By: Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT
Parents deal with many issues involving their children and most of them pretty smoothly. Unfortunately, one of the hardest issues to deal with is our children’s sleep, but these challenges often happen at the worst possible moment – in the middle of the night when we are drowsy and sleep-deprived.
We’re supposed to make decisions on what is best for the future health of our children based on logic and our intelligence, but in the middle of the night we have not much of either of those, though we do have quite a bit of desperation, exhaustion and even some panic mixed in if we’re really lucky.
I think he only called out my name a couple of times before he woke me up. I lifted my head to look at the time and then the monitor just in case it can give me some insight. It is just after 2:00am and his high pitched voice comes through crystal clear. Insight does not, apparently, get transmitted.
It’s Lucas, our two-year (26 month) old son. He’s been having trouble sleeping all night, as if he has been lying in bed for hours restless but unable to sleep. At one point earlier on, my wife and I thought we could hear him banging his legs on his mattress.
I smoosh my pillow to make it more comfortable because I know from experience that he very often can fall back to sleep after a minute or so. Plus, if I seem confident he will go back to sleep, my wife is less likely to worry. At least that’s what I think.
“DADeeeee, ere are oooooo?”
Apparently, not tonight. Not when he starts really talking to me.
“DADeeeee, ere are oooooo?”
I roll over onto my back and put my forearm on my forehead staring into the darkness. “Come on, little boy,” I silently urge. “Go back to sleep.” In my mind I can easily see him standing in his crib, looking at the door, waiting for me to open it and walk in. But I need to be strong. I need to not let it affect me. Going up to get him is often not the solution. Sometimes I go up right away when he cries; it all depends on how his day was and the kind of cry. Was he sick today? Out of sorts? Is it a pained cry? Or more for attention? One night I woke up to the sound of his screaming and I knew something was wrong. I raced up the stairs two at a time and burst into their room to find he had gotten his foot stuck in the bars of the crib. Tonight wasn’t even close to that cry.
But he’s calling out my name. My name. Not “Mommy,” but “Daddy.” That fills me with a sense of pride and of pressure to figure out what is best for him.
His voice still has a sing-song quality to it so I know he is not too upset, but I want to go up and make sure he is okay anyway. I know my wife is lying next to me thinking of all of the things that could be wrong with him which only adds to the feeling of needing to handle this correctly. Does he have a fever? Is his nose bleeding? But I won’t go up – not yet. I want to give him more time to go back to sleep on his own. A little bit longer and maybe he will quiet down and at least get some rest and it will all be over, like a bad dream you vaguely remember when you wake up in the morning.
“DADeeeee, in the crib?”
I think he means he wants me to take him out of his crib.
“DADeeeee, in the crib?”
I grab my pillow and shove it up against the wall so I can sit up. I stare at the ceiling as if I can see him in the room above us. “Come on, Lucas. Just go back to sleep!”
Not only does it seem like he is not going back to sleep, but I’m getting more and more concerned that he is going to wake up his twin sister, Dorit, who is sleeping in her crib on the other side of the room. There has to be a solution, but everything I think of seems to end badly.
My wife and I go through the possible options that lay before us. If I go up and get him and Dorit wakes up, then we’ve got big problems and maybe neither of us will be able to get any more sleep. If I don’t go up he might wake her up anyway and we have the same problem. However, even if I get him and manage not to wake her up, he probably won’t go back to sleep – he’ll want to watch “shapes” (Baby Einstein’s Baby Newton) – and one of us is not going to get enough sleep tonight. Since he’s calling my name, I’m assuming that will be me and I’ve already been thinking about what needs to be done at work tomorrow and how will I do it with so few hours of rest.
But I have to do something because lying here and listening to him is like feeling something pierce my heart.
“DADeeeee, ere are ooooo?” he says once again.
“Can you turn that off?” I snap at my wife.
Something in his voice reverberates deep in my soul. My boy is crying out for me and I’m sitting here in bed listening. What kind of father am I? What kind of message am I sending him? “I’m here whenever you need me, Lucas. Except, of course, if you are crying during all of the time I am at work or when it’s late at night and you feel all alone in your room. Otherwise, I’m here for you, my boy.” When he cries out, shouldn’t I respond right away no matter the reason? Even if that is not what he, or I, need in the long run (i.e.: the rest of the night)?
Even without the monitor I can still hear him. At least I think I can still hear him and he is getting more and more upset, but I can’t tell if that’s him or I’m just imagining this out of guilt. My wife hears something, too, and turns the monitor back on to check.
“DADeeee, ere are oooo? In the crib? In the crib?”
She turns it off again and I am left to imagine what he is thinking and feeling in silence. I swear I can hear him without the monitor, but I’m not sure what he is saying. If I don’t do something he’s going to wake up his sister.
I swing my feet over the edge of the bed to sit up, not quite ready to put my feet on the floor, to make the decision to go and get him.
“DADeeee? DADeeee? DADeee? Ere are oooo? Ere are oooo?” I hear as my wife checks to make sure he is okay. But he is whining now, working himself up into a full-fledged cry. I can’t let that happen.
I quickly move out of our room, up the stairs and gently open the door to walk into their room where I see him standing in his crib, holding his woobie, with his arms outstretched to make it easy for me to pick him up. And I do.
No one grades us in these moments, thank goodness. No one but ourselves, of course, and sometimes we can be our harshest critics. But it is in these challenging moments, these parental moments, that we learn quite a bit about ourselves, our partners and our children. Fortunately or unfortunately, there are a lot of these parental moments giving us many opportunities to practice.