An Open Letter To Everyone Who Told Me Their Kids Don’t Sleep

Five years in, one mom has made peace with the fact that she still hasn't gotten a good night's sleep

Here it is: I thought that I was better than some of you. Or, rather, that I’d do better. When I had an infant that didn’t sleep, some of you laughed and told me “mine doesn’t sleep either!” Some of you had toddlers, others school-aged children. I grumbled a little laugh in response, but I never thought I’d be in the same boat as you.

 Surely I’d have come up with something by then. Surely, I thought, I would not be sharing a bed with a child old enough to write her own name, brush her own hair, butter her own bread. Certainly something—with all the blogs and books and articles I’d been reading, given all of the advice I’d been getting—something was going to give. That, or she’d grow out of it, wouldn’t she? People always say it’ll pass when you’re weaning, when you’re potty training, that “no five year old still uses a soother.” And yet.

Folks—and in particular, moms I didn’t believe—please know that my child is still a sleep disaster. Some of it is my fault, some of it is hers, some is probably nature and science and the alignment of stars—I really don’t know.

My daughter can identify plants in the forest, she can name planets, she can read short books, but she does not go to sleep in her bed at the beginning of the night and wake up the next morning. She slept well as a newborn, the 5 to 6 hours overnight that I’m told is rare and really the longest they can go without a feeding at that age. But it was brief. She took to sleep training at different points later. We figured out tricks; the right song, laying down with her, swaddling—the right tricks changed over time, as did their rightness.

I don’t keep a regular schedule. I go to sleep late; I wake up late. Through my daughter’s life I’ve been on maternity leave, worked from home as a part-time, freelance and contract worker, and been a college student with an irregular schedule. Had I never wanted time to myself, this may have worked fine. Had she not started having a daycare and then school schedule, we might have been fine.

I’m not a great sleeper, so co-sleeping doesn’t suit me. I figured when she stopped nursing she wouldn’t want to be on top of me anymore, but she did. And I mean on top of me, sleeping with her head on my ribs, making it impossible to have blankets over me. We can go away and share a king size bed and she is still on me. I thought maybe it was a regression because we had moved, because there was other transition in our lives.

I thought maybe we’d be set once she stopped teething, once she stopped having growing pains.

Five-plus years in, it’s impossible to remember the trajectory of it all. There have been better and worse periods; there have been several times I’ve thought we were done, good, sleep troubles be gone. And it’s not as bad as it’s been.

But my daughter, now 5 and in senior kindergarten, goes to bed late. She doesn’t always fall asleep right away and doesn’t sleep through the night. She still comes into my bed in the very late night, stuffed animals in tow. We still fight for space on the bed. If one thing has changed, it’s that I now feel disoriented when she’s not in my bed. Much as I fought to get her out of it, if I go to bed before she’s relocated, there’s a bit of worry I can’t deter from setting in.

I didn’t want to be a mom who said, “Well, good luck to you” to other moms struggling with things I’d gone through. But how could I not; how can I not tell people with babies waking them up through the night that it may not change, that I still haven’t had a good night’s sleep this many years in?

What has changed is that I no longer see my child’s sleep habits as a failure on my part. They are what they are. They are annoying and not ideal for anyone, but adding the struggle to fix it into the mix actually winds up feeling like one more difficult thing. I’m thankful that I don’t have a lot of problems with my kid and am learning to accept that whether I like it or not, sleep just is one. 

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