“I’m here, you’re safe, I love you.” I patted her on the back and went out into the hall, hoping she would fall back asleep. The cries began even before I got out the door.
Youngest, like her siblings, had an ear infection every other week, at least it seemed like that was the case. Oldest was in kindergarten and Kent was commuting forty-five minutes each way to work on Eastern Time. Our day began at five a.m. and didn’t end until around nine-thirty p.m.
Since I was a stay-at-home mom, that meant I could do day and night duty—right? With three kids, ages nine months, three, and five, I was always tired, but with ear infections thrown into the mix, I was exhausted.
I breast-fed each of our kids until around one year old, so when Youngest started the ear infection cycle, I would get up during the night and try to feed her. My hope was that she would be comforted and fall back to sleep. That worked for a while, but the ear infections kept returning. I couldn’t go without sleep anymore, so in desperation I started taking her back to bed with me in hopes she would nurse, fall asleep, and stay asleep. Mistake.
Soon, she wouldn’t even consider sleeping through the night in her own bed, ear infection or not. I couldn’t sleep well with her in our bed for fear of hurting her. Kent could fall asleep on a rock and stay asleep through anything. This mom needed a solution.
A friend at church shared something that had worked with her three kids.
- Go through the regular bedtime routine and get her settled for the night.
- When she wakes up crying, instead of picking her up, make sure she’s okay, settle her back down, rub her back and reassure her, then leave her alone.
- She’s going to cry, and it will be loud, and you will want to give in, but repeat the process as many times as it takes.
- It will take three nights. Not sure why, but it took three nights with all three of her kids.
I had my doubts, but at this point I was ready to try anything that sounded good. I needed our household to get back to normal. I mean, it couldn’t be that bad if it only takes three nights. Right?
First night. She woke up crying. I went into her room and made sure she was okay, settled her back down and rubbed her back a minute or two. “I’m here, you’re safe, I love you.” Then, I left her and went back out into the hall. She was quiet a minute, probably mostly out of confusion. What’s the deal, Mom? She stood up in her crib and tuned up. I toughed it out for about fifteen minutes, then went back in and settled her down. “I’m here, you’re safe, I love you.” Back into the hall.
Before I even got out the door, she was standing up, pleading for me to pick her up. I stood in the hallway and it took everything in me not to give in and just go pick her up and take her back to bed with me so we could all sleep for at least a few minutes. But I stuck it out.
At some point in that long sleepless night, Kent woke up, came out into the hall and patted me on the back. “I’m here, you’re safe, I love you. See you in the morning.” And he went back to bed. Oh well. At least he woke up and tried.
Second night was about the same. I was having less than charitable thoughts about my friend and her miracle cure for getting the kid to sleep through the night in her own bed. The whole experience was almost enough to make me a coffee drinker in order to survive the daylight hours. Almost, but not quite.
Third night. Youngest settled down in her crib and fell asleep like always. I went to bed in hopes of getting a few minutes of sleep in before another long night. Couple of hours later, the crying began. I stumbled into her room, settled her down, and patted her back. “I’m here, you’re safe, I love you.”
Out in the hallway, I slid down against the wall in utter exhaustion, waiting for the next round. It didn’t happen. She sniffled a few more times and went back to sleep. I crept in and checked to make sure she was still breathing. She was sleeping like a little angel. I went back to bed and slept the sleep of the dead.
Percy Cerutty, running coach, had it right. “You only ever grow as a human being if you’re outside your comfort zone.” Parenting is one of those experiences where you find out what you’re made of. You can read all the books, watch all the YouTube videos, and listen to all the war stories of your friends and family but it still comes down to finding what works for your family.
Sometimes you get it right. Sometimes you don’t. But, no matter what you end up doing in any given situation there are three things your kids need from you more than anything else. They need to know:
I’m here. You’re safe. I love you.
If they’ve got that, you’re already on the right track.