Selected Instructions for Helping Non-Babies Fall Asleep (Based on Advice for Babies)

It turns out the techniques parents use to get baby to sleep can be more widely applied to … just about anyone!

It turns out the techniques parents use to get baby to sleep can be more widely applied to … just about anyone! Read on to see where you can apply those sleep induction skills elsewhere in your life:

Grandparents

“When your grandma is very upset and clearly needs to go down for a nap, pick her up and shush very loudly in her ears. Spittle may fly and shortness of breath will likely set in soon, but do not be deterred. If she begins to scream, match the volume and intensity of your shush to the shrieking sound. This is to help recreate the loud, cacophonous nature of the womb.”

Siblings

“Your brother is nodding off on the couch but keeps jolting awake – he needs a little nudge. Pick him up, lay him on his side, and swing him back and forth. Do not be afraid to really get some altitude out of your lifts. This, too, matches the conditions of being in utero, because pregnant women sit in extremely violent hammocks much of the day.”

Dog

“If you notice signs that your dog is getting drowsy, drop everything you’re doing and find a piece of large, square cloth. Lay the blanket down at an angle so that it looks like a diamond, and fold the top triangle down almost all the way – leave about an inch. Lay your dog down on its back (a natural resting position for dogs) with its head protruding past the fabric: fold the right corner down to the left and tuck behind the writhing canine’s tail, followed by the top left corner folded down to the right past the jackhammer-like kicking of the leg, and bring up the bottom and tuck it into the collar. Really swaddle that canine tightly; it may even seem too tight, but Fido’s serene visage will indicate otherwise. Your dog will instantly fall into a deep, restful sleep.”

Cat

“Kitty is having a tough time settling in for its 30th nap of the day. It’s time to strap that cat into the car seat and go for a scenic drive! Try to avoid surface streets, because every time you come to a stop, kitty will wake up and screech at you, swiping erratically. It is strongly advised that you drive on the highway, finding a time where there will not be any traffic. If your cat escapes the buckle, return home and swaddle it while wearing protective goggles.”

Roommate

“Your roommate is struggling, tossing and turning in bed with a bad liquor headache, and the shut-eye she needs just isn’t forthcoming. Bring her to the gym on campus, find a yoga ball, and cradle your roomie while bouncing vigorously up and down on the giant inflated ball. You can also swivel, slow down and speed up, and sing her a Chainsmokers song. If your back begins to throb, take a break by standing up, but continue to mimic the feel of the yoga ball by jumping in such a way that you don’t actually ever leave the ground but rather alternate between tip-toes and flat feet.”

Parents

“Your father is not relaxing in his recliner and is straining to find those sweet Zs. Give him a small plastic nipple with a stuffed animal attached, and Pops will hold the little fuzzy bear and suck his way to the Kingdom of Dreams. Pick it up and reinsert as many times as needed; it’s also advisable to sprinkle your dad with a dozen more such nipples so he can reach blindly and find one himself when he drops it.”

Rabbit

“Your rabbit is probably gassy! That’s all. Lie it down on its back like you were going to swaddle it, and work its legs so that it looks like it’s riding a bicycle. Bunnies love to kick anyway so this will go over well. This intense leg movement works the gas out, but pretend not to hear the farts to spare the little fluffer some embarrassment. You can also give the bunny some gas drops with a syringe, as long as you understand that you’re doing this strictly because you’re so sleep-deprived. Gas drops are a scam.”

Stranger

“You come across a stranger trying to nap on the grass at a park, but they’re having trouble. You’re prepared: the Ergo is already tied around your waist. Hoist the stranger up over your shoulders, guide its legs through the leg holes, then click him or her in. Tighten the straps for a snug fit and use the hood if it’s sunny and you’re worried about a sunburn. It’s a good idea to find a walking path where you can mosey without stopping, because it’s the close human contact combined with motion that will ensure a restful slumber for this rando.”

When One "Snore" Closes, Another Door Opens

People fall apart over money, stress, jobs, lies, but not freaking snoring, unless the issue is of course not about snoring at all.

“Do you think anyone has ever divorced her husband over snoring? Asking for a friend.”

I jokingly wrote this on social media a few weeks ago because I was up late listening to my husband slumber away. When I say that I was listening to him sleep, I mean I was unfortunately really listening. There he lay, a foot away from me, snoring loud enough to shake the walls of our home (I swear it). It was the loudest, most wretched sound I can describe to you good readers: a mixture of gurgling, choking, gasping, coughing, mumbling, and good old traditional snoring. A real medley of marital unhappiness, if you will.

This is the soundtrack to my life between the hours of 10 p.m. and six a.m., and it has been like this for a number of years. Unfortunately, as we enter middle age, the snoring is only getting worse. The infant cries in the night have been replaced by this crap and, sadly, I can’t just pop a bottle in the hubs and make the noise cease.

I roll him “beached whale style” constantly, jab him in his ribs hard enough to leave him with physical reminders of my constant frustration and irritation, and wake him out of his pseudo-slumber several times a night in hopes that I can quickly fall asleep as he startles awake and tries to settle himself back down. My tactics no longer even leave a dent in the snoring.

Just a few years back he used to snore only after he had a few beers or stayed up late watching sports. Now I swear it starts before he has fully closed his eyeballs. I don’t think he even has to be asleep to snore!

I used to become agitated, but I could deal…or move beds. I am a mother to four young daughters, so musical beds is nothing new to me. As the snoring developed into a nightly experience, my agitation also developed into anger, aggression, and really negative emotions.  Every single morning we would bicker via text regarding the previous night’s snore-a-thon.

Why doesn’t he go sleep on the couch? When is he going to call and schedule a sleep study or buy some fancy mouth guard over the internet? Why doesn’t he care that his sleep selfishness is causing me to be exhausted and perpetually pissed off at him?

At the root of it all, this marital impasse wasn’t about the actual act of snoring. It was about something so much deeper: Why does he always come first? Does he think that he needs rest more than me because he has a high stress job that requires him to keep people alive while I’m at home vacuuming and doing laundry? When we jointly decided that he would work stressful, late hours at the hospital and I would give up teaching to become a Goddess of Domesticity, did I accidentally also give up my right to a good night’s sleep? Did I sign on some dotted line that I agreed to be the lesser person in this marriage and, therefore, if one of us had to sacrifice rest, it would automatically be me so that he could be his best?

Well, hold the phone dammit!

I started to firmly believe that his nightly snoring was a personal attack on my wellbeing. He might as well kiss me good night and then say, “Good night. If you get no sleep tonight that’s probably okay because you stay home all day and do nothing, so rest up then.” Of course he never said that, he isn’t suicidal or anything. In fact, he never said anything other than sorry or that he doesn’t mean to snore. Sorry didn’t matter to me though, the resentment was so thick you could slice it with a knife.

Now I’m not exactly the type of woman who bottles up her emotions and buries them deep down in the depths of her soul. No. If I’m pissed, you’ll know about it. If you’ve upset me, you’ll hear about it, over and over and over again. There’s no guesswork in deciphering how I’m feeling. He knew that the snoring was causing major anger and rifts in our marriage. I made it fairly clear to him.

Snoring! People fall apart over money, stress, jobs, lies, but not freaking snoring, unless the issue is of course not about snoring at all. So why didn’t he just do something about it!?

As usual, we had to hit marital rock bottom before we were able to discuss the “whys.” Beneath his gurgling, snoring, middle-age manliness was some serious insecurity he was dealing with all by himself. Unlike me, my husband is the kind of person who bottles up his emotions and pushes them deep down only to have them explode once in a great while. He knew that he’d gained some middle age weight, which was contributing to the snoring. Even though he runs each and every day, he too was struggling with the beast that is “the thirties tire.” Facing middle age was another mirror that my husband wasn’t wanting to look in. While I seem to be accepting the fact that we are getting older, fatter, and grayer, he isn’t accepting that as easily. He still wants to eat, live, and drink like he’s 23 years old. No one wants to admit the golden days are long gone, I suppose.

So he kept on denying his snoring and I kept on hating him – every day – until we were able to get down to the root of his insecurity and the root of my feelings of being the lesser important human. Those kinds of marital talks are never fun. They are exhausting, they sting, they go on forever and ever, but they’re totally and completely necessary.

A week ago he went online and purchased a snore-guard. It can’t be the most comfortable thing to wear all night long, but sweet Lord it is working! He still lightly snores, but it’s tolerable – so tolerable. More importantly. I’m so grateful that this simple gesture of wearing his snore guard shows me that he does care about my comfort. It makes a world of difference in my sleep patterns and a world of difference in my appreciation for him.

Thank you, husband. Thank you for wearing your cumbersome mouth guard at night so that I can sleep and so that I know that you love me.

Fellows, if your wife tells you that you snore, then you snore. If you love your wife, if you value her and see her as equally important, buy yourself a snore guard. Nothing says I love you like a snore guard.

Breastfeeding: When Success Feels Like Failure

Most of all, I raged against the breastfeeding mothers who failed to tell me how hard this all was.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
Days into my daughter’s life, I learned that breastfeeding did not, at all, feel good. Every latch felt like a thousand tiny needles stabbing my nipple in unison. After a few moments, the sharpness would fade, replaced by my blunt determination. Nursing was the only thing that made my daughter happy.
I had thought breastfeeding would be easy to figure out, that I could leapfrog the issues that plagued others. Perhaps, because I had no experience with newborns, my brain filled the void with the most optimistic scenario.
My optimism evaporated within a week. Life became a series of marathon nursing sessions interrupted by short periods of sleep. Ten, 12, 20 times a day (and night) the pain pierced and took my breath away. I called her my milk vampire. My nipples cracked and blistered and bled.
My mother flew in from Chicago to help out. She kept me company on the couch for hours a day, the two of us watching “Bones” while I nursed her granddaughter. Sitting in my nest of pillows, I practiced each nursing position I’d been taught. I latched and re-latched my daughter, hoping each time it would make the pain go away.
My sleep deprivation worsened. My mother broke her arm, and my husband lacked the emotional endurance to soothe our always-fussy baby. In those first couple of weeks, my newborn daughter and I spent 20 hours a day in physical contact.
I expected my husband to bear these burdens with me. He expected me to soldier on, no matter the pain or misery. After three weeks, he went back to work, leaving me alone with only one effective parenting tool: my breasts.
Late one night, my husband snored while my daughter nursed voraciously. Just two weeks into her life, I wanted to scream at the pain. Instead I wept. “This can’t be right,” I thought. “This is why people use formula.”
At my loneliest, weariest time, I felt desperate for relief. I figured the signs of breastfeeding failure would be clear: If my daughter lost more than 10 percent of her weight after birth, or if the doctor mandated it. Never once did I consider that I could be in pain and exhausted, yet not quite failing completely.
I hadn’t chosen to breastfeed, not exactly. I had expected to breastfeed, the way a middle class teenager expects to go to college and expects to get a good job afterward. Feeding your child is a biological imperative. Humans have been doing it by breast for millions of years. My body would automatically make milk in the first week after birth whether I wanted it to or not. I felt entitled to an easy breastfeeding experience. Pain infringed upon my birthright.
In the dark, I hunched over my daughter like a frenzied, cornered cat, searching for escape. I saw formula dangling in front of me as the “easy solution,” the ever-present back-up plan. If I failed at breastfeeding, I knew I was supposed to transition to formula and convince myself to be happy about it. Liberated women must never feel guilty about their choices.
But nursing was my daughter’s sole source of comfort. I refused to give it up.
I needed fuel for my resolve, and I chose rage. I let myself hate formula and the people who sell it, their oily ads and counterfeit generosity. I turned on the parenting industry at large. So many useless gadgets, wasted time, and squandered hope. I seethed over the injustices of motherhood and its overflow of impossible decisions. But most of all, I raged against the breastfeeding mothers who failed to tell me how hard this all was.
I raged until I had no anger left. When I was done, I wept for my own naiveté in thinking the world was fair and all problems had solutions.
I woke the next morning, and many mornings after, feeling battered. Would my situation ever improve? I didn’t know. I couldn’t imagine tomorrow, let alone next month. Every moment lasted forever. My pain felt eternal.
At six weeks, the pain disappeared. It was nothing I did, no grand revelation. Maybe my daughter learned how to suckle properly, or her mouth grew a little. I’ll never know.
Now I can think of 50 things I could have done differently. But when I look back, I can never see the moment where I should have known better. Every time I replay these events, I make the same decisions. It was all I knew. My breastfeeding experience was not a gold medal performance or an A+ on a final exam. In an alternate reality, I might have surrendered to formula.
In this reality, I’m still surrendering to the realization that sometimes success can feel an awful lot like failure.

Why I Don't Worry About the Small Stuff Anymore

When your child is born with a heart that’s broken beyond full repair, you learn what you can and cannot control.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
I used to have a recurring, panic-inducing dream about an underground parking garage. The garage lies beneath the children’s hospital where my son receives ongoing treatment of his heart defects and other serious medical conditions.
Picture incredibly narrow parking spots with load-bearing columns scattered about everywhere, creating an obstacle course that even the most compact of vehicles must navigate carefully. Scuff marks with glimmers of auto body paint litter the sides of every single one of those load-bearing columns: a reminder that many who have gone before me have failed to make it out unscathed.
I’m a horrible parker, hence the nightmares.
Thanks to my poor depth perception, visuospatial tasks have never been my forte. I’ve hit more than a few stationary objects in my nearly 15-year-long driving career.
Throw in the previously unfathomable level of sleep deprivation that accompanies the job of parenting a medically complex child (which exacerbates my depth perception problems), and I stand no chance against this parking garage.
For the first several visits, I have my husband park the car, or I give up and drop it off out front with the valets. But this arrangement eventually becomes unfeasible. Sometimes my husband and I need to arrive separately, and the valet booth has limited hours.
I realize I’m going to have to learn how to park the car in that hellish garage so that I can always be there with my son while he’s in the hospital. There’s just no way around it anymore.
I take the scholarly approach, as I tend to do. I make diagrams of the precise angles necessary to maneuver my way into one of the spots without scraping a column or a neighboring car. I visualize the garage and imagine myself parking. I even ask my husband for pointers, but he’s not much help since he’s been graced with a natural gift for this sort of thing: “I dunno, I just turn the steering wheel and park the car?”
After all that preparation, I get a chance to put it into practice at the next scheduled appointment I must take our son to by myself. I meditate on (that’s my code for “obsess over”) the task at hand the whole drive to the hospital, and I briefly contemplate saying, “Screw it, I’ll just do valet parking” before turning into the garage.
I choose my target. I take a hard pass on the spot between two huge SUVs that are barely within the lines and decide on one with well-behaved neighbors instead.
Much of the elegance of my diagram was missing in this real-life attempt, but I managed to get my car in the spot. Never mind that I’ve wedged myself into a position that will require a nine-point turn to exit. That’s a problem for “Future Me,” and it’s beside the point.
When your child is born with a heart that’s broken beyond full repair, you learn what you can and cannot control. I can’t control whether the cardiac surgeon I’ve handed my son over to will return him in a better condition than he was in before – or if I’ll even get him back at all.
I can’t control the fact that I’ll probably outlive my child.
But I can learn how to park the damn car. I can conquer that fear and make that nightmare go away. I can let go of all the anxieties that used to plague me, the worries about issues that seem so trivial in retrospect.
Now I know that if the worst-case scenario in a situation is a scraped fender or having to file an insurance claim, that’s not something worth worrying about. Those are problems we can solve if the worst should happen.
It’s the unsolvable, uncontrollable, life-threatening types of problems that are the real stuff of nightmares, anyway.

The Art of Essentialism: How to Do Better by Doing Less

Embrace the idea of “less but better” and accept trade-offs as an inherent part of life.

When I left my office job about a year ago to spend more time with my three children, I thought I’d have more time. Time to start a blog, read, write, learn, exercise, practice mindfulness, and do a lot more. Clearly, I was being too ambitious.
And soon enough I became so frazzled and overwhelmed by it all that I realized I was being busy but not productive at all. I’m sure I’m not alone in trying to pack our schedules to the brim, doing everything we think we should be doing (or want to be doing) to improve our lives. But we just have to come to terms with the fact that we can’t do it all. And I don’t know about you, but when my house is full of things that never get used (i.e. clutter) or schedules that are filled with tasks that I cannot complete, I don’t feel any better for it. Quite the opposite, in fact.
So, in the attempt to look for ways to identify my priorities and do things more efficiently, I picked up a copy of “Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” by Greg McKeown. Seeing that he coaches companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and LinkedIn, I’ll take any advice he might have!
The first tip is I picked up from this fantastic book is that we should learn to focus on what is absolutely essential to our happiness and well-being. When we do things we “have to do,” rather than things we “choose to do,” we’re surrendering our power to choose. And essentially we give this power to others. McKeown calls this “learned helplessness.” Instead, embrace the idea of “less but better” and accept trade-offs as an inherent part of life. To do this, we need to adopt the principle of essentialism, which focuses on four main points.
1| Do less, but do it better. Identify the things you need to cut out, and do what’s left at a higher standard. Be ruthless in cutting away things that aren’t essential.
2 | Reject the notion that we should accomplish everything. We just can’t do everything. So choose what matters most to you and choose to excel in those specific directions.
3 | Question yourself and update your plans accordingly. Life, people and circumstances change, so keep asking yourself: is this worth my time? Or should I invest my time and energy into a more productive area?
4 | Take action. Nothing changes if we don’t take action. But how exactly do we implement these principles?

Escape

Giving yourself space to escape will help you pick out the vital from the trivial. With modern technologies giving us instant and constant access to entertainment and communication, we’re never bored. But carving out regular periods of time to do nothing can give us an opportunity to think clearly about what needs to be done. Think about your life – what options, problems, or challenges you face, and assess what’s vital and what isn’t. According to McKeown, people like Newton and Einstein used to do this, and many of today’s most successful CEOs do the same. Are we really too busy to do this too?

Keep a journal and focus on the big picture

We get so lost in the small, day-to-day tasks that sometimes we lose track of the reason we are doing certain things in the first place. In order to maintain focus on what’s important, essentialism teaches us to always concentrate on the bigger picture. And one way to do this is to keep a journal. McKeown suggests to force yourself to write as little as possible though. This way you can think through everything you’ve done and sift out only what you consider essential. And when you read it back, you will see the big picture emerge.

Play

Playing is a vital tool for inspiration. It gets our creative juices flowing, helps us develop new connections between ideas that we would have never otherwise considered, it’s a great antidote to stress, and it helps us prioritize and analyze tasks. Unfortunately, some of us (me included) tend to see play as trivial and unproductive. Because it’s pure entertainment, we may feel it’s as a waste of time. But if companies like Twitter, Pixar, and Google, for example, promote play based on the belief that a playful employee is an inspired and productive one, maybe we should take a leaf out of their book too?

Rest and sleep

It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it? With so much to do and not enough hours in the day, are we really saying that we should sleep more? Indeed. Sleep increases your ability to think, connect ideas, and maximize your productivity during your waking hours. One hour of sleep actually results in several more hours of higher productivity the following day. Studies have shown that going 24 hours without sleep, or getting a weekly average of just four to five hours of sleep per night causes a cognitive impairment equivalent to what you would have with zero point one percent blood alcohol level. That’s enough to get your driver’s license suspended!

Learn to say no

Say no to non-essential tasks. Unfortunately, we are so socially programmed to please others that when other people are involved in our decision-making, we fear saying no. We feel awkward and pressured not to disappoint everyone we care about, fearful that we may damage our relationships. So separate your decisions from the relationship. Know it’s not personal and try and remember that failing to say not to the things which aren’t vital can lead you to miss out on the opportunities that truly are.

Let go of what no longer serves you

Do you ever find yourself doing something that you know is a waste of effort simply because at some point you committed to it? McKeown calls this the sunk-cost-bias – the tendency to continue investing money, time, effort, and energy into something we already know is unlikely to succeed. You can easily avoid this trap by developing the courage to admit your errors and mistakes and to let them go. If it’s clear that something isn’t going to work out, don’t be afraid to cut your losses and abandon ship.

Believe in small wins

Creating success is all about building upon your previous progress with small, incremental steps. Small wins create momentum, which gives you the confidence to further succeed. And they allow you to stay on track by giving you the opportunity to check whether you are heading in the right direction. While it might be frustrating to take small steps, their consequences can be far-reaching.

Create a routine

No matter what your goals are, ensure you stick with them by designing a routine. Routines create a habit, thus making difficult things become easier over time. Create a routine that aligns with your goals, and you’ll be on to a winner.
So, are you ready to lead a more productive and fulfilling life by focusing on your goals and well-being and letting go of the rest? Do you have any more tips to share? Leave tips or suggestions in the comments section below.

Goodnight, Sleep Demon

After years of sleeping just fine in her own room, she stopped. At first we thought she must have had a bad dream the night before. But it kept going.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
“My stomach hurts.” “I can’t sleep;” “Can you close my closet?” “Can I just sleep with you?” Sound familiar? You are not alone – and neither is your child.
Obviously all children have times of anxiety when leaving their parents, or meeting new people, or going to a sleepover for the first time. Most will even go through a period of wanting to sleep in your room. But most toddlers or young kids grow out of that.
What they don’t generally do is stay awake all night long, miss school, throw random tantrums about leaving you; or turn down sleepovers with their close friends. What they don’t generally do is bring that anxiety into the school years.
They also don’t spend two years trying to sleep in their own bed, alone in their own room, but just being incapable of it. Seriously.
Approximately 12 percent of children suffer from separation anxiety disorder before they reach 18. While that’s not a huge amount, it’s enough that it should be talked about, highlighted. There should be information out there for parents to know what’s typical and what isn’t. You know what to look for in the flu, but where’s the document about anxiety, or Anxiety – and the differences between them. I wish i had clued into any of the telltale signs before I did. But honestly I didn’t know what those signs were. All my friends had kids who had had some trouble sleeping. And when you are living through it, it feels singular; like you alone are battling these ever-elusive sleep demons.
For a while I traveled a couple of days a week for work – and my leaving was excruciating. It was also excruciating when I called home and could barely understand anything being said through enormous fits of tears and “Come home, Mommy; please come home.” It broke my heart. My husband was hassled, frustrated, and downright cranky: Trying to get her to school was anything but pretty in the mornings I was away. I felt enormous guilt and was torn between trying to calm and comfort Carrie or telling her to just suck it up and go to school. I often hung up in tears myself. But I comforted myself. I just thought “ this too shall pass”.
That all changed one day when my daughter’s kindergarten teacher saw me dropping her off and said “oh it’s so great having you home – no more tummy aches.” EXCUSE ME?? That was the first I had heard of those apparently daily events. The fact that they disappeared when I was home was clearly a sign that she was distressed. Carrie had worried I would get hurt or die in an airplane, or not come home, or any number of things all the time. But we didn’t know that – she didn’t have the words to tell me, was too scared to say it, and Dave and I didn’t stop to ask the right questions.
Things improved when I was home more often. There was continuity, I was clued into her sensitivity and she felt safe. So again, I wasn’t too concerned. She went to school just fine, she liked her teachers, had friends, and had fun. She was actually back to being a bundle of joy, laughter, and creativity. Until she wasn’t.
You know that story of when he was good he was very, very good, but when he was bad, he was terrible? Well, let’s just say I do too. Carrie started to turn down play dates – or would only have them at our house. She wanted to only play one on one; she said she felt like a prisoner at school, and she was always worried. She needed to know what the plan was and when it changed? Then watch out – tantrums like crazy came on. Inconsolable tears; fits where she would straighten her back and not get into the car to save her life. She stopped going to sleep overs, or would go but have to be picked up in the night – and believe me, that was not good for anyone.
And then, after years of sleeping just fine in her own room, she stopped. Just stopped. At first we thought she must have had a bad dream the night before or something. But it kept going. Night after night, we would check her room and closet for bad guys and people that might want to hurt Mom. She couldn’t sleep because what if there was a fire? What if someone broke into the house; what if she was kidnapped? Or worse, what if her brother was?
Clearly something was off. There was no talking logic to her and there was no sleep for any of us. So when we were beyond ourselves with exhaustion and frustration, we found a counselor and had her start seeing someone to talk to and work through the fears. But now on top of the no sleep, the stomachaches were back; and panic attacks going to school were starting. Carrie was seriously struggling. Unfortunately, by then we were all struggling. Dave couldn’t understand that for Carrie these issues were completely real. Their conflict, the stress and walking on eggshells to keep the peace was taking a toll.
Our efforts to calm her or use reasoning were completely ineffective. Sick of the arguing and tears, we tried letting her sleep with us for a very little while. Wrong choice! So wrong. Then no one slept because the bed was too small and she thrashed around all night. Finally, counselor number two suggested we try something different: put an extra bed in her room and one of us sleep there. That was step one – get her to sleep in her own room again. Eventually, it worked; she got some sleep. Me? Not so much.
Step two was that once she fell asleep, we then returned to our bed. That worked … until she woke up, saw we weren’t there anymore, and started screaming. Or woke up from a nightmare. Back one of us went. By then we were so tired ourselves that we might fall asleep in her room before she did – thereby not affecting any change in the right direction.
A tired mom is a short-tempered mom. A tired dad might be even worse. The house that was once so joyful and peaceful was now filled with angst, anger, and just plain exhaustion. I wasn’t sleeping; my husband fell asleep in her room confounding the issue. So then we were tired and at odds. Add to that an older brother who was tired of all the fights and of his sister being such a nightmare. Everyone’s patience had dissolved long ago and family dynamics hit a new low. Clearly we needed more help and so did she.
By now we had tried all of the tricks to solving this issue. Gentle bedtime routine? Check. Regular bedtime? Check. Warm bath; stories; snuggles? Check, check, and check. We encouraged rituals that soothed her – gave her her blanket and favorite stuffy. We tried meditation, soft music and then white noise when that didn’t work. She read. We read to her. You name it, we tried it. At this point we realized she had some serious Anxiety and we were well beyond our abilities to solve the issue. So we found a new therapist to help us face this sleep demon.
Our new therapist was great – Carrie really took to her and looked forward to seeing her and, I think, to having someone of her own to talk to. One of us was still staying in her room at this point. We again tried leaving after she fell asleep. More tears. Then the doctor suggested a more gradual approach. After getting her to bed and completing our nightly, calming rituals, we (one of us) sat in her room. Not on a bed, not lying down. Sat in a chair so we would not fall asleep. Which, if I’m honest, had it’s own issues, but still.
When she fell asleep, we were supposed to move to the hallway and sit there. Slowly, ever so slowly over many nights, we moved a little farther away within the room, then into the hallway, then further down the hallway, until finally we made it to our own bedroom.
So how did our new therapist help? A few ways. She had Carrie talk about her fears and give voice to them. Apparently that sounds way easier than it is. The Anxiety that Carrie felt also meant she had had a hard time voicing or admitting to the scary thoughts. So her therapist had her look at What Ifs. She talked about those What Ifs. Then Carrie would tell me about them so I could help her at home. For instance if she brought up a fire, we could lead her through that. “Have you ever had a fire or known anyone who did? If not, was there a reason her house might get one? Did anyone smoke or leave on the gas? No, well then was it possible no fire would happen?” Same with a burglar or an airplane trip – or whatever; we learned to walk and talk her through her fears. Which sounds good and is a great starting point. But of course that alone didn’t do it, as this Anxiety is not rational.
Another helpful tip was having her picture her fear and describe it. Then draw it and name it. That helped put some distance between the fear and her. Plus we could use humor and come up with ways for her to yell at it or tell it to go away; we were able to make it a little, tiny bit fun and less scary. Sometimes I had her draw her feelings and we’d throw the drawing away or burn it so it couldn’t come back.
Another winner? While we had tried relaxation and meditation apps (didn’t work for her) her therapist taped her own soothing voice in a little meditation for Carrie. Reminded her what to do, how to relax, how to help herself. We had her play that in her bed when she was experiencing a tough night. And as we got one night of sleep, it went to two, then maybe back a step – but eventually we were able to have enough success that she set up her own goal and reward system.
She would choose how many nights she would stay alone and if she was successful, what fun thing we would do. It became hers; she controlled it. She was sad, mad and therefore determined to banish it. Thank God for her stubborn streak at those moments.
Lo and behold, it took. She realized she could make the sleep demon disappear all on her own. She owned it and she conquered it. And eventually, she even went on a successful sleepover again.
Last week she came back from three weeks away on a service trip where she didn’t know anyone. That is a beautiful thing.

The Parenting Hack That Keeps My Kid in His Room at Bedtime

At the risk of sounding dramatic, bedtime has always been the bane of my existence- until I discovered this.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, bedtime has always been the bane of my existence.

As a child, it brought on anxiety, and fears of intruders and house fires abounded. As a teen, bedtime meant I had to close my computer and end phone calls with friends, and what a terrible thing to have to do. As an adult, bedtime often felt lonely and stressful, with endless to-do lists and existential thoughts suddenly overcrowding my mind. Now, as a parent, bedtime entails being utterly exhausted – bone-tired, brain-fried – but unable to rest until I wrangle my two energetic children into bed and somehow convince them to stay there.

It’s easier with my infant – just knock him out with some of Mama’s milk and he’s not going anywhere, but with my preschooler, it’s a different story. For the first three years of his life, he co-slept with my husband and me. While our family fell into the habit out of sleep deprivation and desperation, I grew to completely love co-sleeping: the cuddles, the closeness, the ease of nursing, the reassurance of having my baby right beside me, and the reassurance it gave my baby.

Still, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and I knew that end was near when I became pregnant with my second son when my first was two and a half. I could tell by then that my big boy was ready for his own bed and his own room (both of which he had – he just hadn’t slept in them yet), but I also knew that this was going to be a tough transition, for both of us if I’m being honest.

I looked to the Internet to help me figure out what to expect from this process, and I came across the term: “Jack-in-the-Box Syndrome,” defined as a common “affliction” causing children to constantly pop out of bed after their parents have put them to sleep due to a major case of FOMO (fear of missing out). The articles I read contained some tips for dealing with it, but I soon learned that I’d have to think outside the box, because my son’s “Jack-in-the-Box” game was on point and strong.

“Hey Mom. I’m hungry.”

“Dad! I’m thirsty.”

“There are shadows on my wall.”

“What’s inside the wall?”

“How many miles have I slept so far?”

“I mean minutes.”

“Is it morning?”

By the third or fourth night of this, I was losing steam. I couldn’t spend the whole night ushering him back to his bedroom, and he couldn’t be staying up so late. I started to waver in my decision to transition him. Should we build some kind of epic family bed instead that can fit our growing family? No, no, no, I thought, this will be so good for him. He’ll learn to love his big boy bed and be proud of his independence.

But how would we get there?

One night it dawned on me as I was using the talk button on the baby monitor to tell my son, “You better not open up that door!” that I could use this talk function for way more than issuing warnings. I could use it as a tool to make it appealing for my boy to remain in his bed by inviting him to engage in actual conversation with me over the monitor. This way, I could open up the lines of communication that he so misses when I shut his bedroom door, and I could also ensure that I don’t miss out on the meaningful talks we always had while co-sleeping when he was relaxed enough to really open up – talks that would be more difficult to have with a newborn in the mix. Plus, we could pretend like we’re using walkie-talkies, and how fun is that? This could be our new special thing.

And just like that (well maybe there were also some toy rewards involved) bedtime started to change for the better. Not only did this parenting hack help my son stay put in his room, it also helped keep our bedtime routine (relatively) short and sweet. Kids will do just about anything to prolong saying goodnight. Now when my little man gives me puppy eyes after we’ve already done bath and books and snuggles, and says, “But I just have to tell you one more thing!” I reply, “And I can’t wait to hear that one thing, over the MONITOR!” and I make it sound super exciting. It works.

Now, of course, this monitor chatting can get a bit out of control, and there’ve been plenty of shit-show moments where I’m trying to nurse the baby to sleep while also fielding questions from my preschooler about why he can’t marry his cousin and how many days are left until Christmas. When this happens, I remind him that he needs his sleep and kindly request that he slow his roll with the questions. For the most part, he does.

Other nights, he barely talks to me at all, but knowing that he can is comforting to him, and that’s what makes this system so great. He gets his own space and chance to self-soothe, which is healthy and important at his age, and I don’t have to spend hours in a dark room waiting for him to fall asleep. I can tend to his baby brother, do chores, or unwind while still helping my son feel secure and heard as he decompresses from the day.

“I love you to the moon and back,” he tells me over the monitor each night.

“I love you to infinity and beyond,” I respond.

I don’t know how long he’ll want to talk with me like this, but I’ll be ready and waiting, monitor in hand, for as long as he does. When my six-month-old gets older and moves out of my bed, I’ll try the same hack with him, although with his chatty and loving big brother around, I may not even need to.

A Good Reason for My Sleepless Nights

I have a motherhood confession. There is a child (or two or three) sleeping in my bed more nights than not.

I have a motherhood confession.
There is a child (or two or three) sleeping in my bed more nights than not. With four total, and all of them still relatively young enough to wake up in the middle of the night sick or scared or wet or thirsty or just alone, it’s a nightly event that at least one and sometimes more pad into my room, holding a blanket or a stuffed something that has seen better days.
I roll over and look at the clock. Inevitably, there’s a moment where my stomach sinks at the math of how much more sleep I might get if I am lucky. But I always make them some space.
I know it’s a controversial subject, and I know (and respect) that it’s not for everyone. I know the parenting magazines would probably frown on it. Perhaps more importantly, I know the lack of sleep has likely taken years off my life or, at the very least, made me look like it has.
And yes, I’ve read the sleep training books and talked to the doctors and let myself fantasize about what it would be like to just once sleep wholly through the night and let me tell you: the prospect is absolutely lovely.
But I feel like this is something I need to do, and there is a good reason. It’s this:
When I was 16, I stopped eating.
It wasn’t that simple, and it wasn’t all at once or even a conscious decision. Not at first. But I was no longer a kid, and me and my life were both getting big fast, and I knew I needed to do something to try to make us small again because the bigness felt too new and frankly a little bit scary.
But pretty soon, as these things do, the not eating itself got too big – bigger than I could easily handle myself. I lost more weight than I ever meant to, although somehow it still wasn’t enough. The anxiety problem that had been a manageable hum in the background of my life before became a loud and constant scream that I couldn’t ignore.
Nighttime was the worst because I stopped sleeping. I would toss and turn for hours, trying to convince myself I wasn’t hungry and I wasn’t sick and I wasn’t falling quickly into a hole that was too big for me to pull myself out of alone.
My mother and I were not in the best place then. Neither of us was healthy independently, and together, we were worse than the sum of our parts. But I knew she saw what was happening to me and I knew she was worried as well.
One night, when it all got to be too much, I did something out of desperation that I hadn’t done since I was maybe six and scared of thunder: I crept into her room and climbed into her bed.
She didn’t say anything, and I assumed she was asleep. But I pulled the covers up and settled my head on her pillow and closed my eyes. And then I felt it, so light I thought I imagined it at first: her hand resting on my back. I’m sure it was the first time we had touched in months. Maybe years.
Sometimes I think that hand saved my life. Or it was the bridge that got me into the next day, which got me into recovery, eventually. At the very least, I know I fell instantly asleep.
For a short while, it became a routine of sorts, one that we never spoke about in the daylight. I don’t know if she appreciated those small moments of togetherness we had there like I did or if she just tolerated them because she knew I was sick. She’s gone now, so I can’t ask. When she died and I found myself unable to sleep again, I was grateful for the memory. I was also grateful for its lesson.
You see, most days I’m not a great mother – not like the ones you see on TV or read about in those same parenting magazines that say my babies should learn to self soothe. My temper is shorter than I’d like, and I make more boxed mac and cheese than anyone should ever admit to.
I am terrible at braiding hair or remembering to sign the thousands of papers that come home every day stuffed into four different backpacks. I’m much too distracted and I’m tired and I make so many mistakes daily that I usually lose count before lunchtime.
But at night, this is still something I can do, what my own mother did for me all those years ago. I can make space. I can let them in, rest my hand lightly on their backs, feel their soft breath as they settle next to me, and – if only just for that moment – help them rest easier in the knowledge that they don’t have to be alone.
I know it’s not forever, and their need – big now with little-kid troubles, night terrors, bed wetting, things under the bed – will evolve into bigger-kid need and likely then into the not needing at all. It’s a prospect that both gets me through my tired days and terrifies me.
But for now, I know this: For as long as I can, I will help them sleep, even if it means that, tonight, I don’t.
This post originally appeared here on the author’s website.

The Silly Sex Dream That Woke Me Up

After I stopped laughing at him, I started to reflect. Why would he be dreaming about bad sex with 80s icons? It had to be our lame sex life, right?

14 years of marriage is like two seven-year itches combined into one giant wool sweater. Even extra-strength balms like wine and frosting don’t offer much relief anymore. At this stage of life, the stressors are real and the responsibilities are not sexy. We used to be so into each other. Now, any person-in-person action is strictly for prostate health.
Recently, my barely sexually-maintained husband told me about a sex dream he had. Apparently he’d been hoping to get some when he came to bed that night and as usual, I had not. I guess I had homelessness or the plight of sea turtles or something equally depressing on my mind, so we talked tragedy until we fell asleep. Still, somehow, he managed to have a sex dream.
It wasn’t just any sex dream. It featured Beverly D’Angelo, in her prime. He kept saying “in her prime” as if it were crucial for me to know he was referring to the version of her from the “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” poster, in which she rocked a gold bodysuit while clinging to the meaty calf of Chevy Chase. I mean, anyone who grew up in the 80s and who has seen the deleted scenes from “High Fidelity” has a healthy appreciation for Ms. D’Angelo in all her eras, but it’s not like we have the poster above our marital bed or anything.
Yet.
The worst/best part of his dream was that he could tell Beverly D’Angelo wasn’t really into it. She wasn’t comfortable in the position they were in and kept trying to change it up and it just didn’t go well.
So he woke up, unsatisfied, having not satisfied Beverly D’Angelo in her prime.
After I stopped pointing and laughing at him, I started to reflect. Why would he be dreaming about bad sex with 80s icons? It had to be our lame sex life, right?
There’s not a lot of intercourse happening at this stage of marriage. When there is a miraculous hour that the children are asleep in their assigned beds and the adults are awake in ours, the pressure is just too great for me. I find myself reaching for my phone to read the news or wander Facebook and before I know it, I’m mired in the world’s pain and disgusted by whatever it is they put into chicken nuggets. My poor husband just wants some good, good loving and I’m crying, yelling, and wiring money to chickens.
I remember when we were more hot than tired. Now there are big bills, kids to maintain, endless meals to prepare, and Louis CK shows to watch. These all trump intercourse.
Having kids took over everything, especially for me. I was their comfort, their food, their Elvis. It was intoxicating but also exhausting. That level of need, plus a full-time job outside the house, left no energy for intimacy. We used to want each other. These days, a million other priorities pull us in every direction, and I just want to be left alone.
It’s taken me several years to realize that I need to put some of me back together again. I am still gaga for my kids, but I think I have finally learned that I truly cannot give them more than I have. I need to hold some back for me, and maybe for my husband, too. Besides, even if I do try to give my kids everything I have, they will just take it and spill nachos all over it. They will take it and still complain. They will take it and call it a “diaper head.” Sigh. I’m learning this lesson slowly.
Somehow, despite all this, he still wants to have sex with me. And Beverly D’Angelo, in her prime. But mostly me.
While the details of his dream were endlessly amusing to me, I was not surprised that he is having dreams about being sexually unfulfilled. My lack of interest in sex seems to be hurting his feelings, and that’s not good. I want him to be confident and feel wanted.
In an effort to reward him for sharing that wonderful, terrible dream, and to rekindle at least some of our early enthusiasm for each other, I began making an effort to be kinder and more affectionate. I tried so hard not to interrupt foreplay with stories about what I found on the bottom of one of the children’s feet. (Feces. It’s always feces). I found opportunities to do fun things we used to enjoy, just the two of us, to try to feel light and free again – like playing Cribbage, which is a real panty-dropper math card game. We began getting away on dates more, even if they were just to Ikea.
“Just to Ikea.” Ha! Who am I kidding? There’s chocolate and coffee and mattresses and organization units at Ikea. It’s like a self-help aphrodisiac. Say “Hemnes desk with add-on unit in the white stain” again. Yessssss.
At night, I’ve committed to putting away my phone so that the miseries of the world won’t join us in bed. And most importantly, I’m working on the hard task of finding myself in the midst of motherhood. If I’m confidently me, maybe I’ll confidently want to shag. That’s the plan, anyway.
Overall, he’s glad he shared the dream with me, because it opened up a lot of dialogue and opportunity for growth in our relationship.
Though I do think he wishes I wouldn’t insist on calling him “Sparky” now.
We don’t always get what we want.
This article was originally published at Together Magazine.

How to Make More Time to Tackle that Stack of Books on Your Nightstand

If all else fails, tell your kids you’ve given yourself reading homework. Chances are, they’ll be happy to hold you to it.

Make the lunches. Find the missing soccer uniform sock. Glue the toy’s head back on. Drive the car pool. Make it to work on time.
There’s nothing quite like a parent’s exhaustive to do list. After reading bedtime stories and overseeing school reading log entries, why add “reading books for my own pleasure” to your bursting schedule? Here are some compelling, science-backed reasons:

A book a day (or week, or month…)

Book reading is a well-documented brain boosting exercise. One study even suggested that regular book readers live longer. Someone recently pointed out to me that our time in the parenting trenches span fewer years than those we hope to enjoy in a relationship with our adult children. I’m up for anything that protects my brain from debilitating diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia so I can enjoy my family – without doing their laundry – for decades to come.

Add an extra “r” for reading

Parents need rest and relaxation as much as anyone. Pick up a book! One British study recorded significantly lower stress levels after participants read for as little as six minutes. You can’t even drive to a yoga studio that fast. Is there something specific dragging down your emotional wellbeing? Bibliotherapy is a growing field that uses book recommendations to help you conquer what ails you.

Break out of your parenting bubble

Brain imaging research shows that reading about an experience sparks remarkably similar brain activity as living it does. Reading can also improve empathy, which we could all use as much of as possible these days. I recently read “The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley,” by Hannah Tinti, which tells the story of a father’s life through the bullet wounds from his bouts of crime – talk about suspending judgment long enough to take a walk in the shoes of a different kind of parent.

Show your kids that reading is worth your time

Most parents want their kids to be good readers. Even though your habit might be to collapse in front of the TV at the end of a long day, keep in mind that your kids learn to do as you do. Research shows that more time spent reading is correlated with academic success. You probably aren’t able to devote 80 percent of your day to reading like Warren Buffett, but even allotting 10 extra minutes per day for family reading time can make a big difference over time in children’s reading development. It’s clear parental reading is good, but so are exercise, nurturing your marriage, chocolate, and many other competitors for your limited free time. So how do you make it happen?

Find a book to hook you

I always read more when I become engrossed in a great book. One of my favorite family anecdotes is about my great grandmother’s tendency to become so absorbed in a book that her children would find her after school sitting right where they’d left her: at the table reading. She wasn’t known for her housekeeping but she lived a long and full life, so perhaps there’s something to be learned there. And for goodness sake, don’t waste your time trying to finish a book you hate. Gretchen Rubin, happiness and habit guru, urges those who want to read more to get comfortable quitting books they don’t like and moving on to ones they do.

Find the right time for reading and make it a habit

The stress-relieving powers of book reading make it a helpful bedtime habit – much more effective than screen time. Personally, I don’t need any help falling asleep, but enjoy waking up early to write or read during what I think of as my “Drinking Coffee Alone Time.”
You might work reading into pockets of time during your day. Keeping a book in your bag encourages you to read during wait time when you’d otherwise probably just look at your phone. While the benefits of traditional book reading don’t all apply to audio books, they can be a way to continue with a book you’re enjoying during your commute or while doing housework.

Find your accountability strategy

This year my sister and I formed a book group with some local friends. Not everyone finishes the book every month. After a little while, our conversations tend to turn to school bus drama, nap schedules and other parenting minutiae. Still, having the date on the calendar has motivated many of us to read when we might otherwise not have.
Your book-reading friends don’t even have to live nearby. Sites like Goodreads connect you to other readers in your social networks. You can get the satisfaction of adding a finished book to your list (and can even brag about it on Facebook, if that motivates you.)
One friend simply made a resolution to read one book a month for a year. She did it, and logged some great titles.
If all else fails, tell your kids you’ve given yourself reading homework. Chances are, they’ll be happy to hold you to it.