The Night My Toddler Challenged Everything I Knew About Parenting

The Night My Toddler Challenged Everything I Knew About Parenting

After sleeping through the night for years, one mom’s toddler challenges her in a big way.

By Nicole Fabian-Weber

Out of all the things that made me nervous about balancing a baby and a toddler, sleep -- for my toddler -- was not among them. Since she was 12 weeks old, my daughter had been a champion sleeper. I could probably count on one hand how many times she woke up in the middle of the night since then. Naps were never her forte, but bedtime sleep? The girl was a master. Fireworks could be exploding outside her bedroom door, and she'd sleep right through it.

However, despite my confidence in my 3-year-old's sleep habits, my husband and I slept downstairs with the baby for first few weeks of our son's life. Our upstairs was seriously cramped, and we weren't taking any chances. After five weeks or so, the three of us moved back to our bedroom, and when the baby was about 4 months old, we moved him into his own room. He still woke up, and despite the noisy commotion that sometimes occurred in the wee hours of the morning -- creaky floors, crying babies, doors opening and closing -- my daughter never woke up. We were in the clear, right?

Wrong. So, so, so, so, so wrong.

One night when I was putting my daughter to bed, she told me that she didn't like the dark -- something she'd never said before. She wasn't crying or clutching me for dear life, but she was definitely spooked. I asked her if she wanted me to leave the hall light on for her -- to which she said yes -- and we were good. Easy-peasy. No problems with sleep at all that night.

The next night was a little different. It was a weird night in that the usual bedtime routines for our kids were a bit off. My son and daughter were both going to sleep at the same time -- something that doesn't normally happen. I was going to put the baby down, while my husband was taking care of our daughter. Before we all headed off into our respective rooms, my daughter said, "Mama, will you come in after you put the baby to sleep?"

"Of course!" I said, delighted at the snuggle invitation.

My husband read our daughter a story while we cuddled. When he turned off the light, like we normally do, my daughter asked if we would leave her door open.

"Of course!" I said again, without even thinking about it. "Do you want the hall light on again, also?"


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When we left the room and headed downstairs, my husband gave me a look. It was clear that he wasn't into the idea of our daughter having her door open. He was nervous that she would wake up.

"What?" I said. "She's fine. She sleeps through everything."

That night, when my son woke up at 11 p.m., my daughter came out of her room -- something she'd never done before.

"Um, what's going on, sweetie?" I asked.


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"I just heard you guys," she said.

"Oh. OK. Well, let me snuggle you for a bit. It's time for bed," I said.

This -- no joke -- happened almost 40 times that night. My daughter didn't go to sleep until almost 4 a.m. And it happened the next night. And the next night. And a few nights after that. Mind you, we were still getting up with my son throughout the night, as well. It was, and I truly mean this, a complete disaster.

My mistake of leaving our daughter's door open aside, my husband and I were totally not equipped for this. Like I said, our girl had been an amazing sleeper since almost birth. We were at a loss about how to get a toddler back to sleep at 2 a.m.

We started out patient and loving and doing what I assume was the right thing -- staying consistent with her normal routine as much as possible. But at about 1 a.m., things started completely spiraling out of control. Desperate and exhausted and out of ideas, I took my daughter downstairs for some warm milk and stories. I thought I would "reset" her. That didn't work. We brought her into our bed. That didn't work. We made her a bed on our floor and told her she could sleep there. That didn't work. Nothing worked until she passed out in her bed close to sunrise, me beside her on the floor. This went on for more than a week.

If there's one thing I've come to learn as a mother, it's that few things are consistent with kids, and we parents should always be prepared for the unexpected. That said, my husband and I were so not prepared for this one, and we probably didn't handle it well. Definitely a parenting fail on our part.

My daughter -- knock wood times a million -- is now sleeping soundly through the night again (yes, in the dark, with her door shut). But, things feel different now. It feels like anything could change with her at any given moment, despite almost three years of exactly the same. I won't lie, it's slightly scary since we've had it so good, but I guess you could say we're more prepared now.

Though I pray we don't have to put this preparation to use. Sleep tight, little one!

What sleeping challenges have you encountered with your kids?

Nicole Fabian-Weber is the mama to a sweet toddler girl and a baby boy. She lives outside of NYC and writes for The Stir and numerous other online publications. Right now, she’s probably fantasizing about sleep.

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