They say forewarned is forearmed. Knowledge is power. Knowing is half the battle. And, for the most part, I agree: it's always better to know something... almost. There are exceptions. I don't like knowing how magic tricks are done (it's usually far less exciting than you imagine it to be). I don't want to know how Ms. Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter is as fabulous as she is because I just want to bask. And, sometimes, knowing something ahead of time does more harm than good. So when it comes to parenting, there are things I'm glad no one told me about sleep training.
Of all the parenting stuff I've done — and in seven years it's been a lot already — sleep training is one of the worst. For starters, you can't make a child go to sleep. It is physically impossible. For another, sleep training is done at the end of the day. You know what I absolutely don't want to do at the end of a hard day of parenting? Extra-hard parenting. It also sucks to end your day on a sour note and, when it comes to sleep training it's a veritable cacophony of sour notes.
Knowing this ahead of time would not have made things better, because there's nothing you can do about it. It's something you just have ride it out. So here are the things that are best left in the shadows:
How Difficult It Would Be
Before I had kids, I watched countless episodes of Supernanny and sleep training was a recurring theme. Somehow, seeing parents break down into sobs as their temporarily demonic children would shriek like banshees and charge out of their rooms over and over again was not enough to make it sink in that, yes, this process can absolutely break you. I did that typical "I don't have kids, but here's what you should do about your kids," smug thing and assumed that if I just stuck to a routine I wouldn't be one of "those" parents. I was wrong, and I was absolutely one of "those" parents.
It's best I didn't know what was ahead of me, though, if for nothing else than to learn a lesson in humility.
What Works & What Doesn't
I'm convinced that the only difference between my first strategies at getting my kids to sleep and the ones that ultimately worked was time. They were all good strategies! Strategies that worked for lots of other parents I read up on or directly asked. It's not that the techniques themselves were bad, they just didn't work for my kid when I tried them. They had to be ready/worn down to the point where they realized I was serious about them staying in their own goddamn beds. So no matter what I'd tried first wasn't going to work and, eventually, anything would have. But the idea that your child being ready to succumb to the bedtime routine isn't exactly comforting and is best left a mystery.
How Long Bedtime Would Take
My husband once filmed a bedtime routine with our very stubborn son: we'd put him to bed and he'd immediately come out of his room, at which point we would simply put him back in his room.
The child screams like the kid in The Exorcist for approximately 80 of those minutes. The other 10 minutes he's just laughing at us, which is somehow more infuriating.
No good would have come from knowing that ahead of time.
How Long It Would Take As A Process
In addition to bedtime taking forever, it took months of that before the kid finally settled the hell down. Now, not knowing when it was going to end was maddening, but at least I always had hope that "tonight will be the night it finally stops." Knowing ahead of time that this was going to be my life for at least five months would have been soul death.
It's Not A One Time Thing
Oh yeah. Kids need different things as they get older. So when I decided that my 10-month-old wouldn't co-sleep with us anymore, that was just one kind of sleep training. Then we did the sleep training that involved no more nursing him at night. Then we had to figure out how to sleep train a child who had learned to climb out of his crib.
New challenges require new solutions... and there were so many challenges. The happy times in-between those challenges were so blissful and restorative, I would not have welcomed the knowledge that it wasn't going to last.
How Much My Child Would Scream
Just... oh my God.
How I'd Feel Like Sh*t
Because there's only so long you can make your child cry before you do feel like a flaming pile of garbage! And there's a cycle of exactly what kind of garbage you feel like. Guilty garbage, ill-tempered garbage, despondent garbage, weak-willed garbage. I was like a human dumpster brimming full of garbage and emotions. There's no logic-ing your way out of that, either. You just have to feel your feelings and eventually cope.
How I'd Lose My Sh*t
Everyone has a breaking point, and with sleep training you discover that breaking point, like, basically every day. In a best case scenario it's after you've finally gotten your child to sleep and you can just sob into a pillow on your couch until it's time for you to go to bed.
How I'd Definitely Low-Key Throw My Child Into Bed A Couple Times
Not dangerously or maliciously or anything. But sometimes, after you've picked up a screaming toddler 97 times as he kicks and screams, on the 98th time you're eventually going to casually toss them into their bed to avoid another kick in the boob.
Every Kid Is Different
All of these sleep training stories come from my first child. You know why I'm not talking about my second child? Because sleep training her was a breeze.
"Go to sleep, kid."
"OK. Good night. I love you!"
That... was it. Sure, she got out of bed a few times, but it was and never has been the torment that was sleep training my first child. This revelation was such a relief and it's best that no one ruined the (amazing) surprise.
How Easy Bedtime Would Be One Day
Look, I know some people for whom bedtime remains a struggle for years. But, eventually, everyone will get to rest. For my 4-year-old and an almost 7-year-old, bedtime is *knock on wood* pretty simple. We read stories, give a hug and a kiss, and leave the room. That's it.
Trust me: I don't mistake my good luck with good parenting. Like, yeah, my husband and I set the tone and expectation, but that's probably only 30 percent of it. The other 70 percent (at least) was that our kids eventually broke down.
If I'd known, while I was in the thick of sleep training hell, that it would one day be so straightforward, I probably would have longed for it too much. I would have resented the absence of peace and harmony because I would have known it was possible. I genuinely didn't when my children were at their worst — or, rather, I knew it but didn't believe it.
So even now, with sleep training mostly behind us, every evening of calm is like a pleasant surprise.