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Sleep Training

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At about six weeks of age, my daughter Ellie started sleeping through the night, regularly snuggled into her Moses basket for eight to ten straight hours without so much as a peep. I’d expected it to take months and lots of painful sleep training to get her to accomplish this feat, so I was elated that it had happened so quickly and easily. As first-time parents who had heard lots of sleep horror stories from our friends, my husband and I couldn’t believe our good fortune.

We eagerly told everyone who asked how well Ellie was sleeping — and when you have a newborn, pretty much everyone asks you how she’s sleeping, so we had lots of opportunity to boast. In my head, I knew that Ellie’s night sleeping success had nothing to do with my skill as a mother, but it still felt really good to tell others that my daughter had figured out how to do something many babies didn’t master until a year or later.

When I informed my friend Kristin, herself a mother of three, how well Ellie was sleeping at night, she said something that took me by surprise. “That’s great,” she said, “but don’t worry if she stops at some point. That is totally normal.”

At the time, I dismissed her words, certain this would not be the case for Ellie. She’d been sleeping through the night for a month now. Why would she ever go back?

What I didn’t realize as a first-time mom is that life with a baby would not be one grand parade of forward progress, each developmental milestone being checked off neatly once and for all before moving on to the next. When I looked at my own baby book, the achievements my mom recorded for me seemed so simple and straightforward — first laughs at three months, sitting up at six months, walking at eleven months. There was no record of me forgetting how to do something once I knew how or of me needing to be retrained in a certain area.

But I soon discovered that life with Ellie was not quite so linear. She rolled over from back to front at every opportunity for two weeks and then completely forgot how to do so for two more. She found her thumb one day and then ignored it the next. And, as Kristin had warned me, she suddenly stopped sleeping through the night somewhere around two and a half months, waking me up from my deepest sleep each morning between two and four and demanding to be fed.

I couldn’t understand it. Why was something that had been going so well for so long suddenly not working anymore?

Everyone tried to reassure me that Ellie would return to her old habits eventually, but all I could think about was that she wasn’t sleeping through the night now. I had allowed space in my expectations for life with a baby to be hard, but I hadn’t considered the possibility that it might get harder still. And even more frustrating was the reality that I had no idea how long this phase would last.

“I almost wish she hadn’t slept through the night in the first place,” I complained to a friend. “It would be easier if I hadn’t gotten used to eight uninterrupted hours of sleep, if I hadn’t formed the expectation that she’d keep doing that.”

My friend, whose ten-month-old daughter had recently learned to stand and decided to spend two hours in the middle of each night practicing her new skill in her crib, nodded in weary agreement.

Parenting a child, I am learning, is not a nice, smooth trail that progresses directly from Point A to Point B; rather, it is a journey full of detours and switchbacks. I’m not sure why this has taken me by surprise, seeing as life itself rarely marches forward in neat, evenly-spaced intervals. But surprise me it has. I genuinely thought that by three months of age, Ellie would not only be sleeping through the night (based on her early mastery of the skill), but that she’d have settled into a regular schedule, that I’d have figured her out, that life would once again feel manageable and predictable.

But even at her current age of six months, thanks in part to her battle with acid reflux, my little girl is far from predictable, and she’s still not sleeping through the night like she did at six weeks. Our daily life reads like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, where the success (or failure) of each feeding, naptime, or night takes us down one of many possible paths for the day. I honestly don’t know when — or if — it will get better.

As the type of person who likes to get things done and stay on schedule, who too often measures the value of a day by the number of things I am able to cross off my to-do list, having an inconsistent child has been, to put it mildly, a real challenge. I’ve found myself oscillating between stubborn determination to “fix” Ellie by improving her eating and sleeping habits and frustration and despair when my latest plan falls flat on its face, when she refuses to eat at her scheduled time or wakes up an hour too early.

Just this morning, in fact, I dissolved in tears, tired after waking up with Ellie twice in the middle of the night, frustrated that she wouldn’t eat at the time I’d tried to set for her first morning feeding. I felt the heavy burden of condemnation, remembering how I’d read on a parenting website just the day before that consistent schedules were key to a baby’s ability to thrive and establish healthy sleep patterns. I compared myself to all the other mothers I know who seem to have no problem getting their babies on a regular schedule or sleeping through the night. And suddenly, all I could see was failure. Ellie’s failure. My failure. Our failure.

But thankfully, in that moment, I did something I’ve done far too infrequently these last six months — I prayed. And thankfully, in that moment, God whispered grace. He reminded me that I do fail, time after time, day after day, but that He forgives me each and every time, treating me, through Christ, as if I had never failed at all. He reminded me that in my own journey with Him, there have been many times where I completely forgot a lesson I’d already learned, where I had to be gently corrected and retaught. He reminded me too that no matter how much I mature, I will still fall short, and that even then, there is only grace.

So today, I held my Ellie girl tight when she woke up too early from her nap, kissing her soft, warm cheeks and smoothing her fine, auburn hair. Instead of stressing about her erratic feedings, I bounced her in my arms, reveling in her happy laughs. And tonight, when her cries interrupt my sleep, I will remember that there is grace for this journey, grace for me, grace for Ellie, grace for the steps God has determined for our lives together, no matter how winding and circuitous they may be.

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Abigail Waldron lives in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., with her husband C.J. and their children. She enjoys teaching college writing courses and pursuing her own writing projects, including her blog, Redeeming Themes.

3 Comments
  • Amy

    Thank you for a lovely article. I feel so much compassion for what you’re experiencing; my daughter had similar issues. She had (and still has) GERD, resulting in feeding aversion and the need for a high dose of PPI meds to completely control the acid. I would like to recommend two resources that helped me. The first is the forums on http://infantrefluxdisease.com/forums/. The ladies there are very active and so informative in response to all my questions about reflux. They also referred me to a good GI Dr when our first wouldn’t take my daughter’s issues seriously. Second for sleep training (which we also dealt with) I HIGHLY recommend the book “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. I was skeptical of his methods until I actually tried them; now I am a firm proponent because they truly WORK. These two resources got us through those first two very hard, painful years. Blessings to you, it does get better.

  • It’s true, parenting has been my biggest training ground to see the grace in my failings or perceived failings. I too, remember being surprised when similar things happened with my babies. It can be stressful when you’re a person who likes routine yourself. Few things in life have brought me closer to Jesus as raising kids!

  • Love how Abby ends this article — by remembering to simply enjoy her daughter. I can definitely relate to being “the type of person who likes to get things done and stay on schedule, who too often measures the value of a day by the number of things I am able to cross off my to-do list.” My oldest (who’s now seven) wanted to be held and fed constantly. She didn’t nap unless she was in a swing or being held. It was a huge challenge for me to do anything — but, if I could go back, I’d savor it instead of stress over it. I wish I would have been content to just sit and hold her.

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When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Articles

Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Sleep Training

by Abigail Waldron time to read: 5 min
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