Today marks a turning point in our family life. For the first - and I mean FIRST - time in oh, three and a half years, our twin girls stayed in their beds and obeyed my command to go to sleep. ON THEIR OWN. WITHOUT ME LYING ON THE FLOOR OR IN ONE OF THEIR BEDS. And...here's the piece de resistance: by 8.30 pm! O frabjous day! O night of wonders whose time I never thought would come!!
Now I don't want to give the - completely false - impression, that we have never been able to manage our children's sleep routine. Oh contraire! There was definitely an eight-month period there, between about 9 months and one-and-a-half, where we happily trotted our two babies off to their cots each night at 7.30 and they fell asleep and stayed there until breakfast time. But before that... and after that... it's been tricky to put it mildly.
I imagine we are similar to many "working families" (our government's current favourite phrase. still trying to work out what it means. think they are trying to round up everyone in that): in general, our biggest issues are TIME and SLEEP. Both have been the consistent running thread in our lives since the kids were born, always to some degree colouring everything else.
From the very earliest days, our babies were night-owls, and they have always gone to bed just that little bit (or sometimes lots) later than whatever time all other children in the country seem to be going to bed. (We never did manage the fabled "7 o'clock"). I have to say that, after those initial fairly hideous 10 weeks, they did tend to be pretty good overnight, generally only waking once and easily settled after the night feed.
But the bad time has always been the evening. When they were babies it would start around 5pm and continue until 9 or 10 at night. Nothing seemed to work initially. Eventually we found our saviours, of sorts: sleep school (thank you, thank you, thank you, kind nurses of South Eastern Private Hospital!), reflux diagnosis (thank you again, sleep school nurses - diagnosis made first night of sleep school after I had asked our GP, pediatrician and health nurse about my baby seeming to be in discomfort and told by all it was nothing) and a battery-operated swing. That swing was a lifesaver. Though I know it wasn't the case every night, all my memories of those times are that I was alone in the evenings (husband working) and with the swing was finally able to settle two babies simultaneously. We used that swing until M was 6 months old and it was creaking and barely moving under her weight. Wonderful thing it was.
We did do controlled crying at different stages, but could not always manage it because A would get hysterically upset and vomit everywhere within a couple of minutes. That kid could go from zero to nutcase in less time than you would think it was possible! No, it wasn't just us - I had others witness this!
All this leads into one of my "favourite" motifs: that of the firm and loving parent applying sensible routines, controlled crying and mental discipline and producing a beautifully sleeping baby. I know that has happened. I have friends and family who have achieved it. But here is the thing - they haven't ALL achieved it with ALL of their children, ALL the time.
I used to hate hearing this from people who would be talking admiringly about a mother they knew who was calm and firm and had a well-trained baby: "Calm mother equals calm baby". Grrrrr. How about this for the real truth: "Calm baby equals calm mother"!
I think I did everything right, I really do. And I know this much about the sleep and stress battle that we had with our babies: they started it!!
It was my mother who offered the wisest words: "Lots of things work, but nothing works all the time."
So true. You can't program babies - they're not machines. Things work - but not forever either.
We have tried our best to apply consistent routines. But there is no doubt, it is very hard when both parents work full-time. There is not much out there about managing this stuff when everyone's working. The cultural ideal, and most of the literature (pop culture, books, articles, advice, etc) is of the mum who stays home for the first one or two years, and then works part-time (three days at most) and is home with the kids by late afternoon. (Of course we know why this is: all the full-time-workers are too busy to write any articles!)
I can tell you from experience, having worked part-time and full-time over the years, that there is a HUGE difference between getting home at 4.30 and getting home at 6.30, and between working 3 days and working 5. Not that part-timers don't have it tough - they definitely do. So does everyone. But I have always blamed the fact I work full-time and that 3 or 4 days of the week the girls are at daycare until 6pm, for our sleep issues.
I completely understand why women who are able to, even with tremendous personal and financial sacrifice, give up work while their kids are little. It is just so hard!
Anyway, back to the present. A and M are now four and a half. For a week now they have been going to bed at 8pm every night. And tonight, for the first time, I said good-night and left the room and they stayed there and fell asleep.
How did we do it?
The obvious way I suppose - that modern classic, the sticker reward chart.
I would never have thought this would be so effective so quickly - chiefly because I have been in the habit of giving my kids whole sheets of stickers for fun and diversion from an early age (devaluing the currency, a wise father told me once). But lo - set up a reward chart, explain how it works, and dole out one sticker of choice every morning following a successful 8pm bedtime, and it has worked a treat.
Two little sets of shining eyes are firmly on the prize: a new DVD of choice for each of them after sticking to this for 8 days.
(Alvin and the Chipmunks and one of the [eugh!] Barbie movies, at this stage).
But as always with kids, there is no such thing as a controlled experiment. A possible contributing factor to today's success: two 3-km walks today with their dad to drop off and pick up the car for urgent repairs at the garage.
Nah, it's gotta be the reward chart.... And my calm, kind but firm manner of course.