Hello. I am hoping for some feedback or help ...
I had a parenting epiphany of sorts as I was putting my son to sleep an hour ago, when I realized that my behavior toward him as a "night time parent" is putting our relationship, and his sleep, in serious jeopardy. I am sitting here shaking and choking back tears because I think I've finally hit my low point with it and now I am desperate to find some answers and change my behavior as soon as humanly possible (TONIGHT!) so that I can stop hurting my sweet little boy.
He is 21 months. He has never slept well. He is a restless and light sleeper who has never slept an entire night out of my arms. He is still breastfeeding at least 2 or 3 times a night (usually more like 4 or 5) I am also a light sleeper who is woken easily, and he kicks, squirms, pinches my nipples (even when he's not breastfeeding) during the majority of the night. I haven't slept more than 4 hours in a row in almost 2 years. I am exhausted and frustrated, frazzled and so sad that he hasn't progressed in his sleep maturation much at all since he was about 3 months old. On top of that, up until about 2 months ago, I was unable to put him down for naps during the day, as well. I had to rock him for all of them. 2, 3 times a day when he was a baby and now we're down to one... but I still have to stay in his room while he sleeps because if he wakes up after a half-hour or so and I'm not immediately there, he'll get so upset that he won't go back to sleep. About 3 times out of 10, he won't let me put him down at all and I have to rock him for 2+ hours. Please don't get me wrong - there is SO MUCH about holding and rocking my son while he sleeps that has been so very, very precious to me and that I wouldn't go back and change for the world... but he is 30 pounds now, almost 3 feet tall and my back, arms and neck feel like they're on fire almost all the time. My hand and arm that his head is resting on for the nap time fall completely asleep and I sit rocking him with tears of pain rolling down my face sometimes.
I am a stay at home mom, and I work so hard during the day to be patient, loving and a calm and reassuring presence in my son's life. I am so incredibly in love with him and I struggle so hard not to lose my temper, yell at him or lose my patience. Besides my husband, who is incredibly supportive, but who has a VERY demanding job, I have no other support. I live 500 miles away from any family. So, in the middle of the night, when my little boy wakes up to nurse, then tosses, turns then tries to get up or when he wakes at 4:45 AM and won't go back to sleep, I snap. It's like I become a different person with him. All the things I struggle and usually win over during the day overtake me at night. I know there's no excuse, but I scream, I yell, I threaten, I plead, I cry, I put him in his room, in his crib and leave him crying in the dark (I've never left him in there for more than 10 minutes or so, but still... it's got to be terrifying for him). My husband sleeps in a separate bedroom because we all got more sleep that way, early on, and now my son won't tolerate my husband in bed with us at all. So, I am alone in this at night. I just don't know how to make it stop and, after last night's ugly battle, I tried to put him to sleep tonight, just like I normally do (stories, lights out, singing, rocking, nursing, etc.) and he totally freaked out. He started crying and begging not to go to sleep (and, believe me, he was totally exhausted), so much so that I ended up having to leave the light on so that he would finally clam down enough to fall asleep. I was astounded, but, a little voice inside my head said "well, what did you expect? This horrible Mommy that comes out every night was bound to effect him negatively at some point!" No wonder he is afraid to go to sleep and has trouble staying asleep. He's probably terrified of me at night time! I looked down at my sweet baby and realized I need help. I need help to change this and I need support.
I don't know who to turn to, so anything anyone has to offer, I would be so incredibly grateful. I need to do better for my son. I need to do better starting tonight. I just hope I can help him heal from this and that he'll learn to trust me at night again... Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for anything at all you might be able to suggest to help.
First off, please believe that you are already doing incredibly well for your son. You are doing all that is in your power to do. You are being warm and loving to him despite being unutterably exhausted, and you have maintained this for almost two years. It simply isn't possible to maintain that 24/7 for this length of time. It isn't that you need to 'do better' - it's that you're trying to do something that can't be done. You can't keep giving and giving and giving to another person if you can't recharge yourself, and, right now, you can't.
Here's my advice. Like all parenting advice, it should be taken with as much scepticism and as big a pinch of salt as you like. If you read it and think it's not right for you, your situation... IGNORE. If it speaks to you as being helpful, great. If not, don't make it into yet another thing you feel you 'should' do. You just don't need that at all.
Right now, I think you can either keep going as you are - nursing your little one back to sleep multiple times each night, rocking him to sleep when he wants it, and remaining so horribly tired/burned out/frazzled in the process that you become less and less and less able to give him the love he needs. Or you can support him through the difficult but possible business of learning to sleep on his own.
If you do the latter, that means setting a new ground rule: "I cannot nurse you to sleep, rock you to sleep, or hold you while you kick me in your sleep, any more. Not because I don't want to be there for you, but because I can't physically and mentally do it and keep taking care of you in the other ways you need, and these are the things that have to give. I know this will be very, very difficult for you to do without at first, and I will be there for you every step of the way, supporting you through the difficult business of learning to do without those things. But I do have to stop doing those things, because it is simply not possible to do them any more, much as we all wish it was, and so this is one of those times when, as your mother, I have to say 'no'."
Start by going through that in your mind until you can bring yourself to believe it. Tell your LO a simplified version of it - about how nursing is going to be daytime only now, about how he's going to go to sleep in his bed now, about how you will be there taking care of him. Sound calm and decisive when you say it (you may have to practice first!). Of course, at 21 months, he won't even understand much of the simplified version, but he'll get some of it.
Then, at naptime and bedtime, go through the usual routine (including nursing him right beforehand, so that he knows nursing still happens), and then put him down to sleep. He'll scream. He'll get upset. He'll try to get up. Stay calm through all this and keep soothing him. Pat him, talk to him softly about how you know how hard it is and you will both get through it. Every time he tries to get up, put him back down again. If it calms him to have you lying next to him holding him, then do that. If he's kicking too much for you to do that, stick to the patting and the talking softly. Maybe sing softly if he likes that. Keep acting very, very calmly and confidently, however little you feel it. Stay with him all the time, keep comforting him - but don't rock or nurse him to sleep.
Do this every single time he has to go to sleep, whether it's naptime, night-time, or waking in the middle of the night time. If DH is sympathetic, get him on board sharing the wake-up calls, and covering for you during the day so that you can get some sleep too.
Brace yourself for it in advance. It will feel very, very rough for a few days, and you will feel horrible for not giving him what he wants. Keep remind yourself that what you're doing, instead, is giving him what he needs. He needs a mother who has the physical and emotional energy to keep being the loving mother she is to him. If things keep going as they are, if he gets the nursing to sleep that he wants, then he won't get what he needs. He's too young to understand that. You understand it. You have to make this decision for him, to treat this the way you would treat a medical procedure that's necessary for his health - comfort him all the way through it, but stay firm on the fact that he needs it.
Brace yourself for it to go on for hours the first few times. That's not to say it will - hopefully it won't - but, if you're braced for the worst, anything else will come as a relief, and if it does go on for hours you'll be ready. You can get through this, because it will be temporary. However upset he is, he can't stay awake forever, and he will eventually end up asleep out of sheer exhaustion, and, once he's managed it the first few times it will get easier and quicker. He'll learn that, actually, nothing terrible happens to him if he has to fall asleep without nursing. That you're still there and never leave him. That you still hug and nurse him lots during the day, and laugh with him and play with him and all those other wonderful things. That this change in affairs is manageable and OK. And he will become physically better at falling asleep, because that's what happens with any skill you practice. So, things will get quicker.
Keep a record of how long he cries for each time. That way you'll be able to see how things improve. Set a period of time for which to try this; maybe five days, maybe a week; see what progress gets made during this time.
Come back and let us know how it goes, if you can, and good luck; I hope things go well. I also know that, whatever you do about this, you will still be a wonderful, loving mother to him throughout all the years of his childhood and that is what he'll remember when he's an adult, not whether you screamed back at him or whether you did or didn't nurse him to sleep when he was less than two.
I would hire a Sleep Consultant at this point.
You deserve to sleep. No one need to eat 5 times a night at this age.
I think you have gotten really good advice here. I think it is easy to get caught in a trap of trying to not let our firstborn experience any discomfort. But it does not actually serve the child well to agree with them that they are unable to be okay without you doing everything they want.
Take care of yourself. During the day get help caring for your child so you can be whole. Decide what things you are happy to do at night and what things are beyond your capacities. Your child will adjust as long as he is safe and you or his father are willing to be with him as he works it out. He will be angry with the changes but ultimately more secure with his parents confidently making healthy boundaries.
I think you are doing amazing mama! Hugs! One of mine was this way too, but not quite as rough, and I doubt it's you as much as temperament, honestly.
Can you possibly hire someone to help for just a few days so you can get a respite? I know you'de likely need to be part time night parenting, but some stretches of sleep may equall deserved sanity.
THinking of you.