Sleep structure fail or a good intervention?

Javi is 18 months and four weeks old.

My husband and I alternate who takes night duty anytime my son is in a sleep cycle disruption (which is a nice way of saying “Dude is waking up through the night OMG it’s your turn!”). Over the past year and a half, we’ve settled on a parenting division of labor easily described as “your time, your call.” Longer description: when it’s your turn to be The Parent, it’s up to you how you parent.

Last night was my turn. I went to bed early knowing there was a 50/50 chance Javi would wake up at some point in the night. Isn’t it funny how 6:00 AM was early pre-baby, but now it’s “a sleep-through-the-night success”? Only in Toddler Land.

Javi woke up crying around 1. So much for getting to six AM. I tried my usual stuff — whispering through the monitor, waiting five-ish minutes for him to work it out on his own, going into his room and patting him on the back, <repeat>, changing his diaper <repeat>, turning on the glow turtle <repeat>, and finally, a half dose of Ibuprofen.

Still, the crying. I continued to intervene more and more, finally opting to take my blankie and pillow and sleep with him in his bed. (Side note: floor bed for the win, again.)

Why all the interventions? Why not just stick to letting him work it out himself? We’ve certainly taken that route in the past, but last night I didn’t.

See, his CIO MO is to cry in anger for a few (sometimes many) minutes, then settle down and go to sleep. It’s miserable to wait out, but once he’s asleep, it’s over. Last night he was falling asleep after a minute or two of whimpering, but then waking 15 or 20 minutes later and crying again. And his crying wasn’t angry or frustrated crying, it was something else.

My husband and I differ most on sleep strategy when it comes to intervention. He thinks I’m too soft (sometimes true); I think he’s not thoughtful enough (also sometimes true). My instincts to look for a fixable cause are usually right, until I wait too long to reinstate our usual routine and Joey has to take me aside and insist we give the kid a few minutes to work it out. Then he’s usually right.

Last night was my night and I ended up sleeping in bed with my son. (It was kind of nice until he tried to push me out of his bed two hours later and I had to teach him that once you get a woman in bed, she’s not leaving. Sorry, buddy. This is probably a good lesson to learn for later in life, huh? Ew.) We’ll find out tonight whether last night’s interventions have created expectations that need undoing. For a week I’ve been pushing our own rules a bit as I’ve felt the need for more cuddling and closeness with Javi, but I’ve expected to have to reign that in at some point and hoping that I could do so without causing him angst.

Regardless of whether tonight’s bedtime routine is good or a disaster, intervening last night wasn’t a mistake or a fail. As with everything in our parenting world, helping a little dude sleep is an art, not a science. Like a rubber band, sometimes we’re too far in one direction and we have to deal with the snapping to get back to the middle. All we can do is try something and then adjust if it doesn’t quite work.

How do you decide when to intervene? Do you and your partner agree on sleep strategy? Oh, how interested might you be in my nerdy view of parenting as a process (completed with Powerpoint pictures)?

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