We believe in 'family' time. And 'adult' time
Meghan Cox Gurdon
The National Post asked eight "seasoned" parents to
write about an aspect of parenthood they'd wrestled with or felt strongly
about, or something that just seemed to work for them. This is the second in
our series, which will run Monday to Friday in this section over the next
couple of weeks.
- - -
I've lost track of the number of times fellow parents have
remarked wryly, "Wow, four children under seven? I guess that means you
haven't slept in a while. Like seven years."
It used to be that when people said that sort of thing, I told
them the truth. But it had an awful dampening effect. The truth made their
sympathy dry up, and spoiled the hail-haggard-parent-well-met camaraderie that
is so pleasant and friendly. So now I just smile and say, "Something like
The fact is, during most nights over the last seven years I've
slept like a baby. Not the sleep of Borscht Belt humour -- "I sleep like a
baby. Every two hours, I wake up screaming!" -- but the sleep of any adult
who has only her intemperance to blame if she feels lousy in the morning. I
certainly can't blame the children. Once we put them to bed they almost never
pester us in the evenings, and unless they're sick or terrified by nightmares
they never wake us up. They don't come down repeatedly for glasses of water,
they don't wander out of bed at 4 a.m. to climb into ours, and we never find
them crouched on the landing, waiting for us to come upstairs.
They don't do these things because they themselves are too busy
sleeping. Every night at 7:30, we tuck each baby and child into its own bed,
give it a kiss, turn out the light, and go downstairs.
And that's it.
Believe me, before we had children, I wasn't sure this was even
possible. I remember going to dinner parties and witnessing some variation of
the following scenario: There would be wheedling and mewling from a distant
room, as a new mother or father beseeched a child to get back into bed.
Eventually, Ben or Max or Emily would come toddling out, holding the index
finger of a smilingly apologetic parent. "Well, everyone, I guess we'll be
nine for dinner!" Back then I had a childless person's natural
fastidiousness, and found it amazing and distasteful that people would let
their children intrude on adult pleasures like that. One time, four of us sat
grimly at the table, our conversation dying, as, from upstairs, came a
three-year-old's persistent, "Mummmmmy ... Mummmmmy ... Mummmmmy ..."
So forgive me if I sound smug. I shouldn't, because our attempt to
impose domestic tranquility succeeded beyond our wildest expectations. Without
any idea of how to run a proper nursery, and no experience of babies, my
husband and I stumbled on a superior method of training children to sleep
through the night with our very first. Our method, simply put, is to break the
poppet's spirit before the child is old enough to remember things any other
This is how it happened: Five weeks after our first child was
born, I remember feeling rather jaunty. I'd got the hang of nighttime feedings,
and getting up a couple of times a night didn't seem such a disaster. Seven
interminable nights later, I gazed blearily into the mirror and declared that I
was tired as hell and I just couldn't take it any more.
Somewhere we'd heard that babies can sleep through the night once
they weigh 10 pounds. Armed with this probably bogus factoid, and having
noticed that our infant daughter was waking more frequently at night, and
getting more fractious by day, we decided to act, blitzkrieg-like. My husband,
who had spent six peaceful weeks in the guest bed, moved Molly's Moses basket into
the sitting room (we were living in Japan at the time, so, in case of
earthquakes, he put it in the centre of the room to protect her from falling
pictures). Around nine o'clock that night, we kissed her, drew closed the two
massive fire doors that separated our room from hers, got into bed, screwed our
eyes shut, and held hands, waiting.
Far in the distance, she began to wail. We gripped each other's
hand like drowning men. Poor Molly cried and cried. And cried. All through the
night. We were in agony. The next night, she sobbed for three hours straight.
The third night she wept for 45 minutes.
And that was it!
Six weeks and three days after Molly was born, the whole household
was sleeping through the night. When Paris came along, a couple of years later,
we had only a gloomy unfinished basement for him to gnash in at the age of six
weeks. In due course, the same happened with Violet and Phoebe, who both
learned to sleep in a pantry.
Brutal as this method may seem, I can't recommend it highly
enough. What we hadn't realized until we actually did the deed is that babies
love to sleep as much as adults do. It's no fun, those first few nights of
wailing, but once babies are weaned of the two-to-three-hour late-night napping
of early infancy, they become visibly happier, more settled, and more
predictable in their daytime routines. Far from growing up fighting to keep
themselves awake, and arguing with us about bedtimes, at 7:30 our children fall
into their beds with the kind of soft-focus happy gratitude you usually see in
Usually. With the oldest child now seven, I'm getting uneasy
intimations of a time when they may rage against the dying of the electric
light -- or may, with teenage hormones, be physically unable to sleep until
after midnight. Then we will presumably have them slouching about the household
at all hours. There won't be such a satisfying demarcation between
"family" time and "adult" time. Perhaps, when that day
comes, my husband and I will be the ones sleeping in the basement, having our
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