Aspen was just transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed at almost 3 years old when that snuggly little baby wanted to sleep in bed with me. She was so cute, my bed was big and lonely, and they don’t stay babies forever so I welcomed her in my bed.
Then Covid hit and otherwise spacious areas in my home all of a sudden felt confined, like my bed, for example.
I needed to move Aspen out of my bed and into her own – permanently.
I thought a good time to transition would be when we left Los Angeles (where we’d been quarantining) and returned to our St Louis home where she no longer had a crib (I gave the crib to my sister and Aspen was so proud and excited that her first cousin would be using her crib. One point for mom.) We talked all about how she’d be sleeping in her own bed all by herself.
That’s not what happened.
Back in St Louis, Aspen would fall asleep in her toddler bed, but only if I was laying next to her (and I don’t have time for that, the dinner dishes won’t do themselves!).
Aspen would wake up at least five times before 9pm Screaming. Bloody. Murder. (Repeat previous paragraph.)
Each time she’d BEG to sleep with me and I’ve never heard so many creative excuses in my life to promote her argument: she has to potty, she’s thirsty, she’s hungry, she didn’t finish her dinner, she saw a monster, she heard her brothers, she forgot to brush her teeth (no she didn’t), a toy was in the wrong spot, the blanket wasn’t covering her feet, it’s too dark, her sound machine is on, her sound machine is off, etc.
There were many nights I’d end up in tears next to her due to exhaustion or guilt or frustration or anger or a single-mom-pity-party (or maybe a combo).
I couldn’t live like that, so it was time to bring in the big guns.
I had a talk with myself. For real, I did. I stood in front of the mirror and I gave myself a pep talk: “You are not a mean mom for making her sleep in her own bed.” “You’re not a selfish mom for wanting your own space.” “Every child is different but Aspen is like you and she needs tough love.” “You will help her by giving her confidence to sleep in her own bed.” “You know this is the right thing to do.” By doing this I set my intentions and goals to help me feel empowered.
I also set aside 4 nights for my new project where I accepted that anything could happen and I’d be prepared for the worst: the boys could wake up screaming and I’d have to sooth them back to sleep while trying to also sooth Aspen. I wouldn’t die of exhaustion after only 4 consecutive sleepless nights, I mean I’ve had three newborns within 18 months – it’s gonna take more than that to kill me.
I really struggled with the tough love. Aspen thrives on structure but she constantly pushes the limits – so sometimes I mistake her resistance as being too hard on her, but in reality she’s testing her boundaries with me.
We continued our normal bedtime routine: brush teeth, go potty, read a book, say prayers. Then for the sleeping part.
During ‘Project Get My Bed Back’ I wouldn’t lay with her or next to her. I kept her door open, put a nightlight in the room, made sure she was comfortable and set out on my mission.
I encountered a lot of “get-ups”, a TON of screaming, and the twins even woke up a few times. I responded with picking her up and putting her back in her bed, nicely at first but if she kicked and screamed then I had to be more forceful. I raised my voice a number of times (I’m still not sure about this being the right method but it worked for her), but each time she would lay back down and eventually fall asleep.
Every night exponential progress was made much to my surprise and delight. The first night was so terrible I never expected such incredible results on night 2. And after the fourth night she was falling asleep and staying asleep in her own bed all night, and almost every night since then (I mean she’s still a toddler, she’s still going to have hiccups).
Each morning she wakes up she comes into my room and asks if she can go downstairs. I look at the time, if it’s after 6am I let her go downstairs. She unplugs her IPad, grabs the chocolate milk out of the fridge that I made the night before, and sits on the couch by herself until I get the boys out of the room between 6:45-7am. If she slept in her bed all night I’ll make her a second chocolate milk as a reward, but this will eventually be phased out.
And for those of you asking about her schedule (she’s 3.5) here it is:
6:30am Wake Up/lounge/IPad
8-10:30 Play Time
10:30-11:30am Lunch (somewhere in this time I’ll give her lunch. I don’t give her snacks because she eats like a bird.)
12-2pm – Quiet Time (I rarely allow an iPad, I encourage books or quiet pretend play)
1-2:30pm Nap (I tell her she doesn’t have to close her eyes but her head has to be on the pillow)
2-4:30pm Play Time
6pm – Bedtime if she didn’t take a nap
6-7pm – Mommy time (we usually bake or cook and might swim)
7pm – Bedtime
Do the boys share a room: Yes. They are used to each other for the most part but definitely wake each other up. Sometimes they play too much and skip their nap. They would definitely sleep better if they had their own bedrooms but I think it’s important for kids – especially twins – to learn how to share a bedroom when possible.
Do I think all the change in my life made it harder for Aspen to sleep in her own bed?
And does her father follow the same routine? Yes and no. Yes, because change is scary and she wants to be close to her safety – her mama. But no because kids are resilient and she will associate certain activities and routines with my house so it doesn’t ultimately matter what her routines are elsewhere (although ideally they would be identical).
How did you get her out of her sleep sack? When Aspen learned to not only jump out of her crib, but to also open her door and go downstairs, the sleep sack became a massive safety hazard and had to go. For the boys I got smart and put a childproof door knob on their door handle. One point for mama! (The twins still wear sleep sacks because it will usually prevent them from jumping out of their cribs, but I have to put them on backwards or they will take them off.)
For kids who see the sleep sack as a security blanket try putting it on without zipping then transitioning to just keeping in bed beside them (like a blanket or lovey).
How do you get her to sleep past 6am? This is a struggle some days. Sometimes I will let her wake up as early as 5:30am but this is rare now. I have used the Hatch Baby alarm clock/wake clock/white noise and that helped train her.
How do I handle sleeping between time changes? I give my kids one free day – the day of travel – where we don’t follow an eating or sleeping schedule then the next morning I try to get back on schedule. Sometimes going back in time can be hard on them (so the two hour time difference going from St Louis to California) and I’ll relax the second day as well. But by day 3 we are fully back on track.
Have I seen Supernanny Jo Frost? Yes and she is a miracle worker. I too have a Supernanny, Ashely Estrada (who lives with us), and even she is impressed by Jo. Jo, you have an open invitation to take over my household at any time! I mean that!
Will my kids go to preschool in the fall? Yes, the twins will go two days a week for 3 hours and Aspen will go five days a week (two days for 3 hours and three days a week for 6 hours).
Is it important to you that their father implements this plan as well?: I have had to learn to control what I can and let go of the rest.
Do I miss my kids when I don’t have custody? The handoffs are eerie and bittersweet. But the first 24 hours are a NICE break. After that I miss them so bad I feel it in my bones.
How do you deal with kids who don’t understand rewards yet? Lock them in their room! (Cue maniacal laughter…) But really, that’s what I’d do – as long as they aren’t terrified and it’s done safely. This wouldn’t have worked for Aspen because she would be TERRIFIED but it works for my twins perfectly.
Does having someone else in my bed impact her? Probably… we talked about it before she saw it happen. We talked about how it would make her feel, about how a man would be in my bed sometimes and I’ll always tell her first so she’s not alarmed, etc. She’s so young so I think that helps. And she likes seeing me happy. She’s also really into weddings and babies and seems to be confused why mommy isn’t married (my boyfriend doesn’t live with me) but in her mind her daddy is married (her father’s girlfriend lives with him). So I think she understands the concept of grown-ups having partners and this making grown-ups a happy family.
Will I consider writing a book? Yes! I am in the process of doing so. But tell me, what kind of book what you like me to write?