Good habits

Remember that song “So Young” by the Corrs? The chorus went like this:

And it really doesn’t matter that we don’t eat
And it really doesn’t matter if we never sleep
No it really doesn’t matter
Really doesn’t matter at all

‘Coz we are so young now
We are so young, so young now
And when tommorow comes
We can do it all again

And it was huge when I was a young pre-teen and now I think it sort of captures that whole period of life when you’re an adult but have no real responsibilities, and it was fine to yeah not sleep and eat chips a lot and whatever. When my husband and I first moved in together we were in our final year of law school and we would stay up late binge watching tv (on dvds hired from the library, this was BEFORE NETFLIX wow I feel old now), and sleep through our first lectures and fuck it, right? Also we once walked out of a lecture because it was so boring. Imagine doing that at a meeting!

Now we can’t stay up late because the little dude wakes at the same time in the morning regardless. I can’t skimp on what I’m eating because I’ve been tag-teaming between pregnancy and breastfeeding for the past two and a bit years. It matters that I get good nutrition and rest.

Anyway, so aside from writing this at almost 10pm when I should go to bed, there’s an aspect of parenting where you’re teaching kids the basics of how to do stuff and it feels like a refresher course. You did that stuff when you were a kid yourself, but then you let it slide when you moved out of home. Stuff like eating well and regularly. Going to bed when it’s bedtime, not when you fall down from exhaustion.

This is true too of the big parenting focus with toddlers around emotional regulation. Being aware of how their moods change depending on what else is going on in their life. Responding to that. Figuring out how to structure the day so they don’t get overwhelmed and throw a hissy fit at the supermarket. I think we neglect this in our adult lives. I know when I feel frustrated, my first reaction is to assume that there is something external to me which is objectively frustrating. Of course more often I’m just tired or hungry. Or I’m getting shitty at my husband when actually I’m annoyed about something at work, etc etc.

I think one of the reasons we did so poorly with the little dude’s sleeping for so long is that we had been very accustomed ourselves to playing fast and loose with sleep. Up late weeknights, sleep in weekends, etc. For the first few months the little dude could fit in with that, newborn sleep is a strange thing. Now, he needs to nap in the middle of the day and he needs his bedtime to be fairly consistent. Push the time out by half and hour and he copes. Push it by an hour and he does not cope at all. He sleeps through the night regularly now, with the occasional exception. When we were on holiday he woke up one night and asked for “wawa” (water) and then downed his entire 300ml water bottle. We’d overdressed him and he was sweating like a little beast. Sometimes he has nightmares. He calls out for me and might say a few words that provide a clue about the content of the nightmare “doose! (goose) no moar, byebye, no, no”. A goose once approached him, hissing and flapping its wings, and it terrified him. Unfortunately we then accidentally reinforced the fear of geese by reading “Spot goes to the Farm”, in which Spot is chased by a goose before finding some piglets and kittens. Therefore, nightmares.

When he gets tired, he doesn’t wind down, he winds up and then if something frustrates him he will burst into tired tears. If he’s had his bath and is in his pyjamas, sometimes he will reach for his sleeping bag before we’ve finished reading stories, but if we haven’t done all the sleepy-prompt routine he’ll just keep going and going until he reaches the point of meltdown. Probably the best meltdown was that time, also on holiday, where he became inconsolable at the idea of moving on from the “O” page in his alphabet book. He just kept crying “O! O! O!” and eventually we’re like, ok, you’re tired, no more stories, putting you into your sleeping bag now and he still cried out for the O, right up until he eventually hiccuped himself to sleep while I knelt uncomfortably by the portacot rubbing his back and going “shhhh”.

Funny right? But also not funny. What works best for getting him to sleep is singing a lullaby after the last story (tricks him out of asking for one more story), then into the sleeping bag while still on the couch, then I’ll carry him through and put him in his cot and stand there doing a babyified version of a sleepy meditation that I’ve used for ages. His version goes like this “you have sleepy feet darling. Your feet are so tired. Your feet want to lie down and go to sleep…” all the way up to sleepy eyes and head, and then I’ll just say “sleepy sleeps, goodnight sweetheart” a few times and he’s usually snoring by then.

Apparently I was a terrible sleeper as a baby and toddler and basically throughout my childhood. I remember lying awake thinking of excuses to get up and go through to the lounge when my parents were up and it was way past my bedtime. I remember reading in bed and diving to turn off the lamp when my dad walked past the door. I remember having absolutely no idea how to switch my mind off for sleep. Dad told me to tell myself stories, which didn’t work, because I’d get caught up in the narrative and keep myself up instead.

The little dude seems to take after me in this respect (his dad falls asleep instantly, anywhere. WHY DOESN’T HE TAKE AFTER HIS DAD?!). I never learnt how to make myself go from tired to sleepy until I started yoga when I was 14. I went to an evening class, 7.30pm – 9pm and I would often fall asleep in the 15 minute guided relaxation that the teacher would do at the end of every class. It was like a miracle for me, learning how to unlock a sense of mental relaxation that could let me drift to sleep. Which is why I use the baby version for the little dude.

Anyway, longform.org recently had a collection of interesting articles about sleep. People say about baby sleep “don’t worry, they all sleep eventually”, but actually lots of adults have sleep problems. So as a parent, you wanna encourage them to have healthy sleep habits just as much as healthy exercise and eating and emotional regulation. But most of the “do something or they will never sleep” advice is kinda harsh. Like, leave them in their cot and ignore them. That seems to be roughly the equivalent of not offering them foods they like and letting them get so hungry that they eat whatever is in front of them. Or the emotional regulation equivalent of putting them in time out without explaining why. It doesn’t match up with my common-sense filter of thinking, wait, what is going to work long term to teach them this life skill? How do we encourage them to want to try different foods? To want to examine their emotional reactions and channel their anger appropriately and communicate their feelings in a way that respects others? To be able to recognise when they need sleep and want to go to sleep when they’re tired? How to we make these things come across as part of a good life, rather than a meaningless directive to be resisted?

On that note, I should really go to bed now.

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