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.