Inconsistency

We’ve been struggling to get our baby to sleep consistently. For a while, she didn’t really nap. Unless she was in her car seat and then we would get nap time gold–but often at the wrong times of day. And sometimes she still seems to think that 10 PM is an acceptable bedtime, when in fact that is when her mommy starts to think about hitting the sack.

This isn’t novel stuff. Most new parents find their baby’s sleep patterns (or lack thereof) challenging. And while there are plenty of helpful resources available online, in books, and in friends and family members–the cornucopia of advice can be overwhelming.

I fell prey to the deluge very quickly. I wanted to tackle one baby sleep issue at a time. That seemed like the sane thing to do. But it turns out, every single issue we’ve been having with our baby’s sleep habits are supposedly connected.

According to several sources, if your baby isn’t napping well, that means they are getting overtired. If they are overtired they will have challenges going to bed at a reasonable hour. If they don’t go to bed at a reasonable hour, they will become even more overtired. So it’s really important that they nap well. But they might not nap well if they don’t know how to self soothe and put themselves to sleep. So you have to teach them how to self soothe. But that process might mean that they are crying more and sleeping less as they transition to falling asleep in a new way. And if they sleep less they will get overtired…

…has your heart rate gone up yet?

Instead of thoughtfully tackling one sleep issue at a time, I suddenly found myself trying to deal with everything at once.

That didn’t go well.

I started resenting my baby for not cooperating. Tension arose between my husband and me as we struggled to navigate the countless possible “methods” for getting her to sleep more regularly. I felt like a failure as a parent and as a wife. It seemed like I couldn’t think or talk about anything other than baby sleep stuff, so I wasn’t exactly a riveting conversationalist. Everything I said or did was tainted with anxiety. How could I blame my husband for retreating into his work and computer games?

Establishing baby sleep routines was meant to be healthy for all of us. She was meant to get more sleep, which she definitely needed. We were meant to get more time to ourselves in the evenings, which we definitely needed. It was a good plan.

It just wasn’t working.

And then one morning, after yet another rough night, I shifted my focus. Yes, my child’s sleep habits might not be the best. Yes, her sleep patterns could be frustratingly inconsistent. But so many things about her are consistent.

She is always overjoyed to see us when she wakes up in the morning. She always smiles and waves when we look out the window together. She will, without fail, find and play with my computer cord and the heating grates in the floor every single day. She will eat paper if she gets a hold of it. She will pull every single item out of any container she finds. She always lights up when her daddy comes home from work. She always grins when someone hands her a cracker. She always dances when music comes on. She always makes strangers smile when we’re out running errands. Her smile melts me every single time.

So there it was. Hidden in the inconsistency was a treasure trove of the consistency I so desperately craved. And that got me thinking more about how inconsistency and consistency go hand in hand.

One of the repeated tenants in all the baby sleep sources I’ve encountered is, coincidentally, to be consistent. Routine is key.

But there is an art to it.

We establish routines for comfort, for familiarity, for structure. These are all healthy things. But with great routines comes the need for great flexibility. As a wise woman told me recently, we need to honor the rhythms in our lives. We need to honor our children’s rhythms and accept that, no matter how stringently we try to implement a routine, sometimes the rhythm with change–not necessarily with any rhyme or reason. But it will change.

It’s up to us as parents–as teaching and learning artists who have created these dynamic, miniature human beings–to be willing to change our tunes even as we seek to fine tune the chaos that we have given birth to. Literally. We have to force ourselves to accept the process and constantly reconfigure the desired product. Because these little creations are unlike any other art we make. They keep creating themselves. We just get to guide them for a little while.

So instead of fighting the sequence of unexpected steps and missteps, maybe we can grab hold of both consistency and inconsistency. Together, they create the most complex and scintillating choreography. So let’s dance. Even if we fall flat on our faces. After all, the floor is a perfectly acceptable place to sneak in a much needed nap.

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