Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Real Dad?

I feel like an impostor when I even consider it. I am such an amateur at this parenting thing. It's like a kindergartner teaching college calculus, or the Grape Ape lecturing on recent advances in peanut growing techniques. You would smile politely and think that it was cute, but you wouldn't rely on Grape's knowledge when the time comes to plant your own peanuts, now would you? Really?

But with Lukas tipping the chronological scale at nearly one year, I am starting to believe I could actually have something meaningful to say. Something of value I could pass on to another new father who, by some freak force of nature, might happen upon my little "proud new father" daddy blog looking for just such advice. (Hey, as they say, if you give a hundred monkeys typewriters they will eventually create the complete works of Shakespeare, right?)

Well, here it goes. My first piece of advice as an experienced father of a happy one year old: Let your baby learn how to put himself or herself to sleep! It made all the difference in the world for Lukas, and for our sanity as well.

Mrs. LIAYF and I spent the first 6 months of Luke's life severely sleep deprived. He wouldn't sleep more than a couple of hours at a time. We were trying every 'trick' in the book to get him to sleep including swaddling, pacifier, nursing him to sleep, rocking, you name it we tried it. We cringed at the thought of letting him cry himself to sleep, and we went immediately to help him when he woke in the middle of the night. We didn't have to heart to let our son cry when we knew we could do something to make him feel better. It didn't occur to us until later that he was training us to come when he cried, because he relied on us to put him to sleep. That was our failing at the time.

We finally hit the wall at 6 months. We had to do something. We decided that Lukas needed to learn how to put himself to sleep, both at bedtime and in the middle of the night, just like everyone else on this planet. We bought several books and finally purchased an on-line program that outlined everything all the books had said:
(1) Babies and toddlers need 13-14 hours of sleep a day!!!!! This includes 2-3 naps per day until age one, and 1-2 naps after that.
(2) Babies respond to a consistent nap-time and bedtime routine, which will cue them that it's time to go to sleep.
(3) Babies need to go to bed between 7-8pm. And,
(4) YES, babies will cry when as they learn to put themselves to sleep, but with consistency the baby's response improves quickly.

With these guidelines in mind, there are several ways to put a baby to bed - sitting next to the crib, sitting in the room, leaving the room and checking on the baby. All involve a bedtime routine, putting the baby in the crib awake and NOT picking up the baby after you put him in the crib (unless they are sick or otherwise need special attention). This can be painful for parents who rush to pick up their baby every time they cry - as we did.
Yes, Lukas did cry for over 2 hours that first night before putting himself to sleep. We were there in the room with him and soothed him every 10 minutes or so. When he later woke in the night, we waited 10 minutes before going in to soothe him. I would go in, rather than Mrs. LIAYF, because we decided to skip the night nursing. Yes, it was excruciating the first night, but it got much better the next night, better yet the night after that. Within days Lukas was SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT and napping like a champ! We also noticed he became much happier with the extra sleep.
Since then, barring the minor blips during developmental phases and the nasty cold and flu season, Luke has been a terrific sleeper. We put him to bed at 7:30 and use the same routine every night. Now he sleeps pretty soundly (knock on wood). This routine gives Luke the rest he needs to regenerate for the next day, and also gives us a bit of down time together in the evening to unwind. Everyone wins! We wish we would have considered sleep training much earlier with Lukas. The crying didn't hurt him any - it was just his only way to communicate that he didn't know how to put himself to sleep. Now, he goes to sleep without any crying at all and enjoys his bedtime routine - he will actually let us know when it's time for him to go "night-night."

Hopefully, some new dad will stumble upon this post someday and reap the benefits for his own little one. There it is, my first piece of official daddy advice. Yes, I finally feel like a real dad now!


SciFi Dad said...

Been there. Done that. Roughly with the same timelines as your experience.

Not to be a "just you wait" type of dad, but we have found with our daughter (just over three now) that sleep goes in cycles, and that it can be difficult to go back to a working method once it has failed once.

At least for us (and every baby is different, so take it with a huge deer-sized salt lick), sleep is an adaptive problem... new issues will arise once they talk, read "older kids" books, see television, etc. Sometimes it seems like we're constantly figuring it out.

Martin said...

That seems like a really good piece.

Logically I would agree with everything there, but I can imagine how hard it is to walk away from a crier!

Well done.

Darren said...

Good advice...but even better Grape Ape reference.

Jason Roth said...

Your advice is right on. I regret the fact that we created a situation that requires us to lay down with our two-year-old every night to get him to sleep. We trying to transition from it, but it's extremely tough.

James (SeattleDad) said...

@SF - I do anticipate that there will be setbacks, but am hoping that they will be easier since Lukas has learned to put himself to sleep.

@X - Yeah, it was very difficult( probably the hardest part of parenthood so far), but we kept telling ourselves that it was ultimately better for Luke to teach him that he could do this for himself. I'm sure he doesn't remember.

@Darrin - You can never have to many Grape Ape references, he is a classic!!

@Jason - You are back! New site? I will have to check it out. From what we read in our material, it becomes harder to teach this to an older child, but can be done.

Let me know if you want to know more about the specific program and I will get you that info.

Thanks to everyone for stopping by and leaving your comments.

Anonymous said...

You are right...excellent advice! It makes it so much better for us parents to get our rest. I remember the terror of having our first and not really not knowing what to do ahead of time.

We are at our third child and are cagey veterans now.

James (SeattleDad) said...

Thanks MTE. It has made an amazing difference for us that is for sure. Makes it seem conceivable to have more than one.

Anonymous said...

James, I loved this post, and the advice is spot-on. I remember the sleep deprivation as well. We were extremely lucky with Cooper in that he began to sleep through the night at about three months, and has had no problems since. He still needs more naps, however, and his nap(s) tend to be shorter than we like. Day care just about kills any hopes he might have for any kind of reasonable nap :-)

I also completely related to your feelings of feeling like a pee-wee league dad. I'm right there with you. Take a step back, though, and realize that you've been taking care of a son for almost a year. If you think about it, you've come along way. When I look back at those first days as I fumbled through the diaper-changing process, and look what I do now without thinking twice, I realize that I'm doing pretty well as a dad. From what I've seen of your writings, you are as well.

James (SeattleDad) said...

Rob - Yes, Daycare is tough on the naps. He can nap 3 hours at home, but often only an hour at daycare.

Thanks for the encouraging words about being a good dad. I do feel like I am doing a pretty decent job. Luke seems happy and well adjusted as I am sure Cooper is too! Thanks for the visit and all the thoughtful comments.

Being us... said...

Paul and I had a good routine with Jake until at 8 months he started teething (8th tooth in 8 weeks coming in within the next day or so). So for the past 2 months it has been at least up twice a night. We are still lucky enough to have him asleep by 8:30 but he is usually up again. Hopefully once the teeth are done we can get back to a routine, I fear this "new" routine with teething has set us up for a doozy schedule when it is over!

Whit said...

I did follow Grape Ape's peanut advice and, needless to say, it didn't go well. It sure was cute though.

James (SeattleDad) said...

@PMJ - Teething was a bit of a setback for Lukas as well. I think we weathered it ok because we were committed to not bringing him to bed, but just soothing him in his crib. The molers are next to come in for Luke so, we are wondering how that will go. Thanks for stopping by.

@Whit - I hope the more recent peanut crops are yeilding better for you. Grape is a cool cat and all, but he don't know squat about what it really takes to grow good nuts!