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The Magic of Books in Easing Childhood Transitions (And Returning Mom’s Sanity) by Sarah Helene

Transitions.

 

This word pretty much sums up life and parenthood in particular.

 

In a very short period of time, babies are catapulted from womb to parents’ loving arms to crib to a bed. They move from breast or bottle to food and cup. They learn to roll, sit, scoot, crawl, and walk usually within a year. They conquer teething, separation anxiety, and sleep regression by the time they are toddlers and certainly before college (we hope). Then they’re out the door to preschool, slumber parties, and Starbucks.

 

The lore surrounding these marked childhood transitions—which often isn’t told so casually and succinctly as above—is often enough to bring on tears (yours not the baby’s). When pregnant, I remember hearing moms share their horror stories about feeling like death warmed over because their sweet pea would never sleep unless held upright in the living room’s armchair for six months! When I had a newborn, I remember moms sharing tales of how they could never take a shower without the curtain pulled back because their 9-month-old bambino would scream bloody murder if he couldn’t see his parent. As I mastered each new stage, I continually heard that the worst was still ahead of me. Babies who refuse to nap despite an investment in sleep training books that rivaled college tuition. One year olds who propel down their cribs and wake you up every. single. night. Toddlers who destroy all evidence that you live in an adult’s home. Needless to say, I worried that I’d never get a leg up on the immense learning curve of parenting and that I’d somehow always look like a frazzled character from the comic strip Cathy.

 

If you had asked me three months ago, I would say all the fear about shepherding my son through these challenging milestones was baseless. While I’d had my fair share of trying parenting moments, these infamous transitions weren’t the precipitating factor because he generally handled everything with little stress. He weaned from breastfeeding by simply telling me he wanted “milk in cup” (yes, I nursed for 18 months so he actually could speak to me about it). He decided he was done with his crib a week shy of two by insisting he wanted to sleep on the floor. And in December he loudly declared that he wanted to wear underwear, so potty training was his deal. Lucky me, one aspect of parenting made easy by my son’s easygoing, adaptable nature.

 

Maybe I was too smug. Maybe I took things for granted. Maybe I did one too many private happy dances. Or maybe, like everything, there are peaks and valleys to this parenting and childhood gig and we finally hit the dreaded low.

 

Remember when I shared with you about the surprises of my first vacation without my son? Well, the surprises continued when I returned home from Hawaii. My son, who up until that point had been enjoying 12 blissful hours of sleep per night, started waking up one, two, sometimes four times a night asking for water, his blanket to be straightened, a hug, a cuddle, and so on. I’m sure on one level he wanted to be assured that mommy and daddy were actually at home, which I completely understand and appreciate. But after a month of these disruptions, I can say I wasn’t a fan. I felt just like everyone promised—and worse than when I lived with a night awakening newborn—a living corpse.

 

Determined to reclaim rest for everyone in our household, while still making my son feel that his needs weren’t being ignored, I found the best transition solution on earth, one that truly can be adapted for any situation and stage your family is working through together.

 

A book! And Gina Osher of The Twin Coach deserves credit for this discovery. She shared with me her secret for helping her twins catch their Zzzz—make a “Night Night” book tailored specifically for your child, where you lay out the bedtime routine, set forth expectations for sleeping through the night, and let your child know in advance that you’ll only come to the door to check in on those nights he has a bit of trouble staying asleep and needs extra assurance but that you won’t enter his room.

 

Not only did my son love being the star of his own story, but the customized book and illustrations also empowered us to address the emotions he was working through and surfaced at night. It also magically made any bedtime struggles dissolve—the book came to represent the concrete authority on sleep to my son, so instead of fighting against mom’s rules we worked together to follow the book’s steps. By translating our family sleep needs into a book, I was able to more effectively communicate the routine and eliminate surprise, make him feel comfortable and secure about the process of returning to sleep on his own, and give him the tools he needed to handle the transition.

 

And, with that, our bedtime transition struggles are over (for now). The end (until, of course, there’s a sequel to this transition tale).

 

For more information on using books and storytelling to smooth bumpy parenting roads, check out the Simple Mom’s book recommendations or the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s arti... as a means to ease childhood transitions.

 

~ Sarah Helene of Salt & Nectar

Sarah enjoys sharing the West Coast way of life—sun, sand, and a sense of balance—with her husband and toddler son, the Little Dude. Formerly a lawyer by day and aspiring creative type by night, Sarah now practices the art of motherhood, ongoing interior design, writing and editing, and Bravo TV watching from her home in Los Angeles, CA.  When she’s not cooking asparagus for her son (he eats it by the bunch),Sarah loves to grab lunch at LACMA, search for the perfect French bakery, bliss out at yoga, and drink the occasional mojito. You can also findSarah musing on motherhood at her blog Salt & Nectar and on Facebook and Twitter.

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Comment by Sarah Helene on March 19, 2012 at 10:43am

Thanks, Katie!

Comment by Katie Hurley on March 13, 2012 at 4:10pm

Sleep issues are always the hardest, but they are temporary.  Sometimes it's a book, sometimes it's a special routine, sometimes it really is just an extra kiss...nights can be scary for little minds.  Sounds like you handled it well.

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