Use A Pacifier to Soothe Her to Sleep?


I had dinner with one of my closest friends the other day and we walked out of the restaurant into the blazing, devastating heat and slowly made our way into a Whole Foods at Union Square just to survive. While we walked around the Whole Foods, going down the escalator, wandering through the aisles, then going back up the escalator to start all over again (it was cooler downstairs than up), our conversation soon turned to parenting.

She had just spent a couple of weeks taking care of her new niece and explained one of the challenges her sister was having. Her niece, let’s call her Sara, had been having trouble sleeping through the night, waking up 3, 4, even 5 times a night. Sara’s grandmother was recommending giving her a pacifier so she could learn to soothe herself at night. But Sara’s mother didn’t want to use a pacifier for a number of reasons. And, understandably, she liked being the one that could make her little girl feel better, feel safe enough to go back to sleep. I know I love that feeling as well.

Of course, the problem was Sara and Sara’s mother were exhausted, neither of them getting enough sleep. My friend and I talked about whether my wife and I used pacifiers (which we didn’t) and what my thoughts were. Fortunately, I had one of those moments of insight and understanding. Sara’s grandmother was right that Sara needed to figure out how to soothe herself at night, but it didn’t have to be a pacifier.

When we tried to help our kids sleep through the night, we tried a number of things and finally found some that worked for each of them (because of course, it was different for each). For my girl, she used an Elmo stuffed animal, while my son used a blue woobie (a very small blanket) with satin edges and a little teddy bear in the middle. I explained that we didn’t hit pay dirt right away with both of them, though it was much easier with Lucas than with Dorit. Dorit didn’t like the woobie she had and finally we realized she felt connected to Elmo and that helped.

The truth is it is so much of trial and error. We tried something for a few nights and if it didn’t help we tried something else. If it did and they slept through the night, we didn’t change anything at all until it stopped working…we didn’t change our clothes, we didn’t shower, we changed nothing. We were so relieved when they slept through the night we would do anything to replicate it.

My friend yesterday let me know that they found a woobie for Sara and that both mommy and little girl are sleeping much better. Who knows how long it will last (I hope a LONG time!), but it was a nice reminder that parenting is so much about problem-solving and about trying to hear what our children are telling us in their own special way.

It also was a pleasant reminder that there isn’t a right way to do this parenting thing, only a way that works best for our families.

Do They Love Me?

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

You know that line from Fiddler on the Roof when he asks her after being married for 25 years??? “Do you love me?” They had an arranged marriage, but have been together so long they have grown to love each other. He knows it. She knows it. But he wants confirmation, he wants to put it on the table so to speak.

Lately, after 7.5 years in my life, I’ve been asking my twins if they love me, but for all of the wrong reasons and it is not working out so well for me…or them.

My kids do the same thing every night – or at least they are supposed to; eat dinner, take a shower, brush their teeth, put their clothes in the laundry, etc. And every single night they fight us on that – especially me it feels like. Inevitably, they start getting upset and crying and inevitably I get frustrated and start yelling, becoming the man and father I least want to be and most despise in myself.

I’ve been wondering why I am losing my patience so much. Certainly work is stressful, though much less so than it has been in the past year. I am not sleeping as much because I am waking up earlier to go bike riding, but shouldn’t exercising make me feel better? And our life is stressful, but no more so than it has been in the past several years. Basically, I don’t think I have a good excuse for behaving this way.

Except that I’m not really feeling like my children love me. My wife’s sister is staying with us and all of a sudden I feel like I’m ranked third or even fourth (sometimes they would rather be with themselves than with me) in my own house with my kids. Before I know it, they start acting out and I start getting so angry.

Even on the nights when I come home from work determined not to yell at them, something always seems to happen. It makes me feel so helpless, so hopeless, and I become so hateful of myself. Aren’t I a better man than this? I had always thought so.

Fundamentally, I think the problem is I don’t seem to feel loved by my on children. Maybe it is because my wife’s sister gets so much more attention and they would rather be with her than with me. Maybe it has a lot to do with my own childhood and not feeing loved there and it carrying over to my present – especially when you factor in Mother’s Day, one of the hardest days of the year for me because my own mother hasn’t talked to me in decades I can see how I would feel not loved and that when they pay less attention to me, it makes me feel less loved.

To make matters worse, when they behave badly it is confirmation to me that they don’t love me, that they don’t care about me. If they loved me, they would be behave better. If I loved them, I wouldn’t yell at them they way I do. It is becoming a vicious cycle with neither of us winning. If someone yelled at me frequently, I wouldn’t want to be with them either.

Somehow This Was Forgotten In Parenting Class

By Jeremy G. SChneider, MFT

I have been sick (yeah, sick enough not even to write) and knew I was starting to feel better when for the first time in a week, a post began to write itself in my head last night. Lately, I have been thinking more and more about the benefits of being a parent – especially a father – because so many men only hear about the negative effects of becoming a father without hearing the positive ones, the little moments that make being a parents so special. Unfortunately, the last couple of nights we experienced one of those moments of parenting that makes it so difficult. We listened to Lucas cough and cough and cough.

He has been fighting the tail end of a cold for several weeks it seems like. If it wasn’t for the cough, he seems perfectly healthy – no fever, no congestion, no aches and pains. He has been running around and having a great time – except for the cough that won’t go away. Frustratingly, in the past couple of days the cough has gotten worse – even though he still seems to feel fine. But it means he has been having a lot of trouble sleeping. This for a boy who doesn’t, under the best of circumstances, like sleeping in the first place.

We’ve been drugging him up at night the best we can; we’ve been giving him prescribed cough syrup with decongestant. But his cough has been getting worse at night and, of course, if he has trouble sleeping, we have trouble sleeping. The lack of sleep also worries us that he could get more sick and is also causing Dorit to have less sleep, making her more susceptible to catching something herself. The constant cough also means we are nebbying (nebulizing) him 3-4 times a day, which is no fun for any of us.

Last night, his coughing woke him up again and after I had given him more cough syrup and some Benadryl, Gem and I laid in bed listening to him cough.

“Poor little boy.”

The thing is, he has been such a trooper about the whole thing. He hasn’t fought us on taking any of the medicine or all of the nebbys. He isn’t even complaining about the fact that he is coughing so much. I am certain his throat is starting to hurt because his cough is ripping it up, yet he is not complaining. He has been going about his day the best he can and trying to get as much sleep as his cough will let him. One night earlier this week, he was coughing so bad, I went in to check on him, but he was completely asleep. He was coughing but somehow it hadn’t woken him up.

Hack hack.

“Maybe I should lie down with him,” Gem suggested.

But when we’re in the room with him, he gets distracted and doesn’t sleep as well. She knows that. I know that. But we’re desperate to do something, anything, that feels like it would help him.

Lying in bed, listening to your child cough and cough, hack and hack, knowing he needs sleep, knowing his sister across the room needs sleep, knowing we’ve done everything we can for him and we just have to wait for the medicine to kick in enough to knock him out, is one of the most helpless and frustrating feelings known to humankind.

I know it is so difficult for us parents because we love our children so much and that is such a wonderful thing about becoming a parent – realizing that you can have so much love for someone so small while your love only seems to grow as they do.

But there are moments, like last night listening to him struggle with trying to go to sleep while coughing, that the powerful love we feel foments into frustration and helplessness.

I think that is something all non-parents can probably wait to find out on their own.

A Parental Moment

By: Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

“Daddy.”

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.

“DADeeee?”

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.

“DADeeeeee?”

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.

“DADeeeee?”

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.

“DADeeee?”

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.

“DADeeee?”

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.

Making Note of My Parental Power

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

Our parental power is not something that comes up in casual conversation when we’re complaining about how out of control our children have become. In contrast, many parents talk about how powerless they feel. But regardless of what we feel, we parents have tremendous power.

Parental power is another way of thinking about the influence we have over our children. Our children – especially our toddlers and early school-age children – see us as the model for being a man or woman, for being human. What we think, what we say, how we treat them defines how they think of themselves, how they view other people, and the health of their relationships. They strive for our attention, our acknowledgment, our love. We have an enormous impact on their lives, which for many of us can be rather frightening. Mostly we think of it negatively – what if we screw up? But our parental power can also be used for good, for helping our children get through challenging times.

The power I have as a parent became very clear recently in dealing with my three year-old son who has had enormous difficulty falling asleep (without screaming, crying and banging on the door) and sleeping through the night. My wife and I have tried literally hundreds of things to help our children, especially Lucas, sleep through the night. I joke that we are currently working on Plan R because Plans A through Q didn’t work out so well – and that’s only from when we started counting. The only one that had any real lasting effect on my children was the concept of happy thoughts. However, in the past couple of weeks something else has had a powerful impact on whether my children sleep through the night. It is my leaving them a note.

I have the pleasure (and sometimes the frustration) of putting my children to bed every night. I have often believed that one of the reasons my son has had such a difficult time with going to sleep is separation anxiety. He doesn’t get to see me much during the day because I have to work and then I put him to bed at night, leaving him in the dark. Even worse, when he would have trouble sleeping, he would often wake up early to find me still at home, but when he slept well, I was already on the train, gone. I never would get a chance to tell him how great he did when he slept well.

One morning, after Lucas had a very good night going to sleep and didn’t wake up upset during the night, I had the idea of leaving a note. I found some construction paper and some fabric markers and wrote him a note – including a stick figure (I am a terrible drawer – I can’t even call myself an artist). Later that day, my wife told me he loved it – especially the terrible stick figure drawing. The incentive of the note encouraged Lucas to go to sleep and sleep through the whole night without any problems for 10 straight nights and challenged me to keep coming up with new ways to say he slept through the night and new drawings for him to look at. Nothing else I have ever tried has worked that well (including bribery efforts).

Even more interesting, the nights where I have forgotten to remind him about the note, he has had trouble sleeping, getting upset and banging on the door. But when I remembered to remind him about the possibility of a note if he fell asleep and slept well, he gave us not even a single peep. One morning he even woke up with a jolt saying, “I want my note. I get a note!” How incredible that something I write with fabric marker on construction paper with stick figures could hold such influence, such power for my child. It is terrifying and mind-boggling all at the same time. I think many of us forget how much power we have because it is difficult for us to comprehend. I think underestimating our power leads us to not giving our children enough positive reinforcement.

I know this experience with leaving notes has made me rethink a lot of what I do and say to my children. Maybe I don’t need to reward them as much with material things as much as showing my love, my pride in what they have done and who they are. They mean the world to me and I think the world of them. They shouldn’t have to guess that – they should always know and feel it.

Now they have one more thing every morning they can look at that reminds them of how I feel – even when I am not around.