x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Toddler imposes sleep-deprived torment 24/7

The very crux of parenting, the very secret of a happy marriage, the very basic need of a productive and competent individual, is, ultimately, sleep.

Whether you are a parent or not, head to Google immediately and type in “How to put a toddler to sleep in 100 steps”. The results will be for an article that first appeared on TheHonestToddler.com – a hilarious blog written in the irrational and illogical voice of a toddler.

The post has become a phenomenon in both mainstream and social media. It’s spot-on in delivering the simple message that putting a toddler to sleep is an almost impossible feat and will drain you of the little reserves of energy you may (or may not) have after a day with said toddler. Read it. It’s the only way you’ll be able to understand what other parents are going through and why the only thing we ever talk about is our children’s sleeping habits.

I confess: this column is becoming more about Baby A and her horrendous sleeping habits than about anything else concerned with parenting and marriage. But a recent epiphany, which I happened to have at around 2.30 one morning, made me realise that the very crux of parenting, the very secret of a happy marriage, the very basic need of a productive and competent individual, is, ultimately, sleep.

Mr T and I are among the unlucky ones: our almost 19-month-old daughter has not yet slept through the night. It’s all we think about. It’s all we talk about. How can we get her to stop waking up so much at night? How can we get her to stop asking for her toys at 2.30am? How do we make her stop asking for milk every time she wakes up, and orders her father to get her a “botta of meeeelk” immediately or suffer the consequences?

Not all parents are created equal, you know. The parents with the toddlers who sleep well are in one camp. We’re in the other. And nothing cultivates murderous thoughts like having to put up with the “other” parents judging us and telling us what a horrible job we’re doing if our daughter is still such a terrible sleeper and so reliant on her midnight bottle feedings. How can we get them to stop telling us stories of how her teeth will rot (she doesn’t have that many to begin with, we’re not that worried) and how her jaw will go out of alignment (jaws are much sturdier than people think, really) if she continues to guzzle her bottle at night (or at any time of the day, for that matter)? These other parents will never get it. They get to sleep. They have no say in the matter. And al All people should really refrain from asking parents about their children’s sleeping habits. That question should become taboo, in all cultures.

I never thought I’d say this, but my regret at refusing to be firm and make her cry it out at 6 months old, which would show her who’s boss (me, not her, just to be clear), is palpable. The Ferber method, I said to Mr T, was not for me. I referenced another book – one that assured me I would damage my child’s self-esteem irreparably and destroy her emotional capacities by letting her cry it out. I have since burnt both books.

I was contacted by sleep consultants. Three of them. I turned them all down. Friends who have hired sleep consultants themselves waxed lyrical about their experience, and the success of the methods that the consultants applied. But Mr T and I were having none of that. We would let Baby A figure out how to sleep on her own time. No pressure.

Well, that’s it. We have officially given up. Our marriage is teetering on the edge of a nightmarish cliff, in a scary place where sleep goes to die. The only thing that will save us now is one night of restful, blissful sleep. And Baby A, I have come to realise, is on a mission to make sure that never happens.

Hala Khalaf is a freelance writer living in Abu Dhabi

artslife@thenational.ae