One of the golden rules of parenting – particularly when it comes to sleep, that most precious of parental commodities – is that if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix. This is a lesson we just relearned the hard way over the course of the last week.
On the eve of Munchkin’s third birthday, S decided that it was high time to switch the little man to a big boy bed. We had just spent a couple of weeks on the road and he had slept in normal beds every night, so our return to Kigali seemed like an opportune juncture to make the transition from his crib to a bed with bumpers.
S had her reasons, of course, but they seem a tad foolhardy in retrospect. With the exception of one night many months ago, Munchkin has never attempted to escape his crib. We do not know any parents whose toddlers sleep through the night every night without fail, but for a while – once Munchkin settled into our new home in Kigali – we were pretty close.
The transition appeared to go smoothly our first night back – a lucky break, we now realize, that owed more to Munchkin’s travel exhaustion than anything else. Since then, bedtime has grown more challenging even as our nights have gotten shorter. With no bars to pen him in, Munchkin no longer tries to go back to sleep if he wakes in the middle of the night or gets up with the first light of day. Instead, he makes a beeline straight for our room.
More importantly, the ease of escape offered by the big bed has emboldened Munchkin’s resistance to sleep. We missed naptime a couple of times last week, and even getting him down for the night quickly became a byzantine procedure. Before the big switch, he would get a cup of milk, two – maybe three – stories, and a tooth-brushing before going into his crib without complaint.
Since making the transition, however, he also has insisted that someone (usually S) lie with him until he falls asleep. Yet, even that is now insufficient. No sooner do we make our escape downstairs after putting Munchkin to bed than we hear his door open and slam shut again. A few moments later he appears, visibly exhausted and loopy from lack of sleep, but with an impish smile playing on his lips, betraying the acknowledgement that he knows he is being naughty. Or, if we lock the door behind us, he sits at the foot of his bed and bawls his heart out until we return to try again.
Last night, after several abortive attempts to put Munchkin to bed, D put him down in his crib again. By that point he was too exhausted to resist the demotion and slept through the night. S tried to replicate D’s strategy this evening, but Munchkin would have none of it, and D only succeeded in getting him to lie down by agreeing to allow him back into his new big boy room. He is asleep now, but it appears that we are past the point when we can simply turn back the clock and go back to what had worked so well only a couple of weeks ago. Rather, it looks like we are in for a prolonged fight over sleep, with new battle lines redrawn on a nightly basis.