Sleep training is hard any time of the year. When trying to find a quiet week to start sleep training, parents will inevitably discover there is no good time, as “normal” life is constantly interrupted by birthdays, late-night meetings, work trips, and so on. You just have to pick a week and try to be consistent.
So when my husband got called up to miluim (emergency reserve duty in the Israeli Army) this August, you can imagine my hesitation to start sleep training alone. It was just a week after we arrived back home in Israel, right after our 6-month-old, Chanan, recovered from jet lag, and mid-way into Operation Protective Edge (which we hope is almost over).
Against my better judgment, I’m trying anyway. And as a result, I’ve come up with five reasons why miluim really screws with sleep training. (I’m sure in many ways these concerns will echo with the experiences of parents living far from the front.)
1. In the moment, nursing seems like the quickest fix.
I know that in the long run I will sleep better if I wait it out and don’t nurse every time Chanan wakes up. But in the moment, nursing seems like the quickest way to get both of us back to sleep. When my partner’s on miluim, and I know that I won’t have his help in the morning from 5:00 a.m.-7:00 a.m., getting back to sleep quickly is even more urgent. And when the siren blares at 11:45 p.m. and we rush down into the miklat (shelter) in the basement of our apartment building, thankfully Chanan is simply amused by the opportunity to socialize in the middle of the night. How else am I going to get him back to sleep if not with some comforting, sleep-inducing nursing?
The momentary gratification beats the long-term plan when you’re in emergency single parent mode.
2. I keep the radio on all night.
The apartment is too quiet for me alone. So I leave the radio on, comforted by the smoky voice of the D.J, who wishes me a good night and overshadows the soft jazz briefly to announce the cities in which a “red alarm” is currently sounding. But while the radio doesn’t disturb the baby at 7:00 p.m. when he goes to sleep, it might rouse him at 2:00 a.m. when he is waking up between sleep cycles. Oh well, I’m not sure I can part with my modicum of audio company.
3. Five minutes seems like forever.
Do I need to explain? Five minutes of Chanan screaming can feel like forever even when I am with my partner. Certainly, it is worse when I am sitting alone, watching him on my baby monitor, as he rolls back and forth and claws at his tired eyes. It’s all on me, and I’m wondering whether the nice thing to do isn’t just to help him fall asleep with a little nursing. It’s 11:30 p.m. and I’m on my way to bed… why not just help him fall asleep?
4. No partner to talk things through.
There always seems to be a reason why my baby might actually be hungry: Did he finish his mashed butternut squash today? Was it too hot? Maybe he’s dehydrated? I saw the top of a tooth, maybe he’s in pain from teething? As I can’t ask my little one what he is feeling, I have unending debates in my head. And thanks to miluim, I have no partner with whom to weigh the minutia of the baby’s day, help me resolve the “maybes,” and make a decision one way or another.
5. My baby sounds sad.
Between listening to the news, anxiously waiting for word on how long my partner will be in the army, and staying up too late reading my Facebook feed, I become a little depressed in the dark hours of the night. So when my child calls for me, I can’t help but project my emotions onto him. I imagine he is sad, maybe even lonely, like I am. Maybe he is picking up on my anxiety and he needs me to comfort him so he can regain his sense of security. I tell myself that I know the difference between his normal wail and his truly upset screams, but I really can’t tell where my emotions end and his begin.
Wouldn’t a little cuddle do both of us some good right now, at 3:45 a.m.?