Shameless Boasts of a Superdad: My Kids Sleep 15 Hours a Day

Now that I’m confessing my worst sins as a father, it’s only fair that I balance that out by patting myself on the back from time to time.  Thus, I introduce my counterpoint column to Confessions of a Bad Dad, Shameless Boasts of a Superdad (me).

One thing my kids have always been good at is sleeping.  They could sleep through the night at four months old.  No midnight bottle, no crying, just blissful uninterrupted sleep from 9pm until 7am.  Both of them.

These days, it’s more like 8pm until 8am.  A nice 12-hour break for Daddy.  For more than half the day, it’s almost as if I didn’t have kids at all.

That’s not even counting their daily nap.  Until they were 18 months old, they took two naps a day, each about two hours long.  Since then, they’ve dropped the morning nap, but I can count on them sleeping reliably from 1-3pm every day.  Sometimes they’ll sleep for three hours.  A couple of times, they’ve gone for four.

I know the odds of getting even one baby who sleeps that well are pretty long, but somehow Drew and I hit the jackpot.

Go ahead.  Hate me.  You won’t be the first.  My kids’ sleep habits have made parenting astronomically much easier and less exhausting than it has any right to be.

When they’re sleeping, I eat lunch, sneak snacks I don’t want them to know I eat, write blog posts, watch last night’s “Daily Show”, pay bills, straighten up and, most importantly, take my own naps.

How did I get my kids to sleep so well?  I’m not sure.  I probably didn’t even do anything.  I just lucked out with two amazing kids.  Or maybe I’m a supergenius.  You decide.

All I can do is tell you my approach to sleeping and let you figure it out from there.

1. Yes, I’m going to tell you to Ferberize.  Yeah, I know, what a news flash.  Feberizing works.  You want your kid to sleep through the night?  Ferberize.

I’ve heard people tell me that Ferberizing didn’t work for them, but when I’ve pressed them for details, the story is always the same: they didn’t follow through.

Let me be clear: Ferberizing is absolute agony.  It goes against every instinct you have as a parent.  It feels cruel and selfish, like you’re torturing a poor, confused baby so you won’t have to get up five times a night.  But the worst thing you can do is to kinda Ferberize.  If you let your kid cry for an hour and then cave in and pick her up, then you just taught her she needs to cry for an hour to get your attention.  And from now on, that’s what she’ll do.

It’s all or nothing when it comes to Ferberizing.  But if you go all in, the benefits extend far beyond your baby’s sleep habits.

The best part of that awful night of a thousand screams is what happens the following morning.  Your kid is just as happy to see you as ever, just as sweet and loving as they were before that evening of unspeakable torment.

They’ve forgiven you.

They probably weren’t even mad in the first place.  And now they know more than ever that they can rely on you.  Just because you don’t respond to their cries, it doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned them or stopped loving them.  They know they can soothe themselves to sleep, and tomorrow their parents will still be there to love them.

In that respect, I truly believe that Ferberizing has set up a parent/child dynamic that has paid off to this day.

2. Have a routine.  I called a potential babysitter recently for a phone interview.  It was 9pm, and I could hear her 2-year-old in the background.  He was helping her bake cookies.  I didn’t hire her.

Don’t people want their kids to sleep?  Why are you engaging your child in stimulating activities at an hour when you could be sipping wine and watching Revenge?  (Full disclosure: in my case, it’s Pepsi and The Good Wife.)

We start winding our kids down at 7pm, when Daddy gets home from work.  A bath, some bedtime stories, a couple of YouTube videos, then finally, they get into their cribs…

… where the routine continues.  We recap our day, share our favorite memories, then read Goodnight Moon, turn off the turtle that projects stars onto the ceiling, give hugs and kisses, then we say good night.

By then, they’re so worn out from the bedtime ritual, they rarely make a peep.

3. Babies belong in prison.  We resisted tenting the kids’ cribs.  It seemed like we’d be imprisoning them.  Then we realized cribs are already prisons.  And don’t most prisons have a roof?

We caved on the crib tents after one agonizing night when Sutton realized she could climb out and run around in her room.  We must’ve gone back into the room and put her back in the crib 25 times before she finally fell asleep.  After that, the baby jail seemed like a great idea.

Not our kid, but they really do get this happy in their cribs.

To our amazement, the kids actually loved the crib tents.  They were excited to get in and try them out.  It felt like a bounce house inside.  It was also a step forward, a sign they were growing up.  They felt like they’d graduated to something for bigger kids.

The zipper recently broke on Sutton’s crib tent, and she’s inconsolable.  She doesn’t feel safe unless she’s zipped securely in her crib tent at night.

4. Kids go in kids’ beds; parents in parents’ beds.

I’m always shocked when people tell me their kids sleep in their bed with them because that’s the only way they’ll go to sleep.  Sure, they’re that way… because you let them get away with it.

Call me crazy, but if you’re letting a two-year-old establish a policy that affects your entire household, something’s wrong.  Don’t you want a break from your kids every night?  Don’t you want privacy when you go to bed?  You have to be hard-core with your kids.  Don’t let them sleep in your bed – ever – or you’ll never get them out.

It’s no different than if you fed them a bowl of M&Ms and whipped cream for every meal, then said, “Well, it’s the only way he’ll eat.”  Oh, God.  People probably do that, don’t they?

Lay down the law and be firm: “We paid a lot of money for those Thomas the Tank Engine sheets, kid.  Use ‘em!”

If it helps, make their bed somewhere special for them, somewhere they want to go.  Let them pick out a blanket with their favorite Disney character on it.  Let them take their favorite stuffed animal to sleep.  (No toys, though.  Beds need to be a place of rest.  Not a place to play.)

And when your kid cries and screams and begs to come to bed with you, say no.  No, no, no, no, no.  If you have toddlers, you undoubtedly hear that word a lot from them.  Well, it’s good to throw it back at them once in a while.  “You want to come to bed with me?  No!”

If your kid is used to sleeping with you, you’re going to have a tough time breaking them of that habit.  I’m sure you’re in for a few hellish nights, but I can guarantee this – once you get them to sleep regularly in their own bed, it’ll be worth it.  They’ll sleep better, and so will you.

Now that I’ve been at this a while, I feel like sleep is probably the most important thing babies and toddlers need.  If my kids miss their nap, they’re cranky and wild.  They cry, scream and have meltdowns.  Yet so many people I’ve talked to let their kids sleep “on demand”.  They don’t take naps, and they go to bed whenever they feel like it.

Then those parents tell me how funny “Go the F*** to Sleep” is.  Really?  Well, shut the f*** up, because your kid’s lousy sleep habits just might be your fault.

We’ve promised to get our kids toddler beds for their third birthday in a few months.  I’m a little nervous how the transition will go, but we’ll deal with it.  Kids’ sleep habits are constantly changing, and I think that’s why so many parents throw in the towel and let their kids dictate what they want to do.

Again, maybe my kids are just awesome sleepers and I’m the luckiest dad in the world.  If so, then I apologize for boasting, and I wish that kind of good fortune on all fellow parents, because everyone deserves a little rest now and then.

OK, I have to go.  Nap time’s over.

UPDATE: Please note that the crib tents I shamelessly rave about in this post have been recalled due to safety concerns.

http://jerry-mahoney.com/2012/05/18/public-service-announcement-on-crib-tents/

54 comments on “Shameless Boasts of a Superdad: My Kids Sleep 15 Hours a Day

  1. Boy am I ever with you on kid’s sleep patterns! I’ve known both kinds of parents… those who are consistent and teach their children to sleep and those who let the kids dictate the schedule. Trust me, consistency works MUCH better in all things… not just bedtime.

    Parents who use a consistent method, whether or not it’s Ferber’s to encourage their children to put themselves to sleep and sleep through the night are consistently successful. My sister-in-law had all four of her children sleeping through the night by the time they were six months. Throughout their entire childhood they have been able to get to sleep and stay asleep well.

    In contrast, I’ve struggled for years with my grandkids because my daughter-in-law has had the kids sleep with her and they took hours to go to sleep. My oldest grandson is 11 and he still has sleep issues although he did learn to sleep through the night in his own bed when he was four. My younger grandson is seven and it’s only in the last year that he’s learned to sleep in his own bed through some of the night. My oldest grandson spends several weeks with me each summer and bedtimes and nighttime are the ABSOLUTE WORST!!! I dread nighttime because there’s always some issue that has him out of bed 10 times and it takes him several hours to get to sleep each night. My daughter-in-law really wants the younger one to spend a week with me this summer and I’m refusing to allow the six year old to stay with me unless she’s here because his bedtime routine is terrible.

    My nephews (who are close in age to my grandsons) frequently stay with me when my grandson is here because they are all such good buddies. My nephews go to sleep and stay asleep. It’s so nice.

    Congratulations on your sleeping wonder twins. :)

    • Ugh, I don’t envy you for having to deal with your daughter-in-law’s lack of sleep discipline. If only you could lock the door and say, “You’re in granny’s house now, kids. I don’t put up with that crap!” :)

  2. 100% right on, Jerry! I anticipate you’ll get a lot of negative comments about this one. I know many people who are strong believers in “attachment parenting” and co-sleeping is a big part of that. Lots of people love to hate Ferber, too. But I’m not one of them, and my kids are like yours: amazing sleepers. Always have been. Sleeping is a learned skill and kids are lousy at teaching it to themselves. Further, I’m a firm believer that sleep is what keeps me sane, and that makes me a better, happier parent.

    • Thanks, Laurie. I’m no fan of attachment parenting, but I’ll give them this: at least those people are following a philosophy and doing what they think is best for their kids. The parents who really irk me are the ones who just don’t have any plan at all, who let their kids sleep in their bed because it’s easier than arguing with them. It’s like they’re afraid of their own kids, and nobody wins in that situation.

  3. Well, first off, congrats on your brilliant kids. I might have said that before. Second, I don’t hate you because … drumroll … I’ve got one of that kind too! I know, very exciting. We blame it on Daddy’s genes (ever thought of that?).

    I have not the faintest what Ferberizing is but I second every word on consistency, rituals and not letting them sleep in your bed. Although I do make allowances when he’s ill, depending on the severity of the situation. And always with the premise that we’ll go back to normal as soon as he’s back to normal too.

    By the way, we did the transition from crib to a normal-sized bed (2m by 90cm) a few months ago and it was no real issue. Sure, he tried us for two nights when he used his newly-won freedom to climb out of the bed about 4 times, and he will still on occasion come downstairs after we put him to bed but since we always put him straight back to bed he usually gets the message that once in bed means sleepy-time.

    Love your post as always, not just your parenting methods but also the fun way you share them. More of that please.

    • Thanks, Sandra. And congrats on having a super sleeper of your own!

      Ferberizing is basically the “cry-it-out” philosophy. When your baby is old enough to get him or herself to sleep, you stop picking them up when they cry. Maybe it’s an American thing, or maybe you call it something else across the pond. :)

      I’m glad to hear the transition to the bed went well. Getting out 4 times is nothing. Bravo! :)

  4. I too am a smug twinnie mum as I am happy to agree that my two little joys sleep happily through the night and have done since the age of 5 months. I love your tips and concur that routine, not giving in at every cry and a secure sleep area where your kids feel safe and happy is all key to a good sleep pattern. I walk a lot with my two and dance too and if that does not work then there is always the whiskey ;) Take care and great blog, much lovage :)

    • Ha! Glad to hear from another twin parent in my situation. I was actually wondering if having twins helps their sleep habits. Mine are both in the same room, so even when I turn out the light and walk out, they’re not alone and can feel secure in that. Plus, it’s much easier to get one of them to do something if the other one is doing it, too. So once one kid falls asleep, the other follows suit.

      If so, we’re lucky. Just one of the ways two are better than one. :)

  5. One of our friends had to cope with a smothered baby while doing his ER rotation and that story has always tramatized me (and stayed with me for more than a decade.) Neither of his two kids (seven and four) have EVER slept in the parental bed and they seem attached to their parents just fine. I don’t know how good a mother i will be, but I know I will not be letting my kids sleep in my bed. Glad to know I am not the only one in the world who thinks this way.

    • What a horrible story, Larissa. I admit I was scared of smothering my kids when they were little, but I didn’t know it actually happened. Yikes. Even without that, though, there are plenty of reasons not to co-sleep, in my opinion. I mean, how attached do you need to be to your kids anyway? They’re never too young to feel a little freedom, enjoy some privacy and start forging their own identities.

  6. This is spot-on correct. My kids were both co-sleepers as infants, but at a certain point during their young development it was time for them to move into their own beds. We don’t have little ones sleeping in our bed EVER, and I cringe when other moms tell me about how their kid won’t sleep without them.
    Yuck!

    • Yuck indeed. I wouldn’t have wanted to sleep in my parents’ bed when I was a kid (except for a few times when I had nightmares or there was a bad thunderstorm). Co-sleeping just seems to encourage co-dependency, in my opinion.

      • I was worried about that, but it made breast feeding a whole lot easier throughout the night, and both of my kids (almost 2 and 4) are very independent and sleep through the night. I’m happy with the way things turned out, but I also am aware that every family is different, and different styles work for different parents.

  7. I wish I had stuck with it on my daughter, she was completely content to go into her bed and go straight to sleep, until the week she was extremely sick and I let her sleep with me… one week stretched to two… two weeks stretched to two years, she’s seven now, and as much as I love my Squirt… I would love to have my bed back.

      • I have seriously thought about making a certain day for her to start sleeping in her own bed, like people who are quitting do… and making her stick to it, good, bad, or very very ugly… *sigh* maybe one day…soon!

      • Well, That certain day turned into last night… After an hour of her getting up and asking for this and that (even though she was in my bed) I finally got fed up with it and told her to go to her room and go to bed… after the initial “I’m scared of the dark” blada blada blada routine… she fell asleep… and then mommy laid down in her bed…alone… and stretched ALLLLL the way out… and passed out… Yay! Now hopefully we can keep it this way.

      • Amen to that… My hope is that there will come a time when my boyfriend will actually stay the night again… (he wouldn’t because ALL of our kids, 5 children and 3 dogs) would want to pile in my bed with us and fight over who got to sleep where (okay for his house when he is alone…not okay for my house, when WE want to be alone…lol)

  8. I completely agree. I can’t stand it when people say “I can’t bear to hear her cry for so long to ferberize her so she just sleeps with me” UGH. Suck it up! It is definitely not fun for a couple nights, but come on. Toughen up! It’s best for everyone once the kid learns to sleep on their own. It always amazes me too when people have their babies and toddlers up until 9 or later. They think it will make them sleep later in the morning or something and it never works that way. They just end up sleep deprived and cranky. It’s not fair to them since they need that sleep in order to be able to develop, learn and grow. I have a three and a half year old and an almost one year old and they both are in bed by 7 every night and they sleep until 7 in the morning. Everyone looks at me like I have three heads when I say my three and a half year old is in bed that early every night. I need that time at night to myself or I’d go insane!

    • Good for you. I’d have the kids to bed earlier, except my partner doesn’t get home until 7pm every night, and he wants to spend some time with them. All these parents who let their kids stay up until whenever they feel like it and who let their kids sleep in the parents’ bed are just letting their kids walk all over them. Kids thrive on discipline and structure, and they’ll love you just as much (if not more) if you’re firm with them. So many parents just don’t get that.

  9. I have to say,your parenting philosophy and over all style is just like mine. I feel like im reading my life when i read your blog sometimes. I haven’t got a twins i do have one little girl-who is an amazing sleeper and always has been -thank god! just wanted to say kudos to you and your fam! -Marz

  10. My partner’s 7 year old son still sleeps in the same room (not the same bed) as his mom. Finding this out made me cringe. He carries this habit with him when he stays with us for the weekend.

    Initially, when we would force him to sleep in his own bed, he would eventually come back to our room crying and convincing my partner that he should share the bed with us.. which means I don’t get any sleep. But for the last couple of months, I have successfully convinced my partner to at least take his son to the couch after he goes to sleep in our bed
    . His son doesn’t mind this at all, and Im hoping he will be willing to just use his own bed soon.

    It’s hard dealing with what habits he has at his other home.. his mother just doesn’t think it’s a big deal, and I feel like it isn’t my place to tell her how to raise him.

    Thanks for this entry.. maybe we can try some of those ideas in the future :-)

    • Yeah, you’re in a rough spot when his mom is just going to enable him. And you don’t want to be the wicked stepdad. :) Sounds like you’re handling it the best you can!

  11. I absolutely loved this blog post. I have a 6 month old and we are struggling with her sleep. I’ve got her naps down great, she does 3-4 45min-2hour naps per day and I want to ferberize but we are waiting until we move next month. We will have a bigger space and she will finally have her own room. :) we think it will be the perfect time to start the method. I hope my little bird will be a great sleeper as well. :)

    • Sounds like you have a good plan. You definitely want to hold off on Ferberizing until after your big transition, since that will surely upset her sleep patterns anyway.

      My daughter took very well to Ferberizing. I think my son cried for an hour and 45 minutes the first night. It was probably the worst night of my life – absolute agony. But he was all smiles and hugs the next morning, and the next night he only cried for about 10 minutes. After that, nothing.

      Good luck!

  12. I swear by everything you wrote in this blog, with the exception of the crib tent (and that’s only because I hadn’t heard of it until my last munchkin was out of her crib). I wouldn’t worry too much about the transition to a toddler bed — with mine, there was maybe one or two nights of trouble, but once they realized that the idea was the same, that it was where they went to sleep and that’s that, there was no trouble at all.

    And amen at the bedtime issue. My 8 year old still goes to be at 8 p.m., even though her friends all stay up later. If she doesn’t, she’s a nightmare to deal with the next day.

    • Thanks for the info on toddler beds. I’m hoping our transition goes as smoothly as yours did. :)

      Like you, I see such a huge difference in my kids’ temperaments when they’re well rested. If they don’t get enough sleep, they’re not themselves and much less fun to be around. I feel like I owe so much to our sleep schedule, because 90% of the time, my kids are happy, well-mannered and awesome.

  13. LOVE this post! I started laughing hysterically at the crib prison. HAHAH… I actually thought the photo looked more like she’s protesting, until I squint and see she’s smiling. :D Love it!

    Not sure if you have a post of how you picked your partner, Drew? Two of the youth’s career goals was to meet their husband, and I thought that was real honest, and I figured you might have some advice to share that I could pass along to the LGBTQ youth?

    Love your posts! I’m looking forward to sharing your amazing blog with them for sure tonight in my meeting and in May 9th when I meet with the group again. :D

    Pink.

  14. My babies – who are now adults – were at opposite ends of the sleep spectrum, but were both easy to deal with in the “mommy needs rest” department. My son slept so long from birth that I used to have to wake him to feed him (I know, hate me). Last weekend when he was home visiting, I had to wake him up at noon. Some things never change. My daughter started out well but at a week old she had a “non-breathing episode” (which I refer to as one of the worst moments of my life) and I checked on her every two hours for weeks. This began a pattern where she woke up every two hours. At 9 months, she gave up both naps, but happily laid down for 1-2 hours each afternoon with teddies, books and toys. To this day, she does not sleep in and can go for weeks on limited sleep – which is most helpful during her recent university exam period.
    I took my children out of cribs around 2. With my son, it coincided with a move and he wanted a “big boy bed”. With my daughter, well, one morning I heard her crib moving around the room and although I assumed it was her brother pushing her around (she loved that), it was her. She had somehow climbed out of her crib. That night, she got her “big girl” bed.
    As always, Jerry, great stuff.

    • Thanks, Paula. Loved hearing your perspective. That non-breathing episode would’ve scared me, too. Glad your daughter is OK – and if she can get by without much sleep, good for her. There are times when my daughter doesn’t fall asleep at nap time (she doesn’t seem to need as much sleep as my son), but she still has to stay in her crib and rest. And usually, she does. :)

    • She is on a polyphasic sleep! How I am trying to be one, and she is naturally habitual of it. Now I believe when they said it was natural. :D

  15. Every now and then you write something so hysterically profound I am instantly reminded why I fell in love with you.

    “And don’t most prisons have a roof?”

    And there is it.

  16. I love this post! It’s so true – I wrote an entry back in January about our sleep training experience and got a lot of mixed reactions. Thanks for the article, I enjoy following your stories and seeing what’s in store for me in the coming months!

  17. Looooooved this blog.. just stumbled upon your entire blog via freshly pressed -FYI .. this sleep one though hits home with me! my son is 20months and an aaamaazing sleeper as well, we always say how lucky we are too, and have to sometimes kick each other under the table when talking about it with other friends with kids.. i know people who let their kid crawl into bed with them all the time, son vacation kids sleep in the bed with them, he “wont” go to sleep so is up t ill 9 10 pm.. come on!! lay down the law and be strong!!
    My husband is away about 75% of the time – so when our son was young i set the “sleep standard” really high and Ferberized the heck outta my son! =) He’s the one who tried to go in when he cried, “help him” “save him” i wouldn’t let him get within an inch of his room!!
    Love your view, your so dead on, we totally could be friends in real life. lol..
    oh and PS – i love those crib tents!!

  18. I am really enjoying your column. Although my kids are grown up now I had the same routines you have with your twins and it worked for me. I always needed grownup time for just me, time to watch tv or read a book and it worked out well. I never had problems at bedtime, they knew the routine and when they were older they had a bedtime but were allowed to read in bed and then put the light out when they were ready to go to sleep. This also helped promote the love of reading so both of my kids are huge readers. Good Luck!

  19. I totally agree about kids sleep patterns. On weekends, the only time that I have my kid all day, we take 2 naps because we play so hard and get so worn out. He is 2 now, but he still needs that extra nap when he is with me.

    I will say that we co slept until he was 6 months old because I was breastfeeding and working and going to school. I had to sleep and he had to nurse, it worked for us. I am also a single mom so that made a difference too. Now at 2 he still sleeps with me about 2 to 3 nights aweek but it’s usually when I’ve been away from him longer than I usually am and need some extra snuggle time.

  20. Hmm, although I like this post, I’m going to disagree with you on the sleeping in the same bed deal, and here is why.
    My parents split up when I was 3 years old, and my brother was almost 2. I slept in the bed with my parents since I was born, and my brother when he wasn’t a newborn anymore
    After they split, both of us still shared their beds. It was in part due to the fact that we had older siblings (different father) entering their teens taking up the other bedrooms. Also because my mother slept better with us, and we did too. My father then moved into a 3 bedroom farm house with his brother and my mother’s brother. My dad didn’t trust us being alone in our own beds for very good reason, so he constructed a bunk bed of sorts in his bedroom so we could sleep beneath his bed in the bunk, or with him. My uncle in the other room also had his son sleep in his bed with him when he visited on the weekends. My aunt on my mother’s side also had my cousin sleep with her due to similar reasons. In some cases, having your own bed, especially when you are only there for the weekend, is out of the question. It is not possible.
    From then on for the next 6 years, both of my parents moved around a lot due to work, or to accommodate my brother and I being able to see both of them. They did a lot for us, often sacrificing comforts of their own to give us the best childhood they could give. For us, sleeping in their beds was a safer alternative to anything else.
    Eventually my father met a woman to whom he got married very fast. They moved in together, and we were forbidden from their bedroom all together. Even during thunderstorms, the door was locked. My step mother never kept it to herself how “discusting” and “perverted” she thought it was for a child to sleep with their parent, and would tell us how effe’d it was directly to us little kids; that was the start of the rest of my childhood, the bad part. She also forbade us from calling our father Papa which we had our entire lives. My brother stopped addressing my dad altogether. She continued to mentally and emotionally abuse us for years.
    The reason we stopped sleeping in my mom’s bed with her was simply because we finally moved into a house where we had our own bedroom, then when my aunt moved out, we each had our own. The night we both got our own was the last time either of us stopped sleeping in her bed. That was it, no struggle, no screaming, nothing.
    It has not affected us adversely once. I think it is very right for some parents and children. I don’t think it is right for most parents and their children.
    Children sleeping alone is a new age concept. Bed-sharing was widely practiced in all areas until the 19th century.
    Sorry to ramble on about my childhood.
    I respect your views and how anyone decides to bed their children, but hearing someone say “Yuck” about it is unfair. It was a common phrase my step mother would malicously say.

    Thank you again for the article, Jerry!

    • I apologize for my “yuck”. I meant it just in terms of my family and how I would’ve viewed sleeping in my parents’ bed as a kid. I realize that people have a lot of different reasons for bed-sharing, and a lot of families simply don’t have the space or the resources for everyone to have their own bed. My point was really about this whole philosophy of “co-sleeping” that’s getting so much attention these days, which seems to imply that kids are better off sharing a bed with their parents. I disagree with that, but I respect anyone who thinks otherwise, and if it works for them, great.

      Thanks again for sharing your story!

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