they didn't get spanked- it's just sleep.

Make it a priority that I get sleep. There is great danger in being pregnant and never getting to sleep and even moreso in having a newborn and being SO exhausted that the baby ends up being dropped or worse.

Think outside the box. Things will seem chaotic, messy, weird, and like there is no schedule. The goal right now is for everyone to sleep. Try anything you can and see what works. 

Put a playpen in a separate space and have them nap in different rooms. 

Lower my expectations as a mother. Having 3 children and soon to be 3 under the age of 4 is a challenge that most families just don't know. This is survival time and it'll be this way for several years. It's ok if they eat macaroni for dinner. It's ok if they don't wash their hands every time they go to the bathroom. It's ok if they bathe once or twice a week. WE SURVIVE and they are no worse off. Families with 4 children (or more) have to do things differently than a family with 1 or 2 kids might ever understand. Don't expect others to understand or approve. That's brings us to the next point:

Say no to nearly all outside activities. Are playdates really fun when you are chasing kids and can't talk with the other adults anyway? Is it fun to go out when your kids only slept 6 hours that night and you're all on the verge of or in the middle of a meltdown? No, not really. Invite people over and get used to being home more. At least until the sleep issues are normalized and everyone doesn't look  and behave like a zombie. Again...families with multiple small children must do things differently than those without.

Do you see a theme here? It's about giving yourself permission that things will look messy. This is hard for me. I don't like to do something unless it's done well. I don't like to volunteer with something or work on something unless I know or can ensure it'll turn out awesome. I don't like to make a recipe unless it's fabulous. I only want to parent in a fabulous way...I want my kids to have an amazing childhood. Feeling like things are less than perfect on the home front is not something I can easily accept. But here's the reality, my goal right now shouldn't be perfection. It's simply this: that my kids are safe and taken care of. 

Our pediatrician is amazing. I know she totally and beyond that gets it. She very soon will have 4 kids under the age of 4. She gets the battle of perfection versus reality and just literally surviving the days because you are so exhausted and also pregnant. She can give me the permissions that I somehow don't allow myself. I told her she's like my therapist, and I'm very grateful for her.

We talked about the Facebook world we live in. As moms we see these kinds of posts:

"I just ran 5 miles and now it's time for the ribs and scalloped potatoes I made from scratch! Then I'm off to Zumba and a girl's night. Life is fabulous!"

"I vacuumed the whole house and washed every baseboard and it's not even noon. Oh and I also sewed 4 dresses for my kids!"

"My kids slept til 10am today and while they were sleeping I organized my entire closet and gave myself a manicure!"

No one posts anything like this:

"I just yelled so harshly at my children they they immediately sobbed and my behavior felt borderline abusive."

"I haven't had sex in 4 weeks, not really because I don't want it but because I haven't slept in even longer and I just can't bring myself to make it happen.Sometimes I don't feel married. Just in a weird sitcom with someone's kids who don't sleep and a man I used to know."

"I wanted to punch my child when they argued with their sibling. I knew that was a strange reaction, but I'm just so tired. Thankfully and by the grace of God, I refrained. But barely."

"We all had cold cereal for dinner. Same as the last 4 nights. We haven't seen a real vegetable in a week."

"I haven't groomed my lady bits, shaved my armpits, or plucked stray facial hairs in weeks. I think people can even notice. And I don't really care."

But yet...wouldn't it be sort of refreshing, if not a bit shocking, to see that kind of post? It won't happen, but maybe it should just a little bit. It would mean as mothers, as women, we give ourselves permission to sometimes just survive. And that sometimes it might be like that for months...not just a rough day. I think that maybe if we lower our expectations, we won't be so disappointed. We might enjoy our children jumping on the couch and watching the same movie 25 times in a row if we realize...we are making it through. We are keeping them safe and fed and there's not much you can do beyond that on only 5 hours of sleep a night. And that is ok.

I decided to write this as a blog post, because I know for a fact I'm not the only mom in this spot. I can put on makeup and a smile and chug my coffee and get through a day...but I'm still the same exhausted mommy who misses her husband. And I'm not alone. If you can't give yourself permission to struggle and miss showers, and feed your kids scrambled eggs for dinner every night- I will give it to you.

It won't always be this way. Someday we will sleep. Someday we'll have regular date nights. But probably just not right now. I hope to get my girls sleeping more so I can sleep more. I hope even more than that I can learn to truly give grace for myself. To think outside the pretty and scheduled box. To love and adore and actually enjoy my children in all their mess and frustrations and tantrums. To allow even a bad day to be a good day. That in itself is extremely hard when you are so tired you don't recognize yourself.

My sincere empathy and love to all of you exhausted mamas who have nothing left but tears.

~ Diana

*Small doses of melatonin are ok for children. The problem is by morning it's all worn off, so it likely won't help with them getting up too early. I may try it and see if it helps any, just .5mg or less.

1 comment:

  1. Sending love your way cuz. You are a great mom and an amazing, REAL person! I am struggling to manage 1 baby and a high maintenance dog, so I am in awe of all that you juggle in your day. Take a moment to take deep breaths of fresh air, and be easy on yourself...know that you are incredible.