At the risk of throwing myself to the Internet wolves, I’m going to admit something: I wish I had sleep trained my baby.
That’s right, I’m doubling down on motherhood no-no’s and diving into both a touchy subject and doling out unsolicited advice because why the hell not? I’m tired. Like, really, really tired. Why you ask? Because I’m sleep training my four-year-old, and let me tell you, it’s fucking awful.
How did I get here?
Well, just as any parental predicament, there were (and continue to be) a handful of contributing factors.
- I have a very low tolerance for crying, thanks to our colicky first, and will do anything in my power to make it stop.
- I had a negative view of sleep training, also thanks to our colicky first, who, upon being placed in her crib would cry so hard she’d vomit, even if I was in the room with her, stroking her angry little head and making empty promises.
- For the first three years of his life, we lived in a tiny, 700 sq foot apartment where even the most pathetic of midnight whimpers could be picked up by half the building, as well as the barely sleeping sibling who would then also need assistance.
- I’m a pushover, especially at 2 am when giving in and going back to sleep sounds way better than fighting the good fight.
And so here we are.
Four and a half years after his birth, the male child has slept alone in a room approximately three times.
After moving to a new house, one where he has his very own room, we’ve casually tried to enforce some sort of bedtime order where he both stays in bed and also refrains from sitting up and loudly moaning until someone comes to his rescue every time he wakes up. Which is often. Because sleep is apparently not his love language.
There were a few glorious months when he was sleeping on his sister’s floor and would stay in his little cot all night long. But his tendencies to sleep talk and thrash around like he’s wrastlin’ gators was keeping her awake so back to my bed he came.
But sleep training an older kid is easier, right?
I know what you’re thinking. It’s easier to sleep train a child who understands when you shut the door, you haven’t magically crossed the threshold into another dimension, never to return. But no. In a shocking turn of events, no nightlight, sound machine, or snuggly lovey is enough to quiet their irrational fears that they’ll continue to describe to you in great detail as long as you stand there, door ajar, impatient look on your face.
“But what about the bribes”, you say with conviction, “you can bribe a child better than a baby!” Real talk? The “professionals” on the “Internet” don’t think bribing is “healthy” and leads to future “problems.” I will tell you this: if bribing worked, this child would be a better sleeper than Snow White.
Stickers, screen time, sugary treats, toys – it’s been discussed and offered up regularly. A plan is made, and then whamo, nighttime hits, my door flies open, and the deal is off. Of course, there’s a chance we just haven’t found the right thing to motivate him, but a helicopter is out of our budget and dinosaurs haven’t been brought back from the dead yet so we’re feeling like we need to move on.
What does moving on look like?
I have no idea, but one thing is for sure: I wish I’d thought more about sleep training when he was a babe. Yes, there would have been challenges, but knowing what I know now I think I’d have been a bit more open to it – even if it meant pissing off the neighbors for a few nights, and asking for help with nighttime feeding duty.
This all feels wrong to admit, especially because moms tend to carry around so much guilt already. The last thing I want to do is add to that. But for families who have options, encouraging independent sleep is something to consider if the idea of sleeping with a human barnacle for four years makes you a little twitchy.
No matter what, I have enough parenting experience behind me to know that this will eventually pass.
On days that I can see the coffee cup as half-full, I savor those extra snuggles and appreciate how easy he is to soothe. But on other days, I wish I hadn’t gotten so far up this shitty, sleepless creek with nary a paddle to be found.
Sleep training a four-year-old is the pits but take solace in knowing it took us four years of inactivity to get here. Maybe sleep training your pre-verbal, pre-walking, pre-manipulative baby is right for your family. Or maybe it isn’t. Knowing what it can look like four years down the road might help clarify that decision.
Have you had to sleep train your older child?
Let us know what worked (and what didn’t) in the comments below.
Our next reco: The Cry-Just-A-Little Sleep Training Method