This summer has seen the end of an era: the final vestiges of toddler have sloughed away; I am now the father of a bonafide little boy.
It started with his bike. The training wheels came off in June when Felix learned to balance on his own, and that confidence, and sense of independence, spilled over into other areas. I noticed him taking deep breaths and pulling himself back from tantrums. Sometimes, when corrected, he simply said “sorry” and moved on without becoming sullen or sassing back. He talked more about feelings, both his own and others’. We were able to watch and talk about big boy movies like Star Wars without him getting confused, bored, or scared.
All of these shifts culminated in a big announcement two days ago. “I’m ready to sleep on my own,” he told me. “I don’t need you in bed with me anymore.”
I have been co-sleeping with my son for well over a year. At some point when he was 3 he began waking at all hours with night terrors, growing pains, or general anxiety about what time it was or when he’d be able to get out of bed. Add to this a bedtime routine that might take upwards of 45 minutes of laying next to him while stroking his back and whispering loving reassurances, and it sometimes felt like I spent as much time with him nocturnally as I did during the day.
Anxiety seemed to underlie his issues with sleep. Whereas most kids learn at an early age how to soothe themselves and deal with solitude, Felix required constant companionship or else he’d have a panic attack of sorts, which, when he was a baby, manifested as a tantrum. His fear was so extreme, and his will so strong, that when sleep training him, he banged his head against the bar on his crib until it raised a black-and-blue bump in the center of his forehead. At first, those antics brought us running. Then, at the advice of our old-school, cry-it-out doctor, we ignored it. Still, the head-banging continued, until even the doctor became flummoxed and suggested we do whatever was necessary to keep Felix from hurting himself at night. Fast forward a year or so, and voila! My resting place is beside him in bed.
As I wrote on Babble before, I moved from feeling self-conscious about this situation to accepting that most parents don’t really know what the hell they’re doing and at some point or another make accommodations they never anticipated making before having kids. I figured that one day Felix would tell me he’d be OK with sleeping on his own. He’d have to, right? No one brings their parents with them to college. (Besides, we’d never both fit in a twin-sized dorm bed!)
That said, I didn’t play a silent role in Felix’s path to independent slumber. Just the opposite. I made clear that while I was happy laying next to him for as long as he wanted me to, he is and always has been capable of sleeping on his own, safe and sound. I emphasized again and again, “You don’t need me next to you to sleep.”
This became somewhat of a healing narrative in the family, one that eventually Felix began telling on his own. “When I feel like a big boy,” he’d say, “I’ll sleep in my own bed, and Daddy will go back to sleeping with Mommy.”
Felix began sleeping in a make-shift bed next to mine, and only climbed in when he needed comfort. Recently, I noticed that he wasn’t joining me until the first light of dawn. “I’m so proud of you for making it through the night on your own,” I’d tell him. “I think you’re ready for sleeping on your own anytime now.”
Only one problem remained. Felix worried about how he would know if it was time to get out of bed. We solved that by purchasing an Ok to Wake! Owl. He squeezes it, and the owl glows either orange for stay in bed or green for get up and go, depending on the time. It also sings him a little message, and plays gentle music to lull him back to sleep.
With the bird in hand, the confidence of knowing that he’d made it through the night solo, and the praise and encouragement of my wife and I, Felix finally decided he was ready to go it alone. Sure enough, on his first try, he made it to 7 AM without trauma, tears, fights, or anxiety. He’s so proud of himself! And we’re proud of him too, of course. Despite our worries as to the appropriateness of co-sleeping, I’m glad that we trusted him and our parenting instincts. He just needed a little more time, is all, to achieve a milestone that many kids reach at an earlier age. No big deal.
Now my wife and I have to re-learn how to be in the same bed together. Turns out, after a year and a half of solitude, she’s taken to sleeping diagonal! I tell you, bedtime is hard around here for a dad.
Image courtesy of ThinkStock