Nighttime Parenting Isn’t Always Pretty

My first had always been a good sleeper. We co-slept through about 18 months or so, and when we moved, Little Man jumped right into his big-boy bed and that’s where he wanted to sleep.

After I had my second child, we went through a phase where Little Man would wander into my bed in the middle of the night. Which was fine for a while. Hey, if he needed some extra security or mommy time or whatever it was, I was happy to oblige. After all, he was adapting to a pretty big change.

After a few months, he would wander into the bedroom in the middle of the night, where the other 3 of us were sleeping, and start asking for trains. Or cookies. Or to go to Zia’s (his aunt’s) house. And when we would say no, a full-throttle tantrum ensued. So, the 3 of us would have to wake fully, get Little Man settled, then try to settle ourselves and the baby to sleep.

He did this every night for about a month. It had gone on long enough that we were all becoming tired, cranky zombies.

I have no problem waking with him for nightmares, for monsters in the closet, or if he’s not feeling well. But to burst in at 2:00 a.m. every night, getting everyone all fired up? It affected everyone, every day. And I didn’t want to start feeling resentful.

Okay, I was already feeling a little resentful.

At a loss, I did something about it. One night, when he came into our room, he made his usual request for something he could be sure we would shoot down. As soon he showed the first signs of tantrum, I picked him up and put him in his bed. I told him he could come back in and talk to us or sleep with us if he could do it quietly, without waking the baby.

Of course, this made him wail. When he came back in, I took him back to his bed, and repeated what I had just said. By the third time, I had almost given up. I felt like I was doing a form of cry-it-out for almost-three-year-olds. But because I was inviting him into our bed and the alternative (sleepy, crabby family) wasn’t good for anyone, I decided to stick to my guns this time.

After one more round, he started to calm down. I asked him, “can you come into the big bed quietly?”

“Yes,” he whispered.

I tucked us all in.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Get trains,” he said.

“No, it’s dark down there and we won’t be able to see them.”

“Okay.” He rolled over and went to sleep.

That was the first and last time I had to do anything like that at night. Now, when he wanders in, he sneaks in quietly and nobody knows until morning. We can all wake refreshed and happy. He has his nighttime security, we have our rest.

Still, as with every parenting move I make, I can’t help but wonder if I did the right thing.

Author: Courtney

Courtney Sperlazza, MPH, has worked in health research and is currently a write-at-home mom to two of the most beautiful and charming kids on the planet. Her most recent project is baby number 3, due early October. If you liked what you read, you can find her blogging about parenting, homeschooling, winemaking and more at Project Courtney.

7 thoughts on “Nighttime Parenting Isn’t Always Pretty”

  1. Wow, that sounds really tough! It also sounds like you’re handling it with love and respect for each family member. Giving Little Man a chance to join you in bed (peacefully) may be just what he needed!

    One part of this post really resonated for me: “he made his usual request for something he could be sure we would shoot down”. I’ve noticed my 2 YO son do that before during times when he clearly has some pent-up emotions (about things unrelated to cars, trains, etc.). The resulting tantrum is often cathartic as long as I’m there to support him through it. I let him get his feelings out (scream, cry, etc.) while I sit quietly near him, then I hold him when he’s ready. I’ve witnessed some remarkable turn-arounds in his mood when we do this. It’s like he wants my help to create a safe way for him to feel intense sadness, anger, etc. This has also happened in the middle of the night, but thankfully not every night (I feel for you).

    I wonder if your Little Man is dealing with mixed up emotions about the baby. Maybe he needs a “good cry” to unload it, with your love and support on the other side. Of course, it would be a lot nicer if he did in the daytime!

    Good luck and hang in there!

  2. Love the last line – I still question every parenting decision I make. Or, so it seems.

    I think this was a very empathetic, fair, creative solution to the night-time situation your family found itself in. Way to go!

  3. Sounds great to me! Like you said, you gave him the choice to come into your bed if he could be calm and respectful… and he was mature enough at 3 to make that choice! I hope that our nighttime battles can be resolved that smoothly someday.

  4. Thank you for writing!
    We still co-sleep and when he is ready, he will go I’m sure – but he’ll be back. and this is a wonderful way to redirect. : )

  5. Love this article! You gave him the choice, and really, it was a choice that had to be made. Be quiet in our room, or be noisy in yours. The only other thing I might have tried would have been to go lie down w/him in his room. But what you did was great and I’m glad it worked so well.

  6. Hello, while your story is uplifting and beautifully written I am so concerned that this co-sleeping path I have embarked on may lead me to more long term problems. I don’t know any other bed sharing family and I think I need to speak to someone. I live in NYC and can’t seem to find any ap groups. My little one is just 3 months and I already have moments of desperation where he has physically been on my for 22 out of 24 hours. If I could just get a nap in his crib that would be a huge relief for me. We are sleeping through the night which is fantastic and I love breastfeeding while we are sleeping. But I can’t imagine what this arrangement will look like in a few months and I cannot fathom idea of years. Any advice?

  7. Oh Tina,
    Just keep in mind: it isn’t forever! It won’t ever be.
    It is just such a short time in your baby’s span of life – and you are weathering it so beautifully! If you need to get some help during the day but night time – nursing sleeping being with comforted by your presence time – it will not last forever.
    I wish I could be there – I’m about 400 miles away upstate – but there are cosleepers there, you just have to find them. And when you can’t – forums like this help SO MUCH with the sanity part of things!
    I too am Mama – 24/7. There is no 22/24, hasn’t been for 5 years.

    Not sure if yu can messae thru here but mybaby woke, and I’m back ‘on duty’!
    Blessings on you and your babe,

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