I Don't Need Your Advice About My Toddler's Sleep Issues

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Can I tell you a secret?

Other moms piss me off.

So I’ve decided to turn my FaceBook freak-outs frustration into a handy, informative blog post. For all y’all who have some advice to give. Yes, this is a community. Yes, your feedback is welcome. Yes, I am a huge proponent of everyone learning from each other. With one small caveat.

Before you speak, please say the following words to yourself: I AM NOT A PARENTING GENIUS. (Go ahead. Try it. I’ll wait.)

As mothers, we are inundated with information about “how” to parent, and “when” to parent, and “what” we should be doing. While this can be helpful for someone who really has no clue about what’s going on, it can be downright maddening for those of us who have tried.every.goshdarn.thing and are still struggling. Often we have kids who are atypical when it comes to sleep, or eating, or attachment. And sometimes we subscribe to parenting philosophies that are not mainstream.

So in an effort to create peace on online forums and in playgroups everywhere, I offer up “What Not To Say: The Toddler Sleep Edition.”

1) “Have you tried…?” Do not give any advice that starts with “Have you tried.” We have. If our children are not sleeping, we have probably already tried earlier bedtimes/more snack/less snack/longer bedtime routine/bath/books/new blankets/melatonin/chiropractic/quiet time. While those things may work for some kids, they do not work for all. And if all that your child needed to fall asleep was an earlier bedtime, then you are LUCKY. And you have a child who was already wired to be a great sleeper.

2) “You really need to set some boundaries for your child." On behalf of toddler parents everywhere, I have to say that making a judgment call about what we “let” our child “get away with” is the perfect way to get us to tune out everything that comes next. My child has a genuine, stumpthedoctors, sleep issue. Combined with a genuine needsmedicationforit health issue that makes him uncomfortable when he sleeps. When I drive him around so that he falls asleep for a nap, it is not because I’m coddling him. It’s because he can not physiologically turn off his “awake state,” and he will continue to play all day long (and run into things, have huge tantrums, and go glassy-eyed) because he is so tired. Just like you can’t “teach” a child to not have diabetes or a cold, some sleep health issues are physical and physiological. They are sometimes laced with behaviors rooted in sleep psychology, but the physical and the emotional are hopelessly intertwined. A doctor or a specialist can help a family to sort this out. Not you. I’m his mom. I know best. I have tried everything you suggested.

When Max was awake at 3 am (for the day) and I was driving him around town in the middle of a fucking rainstorm, I was delirious and bawling my eyes out… but I was not babying him. I was being an excellent mom. An excellent mom who had been tested, and pushed to the edge, and left alone, time and time again. Doing that is harder than “shutting the door at 8 pm” on a screaming child. We’ve tried that. Enough times to know that something was physically wrong with our child. Perhaps it was the incessant puking that tipped us off. Or maybe it was the fact that no matter how hard he cried, or for how long, he never (never, never, never) fell asleep.

Fake napping

Wait… that’s it. That’s all that I don’t want you to say. But here’s the best part. When a parent tells you that their child is having a hard time sleeping, whether it’s a baby or a toddler, here’s what you SHOULD say:

1. “I’m Sorry.” I’m sorry that you’re having such a hard time. That must be really hard. You must feel really lonely.

2. “I’m Sorry.” I’m so very sorry that your child isn’t sleeping. You must be exhausted. That must be so frustrating.

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