After baby #2 arrived, all hell broke loose in our house. And no, I’m not talking about the overall chaos a newborn brings into the picture with their round-the-clock needs, though it certainly contributed to the anarchy that had become our lives.
I’m talking about my then 2-year-old. Before his baby sister arrived home, he was sleeping better than ever. After we brought her into his life, none of us were sleeping at all. My toddler was legitimately sleeping worse than his newborn sister. Previously an A+ sleeper, he was now waking multiple times at night with lots of screaming and even more crying. To top it off, he had transitioned to a big boy bed a few months before his sister was born, so getting him to stay in his bed was next to impossible.
And there it is—my biggest surprise of going from one child to two: the older sibling sleep regression. The Internet (and people in general) has a lot to say about babies and sleep, but what about toddlers and sleep? The topic hadn’t been a concern of mine before, so to say I was unprepared would be an understatement. I was (metaphorically) hit by a truck that I didn’t see coming. New sibling or not, I learned that it’s common for toddlers to have sleep regressions around age 2, so we got a double dose of regression fun.
The Internet has a lot to say about babies and sleep, but what about toddlers and sleep?
I’m not here to say that I handled it in the best way possible or that it is the way you should handle it. Every child is different, every parent is different, every family is different. I’m simply here to share my story and what I learned from it. Or, better yet, to share what I wish someone had told me before bringing a second baby home.
Let Go Of All Expectations
I expected that becoming a big brother would be a huge adjustment for my toddler and would come with its fair share of extra tantrums, clinginess, and overall angst. I also (naively) expected that he would keep being the same toddler he had been before when it came to things like sleeping through the night.
The faster I let go of this expectation, the better off we all were. It was unreasonable to think that only certain facets of his life would be affected by becoming a big brother and watching a new human get so much time, love, and attention from his parents. As soon as I stopped thinking it was unreasonable for him to be having sleep issues, I also stopped being as frustrated by it happening.
Aim to Survive, Not Thrive
The first few weeks in our home with a toddler and a newborn were about surviving, not thriving. When the you’re-now-a-big-brother-and-this-baby-is-getting-all-your-parents-attention sleep regression hit my toddler, we leaned in hard to survival mode.
Thriving parents might stick to their previously set limits and consistent boundaries of not sleeping in their toddler’s bed … you know, to not set a precedent and all. Surviving parents, on the other hand, would throw all rule books out the window and cling to the precious few hours of sleep they could get, knowing that everything is just a phase and this won’t set up their little one for a life of permanently needing to sleep in the same bed.
Follow Your Gut
As parents, we know our children best, and I’m a firm believer in following our intuition when it comes to what’s right for our kids and our families. I received a lot of advice about how to handle my toddler’s sleep regression. It wasn’t unsolicited, either; I was asking for help. But the thing is: what works for someone else’s kid may not be what’s right for mine.
Among heaps of tips about staying consistent, holding strong to existing boundaries, and standing firm on our limits, my favorite piece of advice came from a friend who admitted she slept on the floor of her toddler’s room for six months after her second was born. “Pick your battles. You can be (even more) sleep-deprived, or you can get through this phase however you have to and fix the issue later.”
Pick your battles. You can be (even more) sleep-deprived, or you can get through this phase however you have to and fix the issue later.
I knew in my heart that shutting my toddler out with more boundaries and limits wasn’t what he (or I) needed at the time. He needed to know his parents were there for him, and we all needed sleep. So, yes, we broke all the rules in the sleep handbooks about setting him up for success, and no, we don’t have any regrets about it. We both got the sleep we needed at the time, and our toddler felt the comfort of his parents during a life-changing event for him. Eventually, life (and sleep) went back to normal.
Know When to Call It a Day
I mean this in a literal sense and a figurative sense. Literally, not every day will be a peak parenting day. Know when to call it, pour the Cheerios for dinner instead of cook, give into the request to watch another show, leave the laundry unfolded—whatever it is that you need to let go of for your own sanity.
More figuratively, as you start to emerge from the newborn haze, know when it’s time to start putting life back into order. Those limits and boundaries that went out the window? They have to come back sometime. For me, it was around four weeks into life with two kids. At my daughter’s one-month checkup, I was all, “OK, great, she’s growing and on track; can we talk about getting my 2-year-old back to sleeping through the night?”
Those limits and boundaries that went out the window? They have to come back sometime.
When it was time to go back to the firm bedtime and sleep limits, we did. We laid out the rules the same as before about staying in bed, sleeping in his own room without us, and enforced them with love but consistency. We phased slowly out of indulging every cry for us to come up to his room at night or out of falling asleep with him and into life where middle-of-the-night wake-ups still happen (will they ever not?) but not regularly.
It wasn’t always pretty, but we all survived … and now, dare I say, we’re thriving.