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Part 1: Can You Top This Sleep Training Saga?

Monday, April 21st, 2014

I’m not talking about myself in the title, but rather my friend Jennifer and her husband Matt, whose battle to sleep train their daughter reached dramatic heights that involved urine, feces threats, and lots of screams.  This 2-part blog post follows the story of how this family went to battle for one of the most crucial elements in life: sleep.

Here is some background: The girls both slept in cribs, then their own beds. But when the nighttime fussing began out of nowhere, both parents found themselves too bleary-eyed to be consistent with sleep rules. Jennifer began getting in bed with Eleanor or vice versa and everyone was waking up multiple times.  There were tears, thrashing of limbs and feet in mouth (literally). They tried Ferber, various techniques, but nothing was changing. The whole family became walking zombie’s, unable to function during the day. I watched them all disintegrate into madness.

Eleanor is the cutest little girl, full of spunk. She’s also incredibly strong-willed.  This is a girl who is either going to be President or the world’s best criminal (kidding of course–at least on the criminal part). She doesn’t back down. Even if it means sleeping in her own pee. Or worse.

Remember the best-selling book, Go The F-ck To Sleep? Well, here is Jen’s own version of her sleep training hell.

NIGHT 1:

After many months of not sleeping (it’s been such a blur that I don’t even know how long it’s been since we’ve slept through the night) and many attempts at sleep training, we finally cave and hire an experienced sleep consultant to help us figure out what to do.

For an all-inclusive fee, Renee Wasserman, P.T., M.P.H.  from Sleepyheadsolutions talked to us on the phone for over an hour and e-mailed us a detailed plan to follow. She will be checking in with us every morning by phone for two weeks to advise us, encourage us to stay on course, and listen to my boring and very detailed sleep stories.

After a few weeks of procrastinating (we have friends in town, Eleanor is sick, we’re traveling…) my husband and I finally force ourselves to buckle up and start the sleep training process. Per our sleep consultant’s advice, we have a family meeting after dinner on the first night. We try to make it fun and pass around a toy microphone while we discuss the importance of sleep for our bodies, how we feel when we don’t get enough sleep, and the new sleep rules for everyone in the house.

We talk about how we all need to stay in our rooms and sleep in our own beds until morning. We tell the girls that we love them very much but won’t be coming into their (shared) room if they cry.

Our older daughter Cece (4 years) gets it and is up for the challenge but she’s a great sleeper and has been sleeping through the night since she was six months old.

Eleanor hears the plan and says, “Not Yet. How about tomorrow?”

Unfortunately they’re in this together. If we want them to successfully share a room, we have to sleep train them both. In other words, Eleanor’s problem is Cece’s problem too.

We tell Eleanor that we know she can do this. We’re all going to try our best.

Per Renee’s instructions:

  • We hung up the blackout shades
  • We set up our new light-up sleep clock and explain to the girls that the cow goes to sleep at bedtime and when she wakes up (at 7am) they can get up too.
  • We unscrew the light bulb from the ceiling so Eleanor can’t switch the light on and off in the middle of the night (which she has been tormenting us with).
  • We set up a potty and a roll of toilet paper on a towel on the floor so Eleanor can’t use the potty excuse all night long. If she has to go, she goes in her room, in the potty. (We hope.)
  •  We read our new books about sleep.
  • We go through the sleep rules again: “We will sleep in our own beds all night. We will stay in our beds until the clock changes color. You can hug your bear and talk to each other but we won’t be coming in if you cry…”

We kiss them good night and close the door. There’s a child lock on the inside so they can’t get out.

It’s 7:00 pm. I’m scared of what the night will bring. I hate the thought of Eleanor screaming for us all night. And taking her clothes off and being cold. And peeing on the ground or in her bed. And waking up her sister who would otherwise be sleeping soundly through the night.  But we all need more sleep and I feel like we’ve hit rock bottom. We need to do this.

7:30pm:

Cece is asleep in her bed and Eleanor gets out of bed and is crying at the door. She gets down on her belly and screams at the small crack above the floor. It sounds like she’s yelling through a megaphone. “I need to make a pee pee!” I stare at her on the monitor. “I need to go in the big toilet in the bathroom! Not the little potty in here!” I watch her expertly remove her pajamas and her diaper. “I need a new diaper!” She pees on the new wood floor. It’s going to be a long night. As hard as it is, we don’t go in.

8:00pm:

Eleanor screams like crazy and tries to wake up her sister.

“Cece, you need to wake up and open the door for me!”

When that doesn’t work she yells, “I need to make a poop!” “The poop is coming out!”

This is when I would normally rush in. I would put Eleanor on the potty and move Cece into our bed so she can sleep. This time we stay strong.

Next she resorts to calling me by my name: “Jennifer! Jennifer!” she screams at the gap under the door. If I wasn’t so nervous, this name-calling would be kind of hilarious.

We watch the monitor. We don’t budge.

She leaves the frame and comes back holding a summer dress. We watch her pull it over her naked body – inside out and backwards. After more crying she goes to get pajama bottoms from her dresser, sits on Cece’s bed, and carefully puts them on. She climbs into bed with Cece and goes to bed. I know that since she is diaper-less she will pee in the bed tonight but I’m very relieved she stopped crying. It lasted around 45 minutes and now she’s asleep. Wearing a dress – but asleep!

I get into my own bed, holding my breath. I have no idea what the night will bring.

In the wee hours:

The screaming begins at 12am. It starts again at 2am, then 4am. Each bout lasts about 15 minutes. In between crying fits she’s in her sister’s bed. She stands up on top of Cece’s back to reach the light switch – click click. Nothing happens since we removed the bulb. She tries a few more times before giving up.

Cece wakes up and they scream at us together in harmony. We’re awake all night staring at the monitor but we don’t break and go into their room. At one point Eleanor rolls off the bed onto the carpet. Minutes later Cece gets poked in the eye. Everyone is yelling “Owwwiiieeee.” It’s impossibly hard but we stick to the plan and don’t go in…

I continue watching the monitor so I know they’re ok. And I know that if we walk in because Eleanor rolled off the bed, she’ll pretend to roll off the bed again. And if the eye poke gets us into the bedroom, she’ll fake-poke her sister in the eye next time. She’s that good.

We’re all exhausted in the morning but we (try to) celebrate that we stayed in our rooms. There’s plenty of pee on the floor and in the bed and lots of laundry to do before school/work. I find out later that an exhausted Cece falls asleep at her preschool while eating her lunch. Oy. I feel terrible.

–Tomorrow is Part 2 of Sleep Training Hell. Tune in to see if it gets better. Or worse.

 

Pic of family bed via Shutterstock

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I Said Coddlers Were Idiots. People Got Mad. Let Me Explain.

Friday, March 21st, 2014

It’s funny as to what strikes a chord of passion and/or fury when I write a blog. I’m always surprised at the parts in my post that people take issue with, agree with or despise. I can never predict. So it came as a total shock when someone alerted me that my Parents Who Coddle Are Idiots post went viral. I began looking at the countless comments and began to realize how my rant didn’t translate to a lot of people.  I can take the hatred in the comments. But I don’t like it when I’m not understood. However, that’s my bad for ranting, complete with profanity, and thus losing the main focus.

What resonated with a lot of people was my perceived lack of patience. I said a little boy wouldn’t give Emmett his toy back. I said it took the father asking him 3 times, and about 60 seconds to get exactly nowhere. It’s not a long time. But it became clear pretty quick that the scenario wasn’t going to change by asking asking asking. We could have stood there 10 minutes and probably gotten the same response (though I would hope that the parent would finally intervene. Who knows?)

The bigger point is that at this age and with toys/objects–frankly almost anything in societal norms– unless you are firm from the beginning, no 2-year-old is going to instinctively know what to do. A toddler won’t “want” to give something back or else he/she wouldn’t have grabbed it in the first place. If the child is raised with parents who ask, ask, plead, plead, with everything but don’t take charge, then guess what? That kid is always going to think they have a choice.  To hit, grab, steal, throw food, pull hair. This goes far beyond the playground. This is about parenting with clear rules and boundaries.

When I finally said, “Let’s give that back,” and gently took the toy from the little boy, he didn’t cry. He just went onto the next thing. I didn’t grab. I didn’t yell. I was nice. But I stated it instead of asking. I simply don’t see the harm in that. However, a lot of commenter’s said similar things to the one below:

…”What if a stranger prying the car out of his hands sent him into a meltdown? It would have been more appropriate for you to ask dad to grab it instead of you physically intervening.

Sure I could have asked the dad. And then maybe he would have asked his kid. Again. If the child had a meltdown, then I would have stepped back and let him deal with it. Frankly, I probably would have told him to just keep the toy. But that’s because I find myself all too often being the mom who backs down when other people’s kids aren’t behaving. Even on playdates when a child is being bratty to mine, I am almost always the one who says, “Fia, why don’t you go play in a different area,” etc. But I am sick of being the one who changes gears for the kids who are coddled. If their parents were more direct with them, it wouldn’t put me in this position. In this scenario, I found that by simply stating I wanted it back made for a very easy pass over. The toddler basically handed it and I took it. The reason it was so simple is most likely because he was told what to do.

I know from the comments, many of the people who “got” my post will know exactly what I’m talking about here. Seems like these people have had similar experiences as mine:

  • Excellent!!! I feel the same and what sucks are that bratty kids make it hard on the kids who have parents that “tell”" them what to do!!
  • I love this article and am glad to see that there are parents out there that are not afraid to be a parent. I am not my child’s friend nor do I intend to be. Say what you want but I NEVER have these problems with my kids because they respect what I say when I say it.
  • Love this!! Well said!!! Parents are parents first and friends later! It’s ok for your child to get mad at you. We are their adversary!! All these spoiled bratty whiny kids running around controlling their grown parents. It’s sad and pathetic really.

One commenter even directed me to a post she wrote about the type of parent to avoid at the playground.

From the time my kids could interact, I’ve tried to be clear and firm in sharing. I do it with love and I do it with patience. Sure there are times it doesn’t work, and of course it depends on the kid (and the parent). But my kids are not the grabbing type. They also listen really well and usually share really well (which their teachers consistently tell me. Emmett, my wild boy, apparently sits better than a bunch of 3-year olds in circle time).  They also have incredibly happy temperaments. I don’t think that’s just luck. I also think it’s cool my kids are so well behaved. Kids learn quickly to be polite, to share, to not hit, to not grab. They like rules. And order. I think parents who have kids who grab or don’t share, aren’t realizing how simple it is to teach your children basic etiquette. It may take a few tantrums and time-outs, but to me it’s been well worth it.

I hope this clarifies why my original post wasn’t a matter of being “more patient” or as some called me, “a bully.” I’ll wrap up with this woman’s comment:

How would it feel if they turned around and said YOU’RE not parenting right because you are impatient and don’t let your kids figure things out for themselves? 

I know exactly what I would do. I would tell them my kids do think for themselves. And what they think and know is that they don’t grab other people’s toys. And if they do, they give it back. Promptly. No “asking” required.

Find out what your parenting style is here.

Mom Confessions: Parenting Rules I Thought I'd Keep
Mom Confessions: Parenting Rules I Thought I'd Keep
Mom Confessions: Parenting Rules I Thought I'd Keep

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Parents Who Coddle Are Idiots

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

There are some things you tell your kids and some things you ask. Telling makes it affirmative. Asking makes it optional.  Coddling comes from the latter–and parents who coddle their kids incessantly are entirely insufferable. Their children will suffer for their actions. We all already do because it pisses off the parents who are doing the right thing. In the last week two instances illustrate this perfectly. Strangely enough, it was both dads. But I find the majority of my encounters of this kind are with moms, simply because there are usually more moms on the playground. Regardless here goes:

Emmett went down the slide and his little car slipped out of his hands. A boy around 2 or 3 takes it. Em runs over, points and says, “Emmett’s car.” He doesn’t grab, he doesn’t push. He waits. I am next to him.

The boy’s father comes up.

“Sean, that’s not your car. Can you give it back?”

Silence. More silence.

Dad leans over.

“Hey Buddy, can you give it back?”

More More Silence.

My mind: Okay, if you’re counting that’s twice you’ve asked in the 30 seconds my kid is waiting. And are you an idiot? No kid wants to give up a toy–even if it’s not theirs– so why keep asking?

“Sean, you really need to give that back buddy.”

Nothing. More Nothing.

My mind: Okay are you stupid? The proper thing to say is, “Hey Buddy, give it back.” You don’t ask if he can. Of course he can. But chances aren’t he won’t. Clearly your kid is not responding to your passive parenting. Duh.

At this point, we are approaching 45 seconds, maybe a minute. I’m done. I kneel down and physically take the car from precious little Sean’s hands, while saying, “We are going to give that back now.” I hand it to Emmett and we resume playing. I’m furious though.

Do you see how ridiculous this scenario is? We have become a culture of coddlers. So many parents take the path of least resistance when it comes to child rearing. Your kids are acting up? Hand them your phone. Your kid doesn’t want to share their pile of French fries (on a playdate)? Have the other parent order a new batch, even though that kid will never finish his. It’s ludicrous.

Two days later, at a different playground, Fia and Emmett climbed up to a double slide. The kind where you can sit side-by-side. One slide was empty; the other had a little girl around 18 months on it. Fia sat down on the empty one next to her.

“Come on Emmett, slide next to me,” she said.

“He will Fia, we just have to let this little girl go down first,” I explained.

I look at the father who looks at his daughter.

“What do you think sweetie? Do you want to go down?” he asks.

Silence. More silence.

Emmett is on the top, once again, waiting patiently.

“Hmmm honey? What do you think?” he asks. Again.

My mind: Are you f–king kidding me?

Silence again. More silence. And more.

Fia: “Mom, when can Emmett come with me?”

Me: “When this little girl goes down. What do you think?” I say, turning to the little girl.

Blank stare from girl while I fantasize about shoving her father off of the nearby jungle gyms.

I turn to the father: “Is she going to go down the slide?”

Father: “I’m not sure. I think she just wants to sit here.”

Me=dumbfounded. Speechless. Um, okay, so you are going to let her monopolize the slide? Are you an ape? What are you trying to teach your kid? And what about my kid who actually wants to use the slide your daughter is meditating on.

I can’t believe I didn’t say something directly to him. I should have. Instead I told Fia to go on down her slide and that we will find another place where she and Emmett can do something together. I said it loudly but that’s not good enough. I should have told him his behavior and “parenting”  was inexcusable.

What are these as-hole parents afraid of? That their kids will “freak?”  (Which by the way, is a dumb word to use on your kid. ie: Oh, so and so will “freak” if I don’t do xyz. I catch myself using it sometimes and have to remember how much I hate that word in relation to children. I can’t stand the labeling of our kids. Even worse is when you say “xyz will freak” in front of xyz. If you say your kid is going to freak then guess what? They are going to freak. You are teaching that to them.). Are parents afraid they will actually have to do some work as a parent and “make” their kid do the right thing? That their kid might cry (or “freak”) and you may have to be tough? To be a parent? I don’t get it.

Parenting is not easy. So if you sign up, then do the f–king work it entails to not produce overly whiny, cowardly, and/or bratty kids who aren’t taught the basic etiquette of society. The playground is a metaphor for a helluva lot more. So if you can’t teach them on the playground, how will you teach them in real life?

For all their faults, I have a hard time thinking my parents would have stood for any of this bulls–t. For the handful of things I disagreed with in Stephanie Mertz’s viral rant, she had some excellent points. The helicopter needs to crash and we need to press the restart button on proper parenting.

Bottom line: It’s not Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s: You Tell, Don’t Ask. Got it?

Do you coddle your kids? Take our quiz and find out what your parenting style is.

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What's Your Parenting Style?
What's Your Parenting Style?

Cartoon pic via shutterstock

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To My Friend Jenn–Congrats on “Frozen”!!!

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

It’s early congrats, but I’m thinking it’s a foregone conclusion that Disney’s latest movie will take home the Oscar for Frozen. One of my best friends, Jenn Lee, wrote the movie, then came on to co-direct it. She is a pioneer at Disney–she is the first female director there. Ever.  For a company that has been around since the 1930s, that’s a pretty f–king amazing feat (and pretty f–king amazing it hasn’t happened until now. Though of course if it had to wait until 2013-14, I’m psyched that it’s my friend who broke the glass ceiling). Now Jenn is behind a movie that is quickly approaching the one-billion dollar mark. That’s 9 zeros if you can count that high.

Phil brought Jenn on to help him write “Wreck-it Ralph” after doing the initial drafts himself. They met the first day of film school. I’ve written about their journey before with Ralph. But tonight the spotlight is all on her.

She wrote a piece in today’s LA Times about the hardest part of being a female director. It’s not the writing room or the story room or the endless flights around the world (that while exotic can be exhausting, especially as a single mom raising a 10-year-old girl). What’s hardest she says? The red carpet. As in all the things women have to do in order to make themselves look the part. An excerpt:

I certainly didn’t know that a fitting for a proper boostie-yay would involve standing topless in front of three Ukrainian women, while they placed bets as to whether I was a D or a Double-D.

I didn’t know that I had so much to learn (and to purchase, because unlike men, women apparently cannot be photographed in the same thing twice). Since November, I have rarely lived a day that hasn’t involved hair and makeup or shopping or styling, and I now know more about myself than I ever wanted to. I know that my boobs don’t fit, ever. My eyebrows are wild and should be committed. I have a cowlick … and that is bad.

She texted me last night that in her final fitting yesterday they had to build a special harness for her boobs. It’s not easy being a woman on the red carpet.

Another excerpt:

I shouldn’t cover my shoulders too much because that looks matronly, but I shouldn’t wear strapless gowns either, seeing as I “just don’t have the armpits for it.” I am shockingly short-waisted and yes, one stylist actually used the word “shockingly.”

But amidst it all, it has been a wildly fun ride for her–and for her friends who get to cheer her from the sidelines.

So tonight, when she’s bound to get up on stage and accept the Oscar with her two male counterparts, don’t look at her boobs. Just look at the gigantic smile from a woman who has made history. So proud of you girl!

(Click here for the entire article by Jenn)

Picture of Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, winners of Best Animated Feature Film for “Frozen,” at the Golden Globe Awards show on Jan. 12, 2014, in Beverly Hills. Courtesy Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / January 12, 2014 

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When Do You Let Girls Wear Nail Polish?

Friday, February 21st, 2014

I don’t think I knew what nail polish was when I was 4. But in this world, Fia knows it all too well. Her friends all wear it on their nails and toes. When friends of ours with older girls come over, they sometimes want to paint her nails. Phil took the stance stronger than I did in the beginning. No way, he said. But now as she gets a little older, I’m torn.

I don’t want to give into peer pressure, but what is really the issue here? We all know kids grow up faster than we did. The whole world moves and grows faster. So where do I make my decisions and pick my battles?

The other day a friend of hers from school gave her a gift: a purse and a package of pretty water-based nail polishes. Fia begged us to let her put them on. Phil was adamant. I was waffling. But he glared at me and said, “United front.” I acquiesced.

As Fia stood there streaming tears, I took her aside, in what I suspect will be one of many “let mama work on him” talks. I just didn’t expect it to happen this young.

“Fia, look at me,” I said, out of Phil’s earshot.

She did as her tiny lip trembled. This is going to be really hard to watch when there are real issues at stake besides blue nail polish.

“Stop asking about it tonight. Let me talk to daddy when you go to sleep.”

She protested a bit, then listened and dropped the subject.

Once she was in bed, I approached Phil.

“How about we just let her have it on special occasions?” I suggested.

He hesitantly agreed.

Fia slept with her purse full of her polishes next to her.

The next morning you can guess what her first question was.

I gleefully whispered, “Yes, you can do it today. But only today. Then it will be on special occasions.”

Her face lit up and she wrapped her little arms around me. “Oh thank you mama.”

We quickly got to the task at hand.

She wanted every color on every nail, so I had to explain to her how it’s done. In the end, we had a blue pinkie and some semi-sparkly pink and peach nails. It was so much lighter than I thought it would be. It was basically like glitter with a hint of color. In retrospect, hardly worth the argument against it.

But what is it about these “girly” things that make some of us hesitate? When do you allow short skirts? Makeup?  Is it that society inundates us with how women can “make” themselves beautiful that make parents like us cringe? We know girls and women face tremendous pressure in this regard. But if you push back too much, then does it backfire? What do you gain?

When I took Fia to school that morning she ran up to her teachers and proudly showed off her nails along with the purse full of polish.   After the ooo-ing and awww-ing subsided, she handed me the purse, picked up her “work” (she’s in Montessori) and went back to being the 4-year old that she is.

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