Welcome, to sleep training your toddler, when you’ve had little sleep and suffer from an anxiety disorder. This is my life now.
I remember when my anxiety disorder first reared its ugly head. I was in the 6th grade, and it seemed an insurmountable, unmanageable thing. I remember crying to the point of heaving, my breathing hitched and struggling, all signs that I was in a spiraling panic. I could only imagine then what it must have been like for my parents to see me in such distress, what it must have been like for them to stay strong. I’m currently getting my first taste, however small, of just how difficult that must have been.
Sleep training has been challenging to say the least. I’m using a very gentle method, but it still involves my toddler crying. I’m no novice when it comes to handling my toddler’s tears, he uses them on a regular basis, both when they’re warranted and when they’re manipulative (I know the difference, because the second type results a sly smile and a very sudden change in mood the second he gets his way). However, no matter how accustomed I have become to the tears of my little toddler dictator, hearing him cry at night never gets any easier.
I’m currently telling him that I’m off to clean my room and will be back to check on him in 5 minutes. By the five-minute mark he’s usually done crying (or rather done forcing the tears out and shrieking in intervals to see if an eardrum rupturing decibel of scream will warrant the response he wants) and I return to his room to find him sleeping soundly. It’s a completely different story when he wakes up in the middle of the night – the same technique doesn’t work for either of us when this happens. He seems to be refreshed enough to give the screaming and crying a heartier go, considering he’s had a decent REM cycle and is rip roaring and ready to go at my nerves again, and I’m all frazzled from sleep and don’t seem to have the same resolve as I had at bed time. I wonder how it is that his sleep has refreshed him, and mine has only weakened me.
It’s this night time waking that usually renders me useless, the stricter mom version of myself nowhere in sight, and I end up getting into bed to cuddle with him. It’s the crying at this time of night, coupled with the hitched breathing, the slight hyperventilating, and the pleading for “mama” that flashes me right back to being a kid, being terrified and desperately wanting the comfort of my mother. It’s this type of crying that sends me into tiny fractured little pieces as I imagine my child panic stricken and helpless to calm himself. It’s this time of night that the flash backs are just too strong and I can’t resist folding to his demands and holding him close. It’s also around this time, right as I crawl into his bed, that the little terror expertly wipes his tears away, smiles at me like everything is totally fine, and says in a demanding voice, without a single hint of panic or tumultuous emotions, “lie down mama!”. That’s when I know I’ve been had, played by a toddler who somehow seems to know just how to pull at the right strings.
I fall for it. Every. Single. Night.
I fall for it simply because the crying breaks my heart, and reminds me of a time when I felt helpless and alone.
I finally understand how hard and heart breaking the school drop offs, and the almost daily phone calls from the school office must have been for my mom. For so many years she was so strong, and often times I was mad at her for not giving in – I thought it was mean. But now I understand that it was strong. If she hadn’t done it, I would have failed out of school, I would have been an agoraphobic shut in. I wouldn’t have made it to where I am today. But now I know just how hard it must have been, because I’m not experiencing even a fraction of what it was she had to endure, and I’m in pieces because of it.
I know that at 2-year-old’s bedtime antics aren’t going to make or break it. I’m not saying I need to be stronger so my son has a better life because his nighttime habits are going to ruin his life at this stage – he’ll get to a better sleeping pattern eventually. What I’m saying is that I can truly, finally, glean a little bit of what my mother had to go through, and holy shit, she must be superwoman and just forgot to mention it the last 30 years.
So here’s to strong parents everywhere. You are amazing. You are the backbone of your child’s life. You are seen, you are heard, and you are SO freaking appreciated.