The slumber crunchers
We have had three children in five years, so my husband and I like to think we have mastered some of the main parenting challenges. We can wean a baby, toilet train a toddler and get our young children to eat vegetables without a word of protest. And of all of this we are rather proud.
But there is one parenting technique that we have never been able to master: sleep training. It is why our one-year-old still wakes three or four times a night, and why our three- and five-year-olds find their way to our beds at some point in the night several nights a week. It is also why my husband and I have not had a decent, uninterrupted night's sleep in five years.
We used to blame the children, of course. We used to tell ourselves and our friends that we just seem to produce children who can't and won't sleep at night. Or at least not all of the night. But I am beginning to think that our inability to sleep-train our children has something to do with it. The problem is that sleep training involves leaving a child to fall asleep alone. The theory is that once they can fall asleep by themselves, if they wake up in the night they will be able to put themselves to sleep again. So there will be no need to disturb their peacefully slumbering parents.
In practice, at our house anyway, sleep training involves trying to leave children to scream themselves to sleep. It is not something my husband and I have ever been able to do. Not with a three-month-old, not with a three-year-old. Leaving our children to soothe, or in our instance, scream themselves to sleep only leaves us with hysterical, red-faced children whose pyjamas and cot sheet have to be changed because they are soaked with tears. It is not a pleasant experience.
Come 3am, when you know the alarm clock is set to go off in three hours' time, dealing with a screaming baby or child is not going to get anyone any sleep in the short term. Which is why my husband and I have always relied on what we know will get our children to sleep as quickly as possible.
This is why our one-year-old is still breastfed to sleep. I have made a rod for my own back, but it gets him to sleep as easily now as it did when he was a newborn. It does mean that from five in the evening until about seven in the morning, he won't let anyone else near him apart from me. Hand him over to my husband or one of my helpers during that time slot and he screams. I always assumed that, once weaned, he would sleep through the night.
But I am beginning to suspect that even when eventually weaned, he is still going to need the comfort of mummy to fall asleep. It's also why our three- and five-year-old won't go to sleep unless we stay in their bedroom. When our five-year-old wakes, he makes sure to come into our room. As he told me the other day: if you don't stay with me I will come into your room.
Our three-year-old is going through a wet-the-bed-nearly-every-night month. If we were skilled at the sleep training, we would get up, strip and change her wet bed, change her wet pyjamas and put her back to sleep in her own bed.
We would put her in her own room regardless of how much she cried and screamed. But when it's dark and it is all we can do to drag ourselves out of the warm refuge that is our bed and change her pyjamas, I let her climb into our bed because I know she will soon be fast asleep between us. The sleep training can wait another day.
At some point we are going to have to sleep train all three. The lack of sleep is getting tough and the five of us cannot sleep comfortably in our Hong Kong-sized bed.
My husband asked me what I would like as a present. I told him I would like nothing less than 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep. So a night by myself in a hotel would do just fine. We laughed. You can dream, he told me.
Rebecca Tomasis is a mother of three and was co-winner of the inaugural Proverse Prize for unpublished writers