Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Sleeping arrangements – there’s a toddler in the room!

‘Is he a good sleeper?’ a friend asked me soon after our son moved in with us.

‘Oh, quite good, I think. Last night he only woke five times.’

She laughed. She’s a mother of four. ‘Welcome to motherhood.’

The first year or so Digger woke a lot during the night. Five, six, seven, eight times. Every night.

I tended to the nightly call outs, mostly because I woke and Pierre didn’t. But then come morning, I would be cream crackered. So Pierre would get up with Digger. Before the crack of dawn.

Even after such a broken night’s sleep Digger would wake around 5.30am. That gave daddy the time to play with him for a good hour or two, before he set off for work. Leaving me to catch up with sleep. Digger himself caught up at his two daily naps.
Especially the mid-morning one was lovely for us both. I often joined him for a nap. Either on the sofa or on the parental big bed. Him in the nook of my arm. Super bonding time. I did so after the sound advice given to me by my sister: sleep when baby sleeps. This as opposed to stressing out over how to make the most of the time he was out for the count. Should I read a book? A magazine? The newspaper? Or call a friend? Make a cuppa tea? Iron? Write a letter? Check emails? Shop online for baby stuff? Oh the choices!

‘Before I know it,’ I told myself, ‘he will have outgrown his daytime naps. And I will miss them.’ And indeed I do miss the naps, and holding a sleeping baby.

I was so relieved when I heard that Digger slept in a cot in his foster mum’s room. That was exactly what we did and still do. We live in a ramshackle Victoria terraced house, where it’s just not possible to have his bedroom on the same floor as ours. And trekking up and down the stairs all night long is not something I would enjoy. We have a super-sized cot, hand-me-down from a friend. One that even I fit into. Knees bend but still. One he can probably sleep in till he is 5.

I can’t see how I or Pierre, or Digger for that matter, would have survived the first year, had he not slept in the same room as us.

To this day Digger still calls out an occasional nocturnal ‘Mummy….? Daddy….?’ No longer as urgently as in the beginning. Some calls may even be speaking in his sleep. Like last night when he asked if he could have some ice cream for his bike.

I often hear him rustle the sheets; I peek and see his little silhouette. He is sitting up. He’s checking that we are still there. After a while he lies down again. And falls back to sleep.

I love the sound of his and my husband’s slow, regular breathing. It calms me. And sends me back to sleep.

It’s easier to see the progress towards all night sleeping looking back. That first year was hard for us all. But we took his lead. I tried a couple of times to walk out of the room just for a sec, - to get him used slowly to me not being there. He broke down almost immediately. It broke my heart to hear his grief and fear. It took forever to calm him down again. Somehow this unlocked memories of my own. Of my own mother, getting annoyed with me for not falling asleep. Not unlike the book with the memorable title ‘Go the f*** to sleep!’ I remember her gritted teeth, and my own fear. Hmmm. Let’s try something else. To be the parent I needed back then. Not permissive, just empathic and trusting him to let me know what he needs.

So we abandoned sleep training before we even got started. We didn’t have the heart or stomach for it. For all we cared it was utterly counter productive too. We stuck with a slow routine of bath (now optional), cream, bottle of warm milk, books, songs and stories. Finally, a short goodnight poem. Full on 1:1 time with a hand over from parent 1 to parent 2 in the middle. Milk and stories would be administered on our bed, still he was properly out. Then, and only then, could he be decanted into his own bed.

We reconciled ourselves that just like walking, when he was ready he would let go of our hands so to speak.

This was most definitely the quicker way to settle him, and after a while it led to uninterrupted nights sleep. Which they have remained ever since, but for the odd hick up in case of illness or such.

Overall bed times have become shorter and easier, especially since he dropped the daytime naps. 30 mins all in. Sometimes quicker.

About a year ago he started to ask to go to ‘little bed', to fall asleep. Usually that’s how we do it now. Except for some nights, after days of big emotions, or just if he is especially tried; then he falls asleep in our arms on our bed.

He can fall asleep in his own bed, on his own, albeit still with us in the room. He nestles into his pillow, with a smile on his face. Eyes closed. Soon after he is gone. To the arms of morpheus.

No longer closing his eyes as he falls asleep, like a baby would.
He can close his eyes to fall asleep.

Now he definitely is a good sleeper.


  1. Lovely to read. Thanks for linking up to #WASO x

  2. This is so lovely to read. I wish all the parents I work with could see this. I hated not having my foster (now adopted) children in my room. They were 7,8 and 10 when they came to us but all functioning so much younger. I got in trouble one night when my son was having really bad nightmares and I slept on his floor with a sleeping bag. Broke the rules you see. Six years later and he still remembers going to sleep holding my hand. Worth it , so worth it.