Sleeping Easy

If there’s one issue in parenting that no two people can agree on – and actually there are many – it’s to do with sleeping. When should kids sleep, where, how, with whom, how often, for how long… There’s a delightful number of permutations and combinations, and no right answer.

Except mine, of course.

Some parents think it’s best to let the child sleep when she wants to and get up when she wants to. This, then, gives them endless opportunity to proudly complain about how they never get any sleep because the child is wide awake until 2 a.m. And by the time the child wakes up, it’s lunchtime!

Others proudly proclaim that their child sleeps twice in the daytime – taking a morning and an afternoon nap – so that she is wide awake and full of energy when the parents get home from work in the evening.

Then there’s the matter of putting the child to sleep. I’ve heard of bedtime stories that run for an hour; rocking, cradling, walking, and taking for a drive even in the wee hours of the night; singing; comfort objects including milk bottles which are guaranteed to ruin the teeth by allowing milk to pool in the mouth for hours at a stretch; and, most horrifyingly, lying with the child in the dark for three hours until she falls asleep (or you do).

Opinion is also vehemently divided over where the child should sleep. In India, having a young child sleep in her own room is – literally – a foreign concept. Nobody agrees on what the appropriate age is for a child to sleep apart from her parents, but the most popular consensus ranges from about 4 to 14 years. There are some people who advocate keeping the child in her own room literally from the cradle, but they seem to be exceptions, and generally regarded as lunatics by the rest of the world.

The Cry-It-Out technique seems to be unheard of here. As far as I know, we are the only people to have tried it out and found that it works.

Bedtime at 8.30 seems to be completely unique, too. And as for two-year-olds sleeping alone? Shocking! Or, depending on your degree of sleep deprivation, delightful.

I insisted in the kids sleeping apart from us for purely practical – though somewhat selfish – reasons. I need my space, a bit of privacy, a few moments away from the apples of my eyes. I need to be able to relax for a few moments at night, talk to Amit in a normal voice, turn the lights on and read a book. To say nothing of other nocturnal activities for which you don’t want the kids around. Plus, I need a good night’s sleep, so that I’m not all grouchy and snappy the next day. With two toddlers to handle, you can’t afford to be even just a little tired or under the weather.

My reasons for my other sleep strategies are equally practical and selfish. I need the kids to sleep early, so that I get the evening to relax and unwind. I need them to get up early so I can get them fed and dressed and ready for school (which is going to be a lot earlier, come June). And I need them to fall asleep promptly after lunch so that they wake up in time to go to the park in the evening, so that they get sufficiently tired to want to sleep by 8.30. Then, I have the pleasure of a quick 15-minute bedtime ritual, and a few minutes after I close the door on them, they’re asleep.

Given that we have two, I certainly don’t want to spend the whole day and half the night rocking/singing/reading/whatevering them to sleep. And synchronized sleeping is not a matter of choice for them.

I’m all for letting them fall asleep whenever they want and get up whenever they want – just as long as they do it together and not more than ten minutes away from the designated sleeping times!

Another little matter that troubled us for a bit was when the kids began to come to our room and snuggle up with us – almost every night. Did I mention I need my space? The two of them and the two of us squashed onto one 4-foot wide mattress doesn’t make for a lot of space. Add to that the constant sucking noises (both girls being inveterate thumb-suckers; don’t be disgusting!) and the neverending battle of Amit pulling their thumbs out almost as fast as they stuck them back in, and it didn’t look like anybody was getting any sleep.

The Book* says that you just have to stubbornly and calmly keep returning them to their room. I did this for ages, and finally they got the message. Now, occasionally they will come and look into our room in the middle of the night, or early morning, but, even if it’s already daylight and they are allowed in, they will stand quietly just outside and wait to be invited in. This makes Amit feel very sad and guilty, but makes me feel very proud. The Book says this will help them to develop healthy sleeping habits which will last into adulthood. It sounds too good to be true, but as long as it works for us, I’m not questioning it. They say, let sleeping dogs lie. I say, who cares about the dogs, let sleeping kids lie – as long as they’re lying where I want, when I want, how I want…

*The Book = What To Expect The Toddler Years

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