Adventures in Night Time Parenting

My son doesn’t sleep well.  He never has. He doesn’t sleep through the night, as per the textbooks, or sleep experts. He needs to nurse to fall asleep; he will co-sleep when he feels like it, but other night’s requests to be in his own bed, in his own space. He needs to have my shirt in his bed, snuggling up to it if he does sleep in his own bed.  Some nights, he needs my husband or I to rub is back or stroke his hair before he finally gives into sleep. And, yes, he wakes up countless times during the night.

This is my life. This is my night time parenting life sans sleep training, sans the societal pressure to have him on a schedule, or allow him to cry it out.

I learned quickly as an attachment parent, that many think that my ideas about his ability to sleep on his own, with my guidance, on his own terms were not nearly as accepted as some of the books that you can find for sale at your local bookstore.  I have had to be polite to friends and family as they roll their eyes, mock our belief that cry it out should never be a solution, no matter how sleep deprived you are. I’ve had to refuse advice from strangers, or well meaning relatives, who tell me what they heard a sleep expert for babies say on the latest talk show or even better, what worked for them, and their children turned out “fine”.  I mean, at the end of the day, tired, or not, I know my child, and I know what I believe in.

This isn’t to say that there haven’t been those moments where I have cried desperately to my husband after spending four hours trying to get my son to bed, that there had to be SOMETHING we could do. It’s trying in so many human ways to be that patient, and know that tomorrow night, it may be the same.  When my son was 10 months old, I bought The No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.  I wish I could say it helped, and that my son miraculously went from multiple wakeup’s to none. It didn’t happen and mainly because I couldn’t bring myself to believe that this was the only thing that would now work.  I knew that even if it did work, another regression of some sort would come along, and I’d be back at the same place.

What it did give me was some information, and a ton of reassurance. I learned about sleeping patterns, and habits. I learned that even when I thought my reserves were drained dry, there was still some oomph left in them, and I could keep walking this tired path of exhaustion.

Then something happened.  One my son’s first birthday, he gave ME the best Birth Day present ever. He slept through the night. I awoke at 5am, realizing that my son wasn’t in our bed (he’d come into the bed after his first wakeup at night) my breasts full, used to the constant feeding. I raced out of bed, into his bedroom, and he was out cold, pretty much in the same position I’d left 8 hours prior.  He had slept through the night!

We had some good months of sleep, then another regression hit, and like I mentioned before, we were back to the same place we were so many months ago. Sleep issues are cyclical, and just as we think we’re in the free and clear, nature deters us, and we have yet another parenting hurtle to jump over.

A while ago, I posted on a parenting forum I frequent, and in my desperation, begged for some solve all cures (this desperation generally hits after Night Number 8 of No Sleep, and I start to feel a little crazy…)  40 posts later, all of them telling me I was silly for objecting to sleep training, and crying it out, some even kicking me when I’m down, telling me if I don’t cry it out, then it’s my own fault.  But then, someone posted to tell me that I wasn’t alone. Her daughter was 24 months, and she had yet to sleep more than 3 nights, fully. She had also never let her cry it out, and her daughter was still nursing to sleep.  Her words were simply not to tell me what to do, but rather to tell me, “Hold on, you are doing marvellously, and your child is blessed to have you. Keep it up Mama. You are doing just fine and I get it.”

In those moments, late at night, when all I can think about is what I have to do the next day, as my son, refuses to sleep, I remember those words. I remember how my son has never been left alone at night, to just cry, while I have a full nights rest. I look down at those same big brown eyes that gazed up me so many nights ago, and sigh contentedly, sleep heavy on my eyes, and try to doze off while he finishes nursing.

Coffee is my friend. Being able to cancel plans at a moment’s notice is my saving grace at times, (I’m lucky to have understanding and empathetic friends), having a husband who ushers me off for a nap when I look like a zombie. I still nap with Matteo when I need that extra boost of energy.  These are the things that get me through. I have no regrets about my night time parenting. I know this is exhausting for me, but I know it’s the best for him, and I know there will come a day when I look back on these nights with sadness and wish that my son would cry for me in the night.

So here’s to all the Mama’s and Father’s who practice night time parenting, and have gotten it down to an art. Here’s to all the Mama’s and Fathers, who gently rock their children to sleep for the second, fourth, or tenth time that night. Here’s to all of us,  and let’s remember, we are going to miss this.

It’s all about perspective, right?

Danielle is lives in Alberta, Canada, with her 20 month old son, and her husband. When she’s not catching up on sleep, she can be found devouring any book she can get her hands on.

Author: Adele Grant

Adele Grant, LCSW, is an API Leader in New York City and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She lives in New York City with her husband and 2 loving and spirited children, ages 5 and 2. Adele started her career as a psychotherapist, but after having her son, she decided to become a SAHM. She now enjoys running support groups to help families create secure relationships early on so that all the early trauma and childhood deficits that she saw in her previous work could hopefully be prevented in the first place.

22 thoughts on “Adventures in Night Time Parenting”

  1. Good for you for sticking to this, Danielle! I, too, have a son who is just over a year and who loves to nurse every few hours. I thought about weaning him when I returned to work, but, in my heart I could not do it. Even though I am tired at work sometimes, it is worth it. And it is great to find others who think this ype of night time parenting is worth it too! It’s certainly hard work, but in the end, I think we feel good that we did it this way. Like you said, it is nice to know our kids are never left alone to cry at night. Sharon

  2. That’s right Danielle — we are going to look back at this time in our lives, and MISS it desperately!!! Cherish the moments, and even the sleepy moments… that’s what I do too! Matteo is going to sleep through the night eventually and he’ll be so much happier than if you let him cry himself to sleep… or scream himself to sleep.. good work Mama!! 🙂

  3. Thank you for this post! I posted along the same lines on my blog. I too get tired of people telling us we’re doing it wrong. We know why we believe what we believe. My children are so independent. They are 4.5 and 2 yrs and they are still rocked, held, nursed to sleep if that’s what it takes.

    We always say there will come a time when they won’t want to be held. We are cherishing these times as much as we can now. Sure I have nights and days where I think I won’t make it, but I get through.

    Great post!

  4. I’m glad I’m not the only one! I have noticed some people are so hurried to make their children be independent by setting them on a strict sleep schedule and forcing them to sleep alone in a room down the hall. Time flies so quickly and I want to savor every moment. So when I’m up until 11pm trying to get my 2 year old to sleep while nursing my 6 month old son, I tell myself that when they are grown up and moved out, I will miss these times terribly when I got to have my babies so close to me and they were so sweet and innocent. When my 2yr old wakes up at night crying and comes into my bed, I snuggle next to her and we both fall asleep. I sleep better with my kids in my bed, believe it or not. I know where they are and that they are sleeping. I’m the only nighttime parent… and that’s ok because my husband doesn’t share the same AP views as I do, although he deals with the kids in the bed 😉 I wish everyone would enjoy their children the way I enjoy mine…because one day they will want nothing to do with their mommy 🙁

  5. Wow, I am right there with you. I could have written your post, except my daughter is 23 months. I found Sleep Sense, which you can get electronically, to be helpful. We still have good and bad days, though. Right now her last set of molars are coming in. We still nurse in the middle of the night, usually three nights. Honestly, I will for ever feel that cry it out is not for us, but I do hope that she sleeps longer stretches of time soon, as this has really taken a toll on me. I feel like I am eternally tired and that I could be a better mommy if I was more rested. I am contemplating night weaning once the molars come through. I believe that good sleep would be benefitial to both her and I, not just me. I hope there are better nights ahead for your family.

  6. Dear Danielle, your article made me cry. I love the fact that, no matter how sleep deprive you are, you will not give in to cry it out method. Our daughter is two and still sleeps with us and still nurse to take naps. I cherish the few precious years that she is willing to be near us and would not trade in all the sleep in the world for that. You are a very strong mama and Matteo is very bless to have you. thank-you for writing this article.

  7. We’re dealing with some sleep issues right now. I can’t do CIO, it just won’t work for our family. I’m pretty sure he won’t fall asleep after screaming himself hoarse, anyway.

    I will let him fuss in protest, if I’m sure he’s really tired and has a full belly and a dry diaper and all other things. But once he gets to crying, no more of that.

    He fussed himself to sleep for a nap today. I was shocked! He hasn’t done that before! And it only took 3 minutes.

    He naps well but nighttime is a different story.

    We do co-sleep, but he doesn’t always go for that.

    I’m going to try to get him outside more during the day to see if the fresh air will help.

    Anyway, you’re not alone! Not all babies sleep the way books say the should 🙂

  8. Thanks for this article. When even your medical professionals and family members blame your child’s sleeplessness / clinginess on you, it helps to know you’re not the only one. My daughter is 28 months and is still a hearty daytime nurser, very attached to only me, and a light sleeper.

    We had a traumatic precipitous birth and her apgar was 1; sometimes I wonder if that’s where her sleeplessness originated — as a “survival” method.

  9. I too have a 20 month old who is a terrible sleeper, sleeps with us, nurses through the night & nurses to sleep. Teething, illness, milestones…all make life more difficult at night. I have less free time in the evenings, I don’t get to shower some mornings because I choose to sleep in and sometimes I feel like just sticking him in the crib in his brother’s room and going to bed by myself.

    But when the sun comes up and my little guy is well rested, happy and well-adjusted…I know I’m parenting the way that is best for my son and our family.

    We’ve been struggling through a tough time lately. I recently wrote a blog entry called “You Know You’re a Mom of a Terrible Sleeper When…”

    It’s so hard, but it will pass and he’ll be a big boy before you know it!

  10. i LOVE this.
    i had the same issues. people still tell me im wrong to have done that.
    but you know what? my son is 2 1/2. just at the age where they are supposed to be so “terrible”
    hes different, and tries to stretch the rules, but thats normal. he is FAR from “terrible”.
    i have NEVER had ONE NIGHT where i have had to put him to bed and he was upset about it. its rare that he even bothers standing up once i put him down. when hes put to bed, he goes to bed. that doesnt always mean he goes to sleep. sometimes he reads the couple of books we leave in his bed. sometimes he talks with his snuggle bear or other stuffed animals that he rotates in and out of his bed. sometimes he just lays there and snuggles in, looking around the room or out the window if we left the shade open

    but i have NEVER EVER had to put him down knowing that he was going to get up out of bed and fight it. i have NEVER had to put him down knowing that it would mean 45 minutes of crying before he actually fell asleep from the frustrated exhaustion. he KNOWS in his DNA that if he wakes up and is scared, lonely, hot, cold, thirsty, that we are THERE, and we will help him get through whatever it is. he has had night terrors, and nightmares. we have been there to hold him until he falls back asleep, even if that means that he is up on our laps in the living room until we are ready for bed. it doesnt happen often, in fact its rather rare, but when it DOES happen, our son KNOWS we are there for him. he has NO doubts.

    so, hes a confident boy, who is confident and trusting in his parents. what could possibly replace that? NO amount of sleep training could replace that.

  11. I have a 4 1/2 year old, and she sleeps through the night. And I actually do miss those days of waking at night, of sitting up and nursing her in the wee small hours. In the grand scheme of her life it was really such a very, very brief time.

  12. Healthy attitudes towards nighttime parenting are one of my favorite parts of the AP community. Sweet Pea is 8 months old, and he sleeps in our bed every night. He wakes fairly frequently some nights, once or twice on others, and, yes, sometimes I plead with him to lighten up at 1 in the morning and “juuuust cloooose your eyyyyeessss!” I wouldn’t have our nights any other way, though, because I can’t stand the idea of my baby all alone in another room, telling me he needs me and being ignored (seriously, the idea brings tears to my eyes). Sleepless nights are worth knowing that my baby feels confident that I will be within arms reach if he needs me to be, whether that’s at noon or at midnight. Great post 🙂

  13. I am always intrigued by this. I am on baby #4 and have never had a child who has slept through the night, and barely takes naps. My oldest is 17 and she had trouble sleeping through the night until she was maybe 5. We are thankful that Waldorf came into our life and brought the concept of rhythm, and that helps, but I am ever-so-convinced that babies are wise and not to be blamed for “the sleeping problem.” The problem with sleeping(or a child’s lack of sleeping) is that mothers are not supported by an extended community to help them have naps, breaks, down time, etc. We do family bed and i get much more sleep that way. I know it doesn’t work for everyone.
    Man, I’m all worked up now…I should go blog about it! haha

  14. I think it’s unfourtunate that some people have this notion in their head that parenting stops at night, like it’s a free time where your children are out of the way. For many parents, whose children sleep well, I’m sure it feels like this.
    You’re doing a fabulous job sticking with what feels right to you!!
    Good job mama!!

  15. I second and third and fourth and so on all of the other mamas here. My little guy is only 8 mos. old but I cannot tell you how many other moms have told me just to let him CIO.

    The nights are very long and sometimes very very frustrating but it is so very helpful to know that there is a group of women out there who are going through the same things as I am.

    Being a parent doesn’t stop when the sun goes down.

    Whenever, I think to myself that I can’t do it anymore, I will remember this post and all of the wonderfully supportive comments.

    Thank you. 🙂

  16. I actually came across this article in an effort to find some advice on how to get my little guy (10mo.) to sleep for longer stretches (more than 2 hrs). I will not allow him to CIO and attempted night weaning for one night. He cried and fussed and slept even worse and then I got Mastitis – so I am not going to night wean. I love sleeping with him and know he wants and needs his mama. I just feel encouraged that I am not the only mom out there who even though sleep deprived still chooses to do what she feels is best for baby. And like you all said…in retrospect it is only a short time. I have to daily remind myself of this….one day I will want him back in my arms!

  17. Thank you so much for this – I really, really needed this today. My beautiful, amazing and inquisitive, aware daughter will be one in a little under 2 weeks and has never slept through the night. She starts off in the crib, might go back for another hour or two and then is in with me (or us) depending on if hubby opts to sleep some where else for some rest. Her record least amount of waking was twice a few nights, and she has slept 4 hrs more often in the past 6 weeks (even 4 1.2 hrs once or twice – woo hoo!!) but usually it is 3 hrs at the beginning, and then every 1hr 1/2- 2 hrs after that. I can’t do CIO! and did try the controlled crying for one or two nights around 7 mnths, when we had moved country and I was exhausted, but doesn’t feel right. Naps are good, but nights – especially after 2am are restless & tiring. Yet, I have to be there for her, I can think of no other way. Thank you so, so much for the support and understanding!

  18. Danielle,
    I know of many many mothers who simply don’t tell people about the overnight waking of their child because they know they will get a flood of unhelpful advice. Congratulations to you for being able to see that some little people need closeness over night and that parenting is a day and night job. You know she won’t be in your bed when she’s in her teens and you will be able to look her in the eye and tell her you didn’t leave her to ‘cry it out’ despite societal pressures, you allowed her the closeness she needed. Be sure you keep all these comments for her 21st birthday!
    I live in Australia and work in early parenting, I have a small book and DVD on how to help your baby if they WANT or NEED to move from your bed to their own, which sometimes happens. It is gently and considerate of the baby, endorsed by James McKenna and Dilys Daws in 2006. If you would like a look go to
    Well done Danielle for not allowing others to parent for you, depite your extreme exhaustion, you still put your babies needs first, I congratulate you.
    With respect

  19. WOW, what a wonderful article, i cried whilst reading it. Just what i needed to read for reassurance. Thank you so much. From a very tired, happy Mum xx

  20. Just as pp – I cried when reading it. Was searching for an article with tipps on how to make them sleep better, longer 😉
    We are going through one of those phases. Now I’m sure I can get through it without crying but with rocking and nursing… and nursing… and rocking…. Thank you!

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