Tag Archives: Sleep

Striking a Balance

It’s a delicate balancing act, especially as a single mom, to simultaneously take care of yourself and also be present and focused on your children. The two goals constantly come in conflict with one another—and yet experts often advise us to do one, or the other, or both, with little instructions on how to do so. For instance, earlier in the week, when working on a Lifechangers article for Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers show, I interviewed Rebecca E. Eberlin, Ph.D., a family psychologist who runs “Navigating Divorce For Your Children” workshops at the UCLA Commons in Santa Monica, Calif. She insisted, and I tend to agree, that when parents are in the process of getting a divorce, they need to focus 100% of their choices on how they will affect their kids. In fact, she listed focusing on yourself and not on your children as one of the top 5 mistakes that most divorcing parents make. After speaking with her for an hour, I could see her point completely.

Taking Care of Yourself

Photo by Jennifer Suarez

On the flip side, are you (like me) sometimes frustrated when someone says: “you need to take care of yourself”?

If you’re a single mom—especially those of us with small children, full-time care of those children, and little family support—the idea of taking a spa day seems nearly impossible. But taking care of yourself means very different things to different people. One of my favorite bloggers, Tracie Louise, eloquently explained some of the ways she takes care of herself in her latest post “Being Selfish”.

I know that I can’t always afford to get manicures, facials, massages, or go on shopping sprees, for instance. I do know, however, that it’s possible to squeeze in time during the week to go on a run (even if it requires a three-year-old in the stroller); take a bath (hopefully without a baby, but trust me, he’s snuck in before!); meditate; write; or take a community yoga class. Another selfish thing for me is to ignore the dinner mess and mounds of laundry and snuggle with my boys while watching a favorite show.

I think the biggest goal for me, and perhaps for some of you too, is to strike that delicate balance—when the pendulum finally rests at the center—between focussing on my children and their needs and exploring my own and having a bit of fun. During the first year of my separation I may have used the excuse of focussing on my kids to hibernate. Granted, my youngest was still a baby, but the only time I spent out was either pushing the stroller while he slept; cheering on the oldest on the soccer field; volunteering in the classroom; or writing an article at a coffee shop. It was quite hard for me to reach out to others, take exercise classes, or even sleep well—as I slept with the baby each night. I put on a good face, but I was literally getting by, moment by moment. Almost two years later, I try to ensure that I continue to cheer my oldest on at concerts or at soccer games; volunteer once a week at school; work; exercise; meditate; and find time for fun with the special person in my life. The effort is well worth it.

If you are where I was in my first year of separation—where you can barely muster up energy to do anything for yourself—I dare you to write down five things you’d like to incorporate into your life with a roadmap to make them happen. Even if it’s just sleeping in once a month. If this is too easy, I dare you to go even further: write down one thing you can do every day just for you. You’d be surprised how you can sneak some “me-time” in—even when you don’t have sitters or you have too much work piling on. Yesterday, with the baby sick at home, I thought it would be impossible to exercise or meditate. Well, a snuffly nose makes sleeping sitting up easier, so I put the little guy in the stroller and took off for an hour run while he slept soundly. In the evening, as the boys were watching a show after dinner, I snuck to my room and meditated for five minutes. I let myself focus on gratitude and putting a negative person’s actions and judgmental words out of my life. When the boys came down to find me, I was able to be present with them and even laughed when the youngest spilled juice on the floor. So, what I’m trying to say—in my characteristically verbose way—taking time out for yourself helps you spend more quality time with your kiddos. It’s hard to snap at the little ones after you mediate isn’t it?

(And, since I know how very different clinical depression is from mere exhaustion or sadness, please know that it’s not always possible to take care of yourself or pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Some of your friends and family members may not understand and can be creating more pressure for you. Read this information from the Mayo Clinic for information. If you think you are slipping into a clinical depression, please call your doctor. Here’s another article with online resources to help. )

For the rest of us…there are no more excuses. I’m adding one more item to my weekly for-me wish list. How about you?

Sleep Training Update: Almost There!

Remember Love and Calmness When Sleep Training

Oh my love will fly to you each night on

A n g e l’ s wings 

Godspeed Little Man

Sweet Dreams Little Man

And I … L o v e … You.

~ Dixie Chicks

Two and three-year-olds are unrelenting trouble and unconditional love rolled up into one. They are monkey business, laughter, sticky fingers and gooey love one minute—then temper tantrums and hell-on-wheels screaming the next. By the end of the day, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that our children are blessings. They believe in magic, have open hearts close to angel’s and are innocent—even when screaming. Single moms close to exhaustion can easily forget this when their cherubs just won’t sleep at the end of the day. I know. I’ve been there.

In fact, my situation was so bad, I sought expert counsel and Jill Spivack of Sleepeasy Solution came to help via the Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers show (watch the clip shown on TV here.) Jill is amazingly thoughtful and takes her work seriously. Even after the show taping, she called many times to see how I was doing. I can’t recommend her and her company enough! Her advice did help, tremendously, but in ways that she may not realize. As a former parenting editor and journalist, I had read many tactics to sleep-train babies and toddlers. My situation was unique because I have my nine-year-old in the same room as my almost three-year-old. I didn’t sleep-train Jamesy when he was a baby, as I was breastfeeding him in my bed. And to be honest, I was a bit depressed as I was (and still am) going through a divorce with little family help, and their dad living abroad. Back then, I was always exhausted and let the baby sleep with me to make breastfeeding easier and allow his older brother the chance to get much-needed sleep for school.

But by the time the baby was a year and a half, I started trying to sleep-train him. He hated his nursery on the first floor and would run upstairs where my and his older brother’s bedrooms are located. Jamesy would be shaking while screaming and I’d give in and let him sleep with me. Later, to remedy the situation, I put bunk beds in the master bedroom and moved both boys in there this summer. Since Jamesy hates to be alone, I thought he’d be more comfortable with his big brother and I had the summer to sleep-train him.

Surprise, surprise, it didn’t work. Jamesy still wanted to sleep with me, and to be fair, I wasn’t consistent in my attempts to get him to sleep on his own. When I got completely exhausted, I’d give in. For instance, after three days of sleep-training—when I’d gently nudge the toddler back into the room and say “night-night”, over and over and over again—I’d find myself dragging for days afterwards. Most nights I didn’t fall asleep until midnight, but was still up at 6 a.m. My little guy just napped more during the day to catch up, but I was working. By the end of the week, I felt like I was broken. Jamesy is very stubborn: he’d scream and scream and then get himself jacked up and excited instead of tired. At that point, his older brother would start yelling at him, taking an authoritative role like a drill sergeant, which never works. The minute I’d start raising my voice to quiet both of them, I knew it was over. By the fourth day, I’d give in and sleep with my little guy to make peace and let his big brother sleep too. After days of falling asleep in the bunk bed with my clothes on and not brushing my teeth or washing my face, I’d start to get resentful. (I mean, who wouldn’t?) Of course this situation couldn’t go on forever. But it feels that way when you’re in it—especially when you’re in it alone.

What I learned with Jill is that the whole process has to come from a place of love. If the older brother is inserting corporal punishment or yelling and adding more stress to the situation, he needs to be removed. So while I trained Jamesy, William slept in another room. The other brilliant tactic of Jill’s is her book. All toddlers love books where they are the main character and it preps them for how the process will begin and end. Jill and I created a book together called “Jamesy Goes Nite Nite.” In this book, with stick figures, I tell Jamesy that I love him SO much, I want him to get a good night’s sleep. We explained why this is so important for him and why it’s a matter of loving him so much—it’s not about me needing sleep or needing time alone. Two and three-year-olds don’t care about your needs, remember?

Finally, Jill reminded me that sleep-training doesn’t need to terrify a little guy. Leaving Jamesy in the room to “cry-it-out” really isn’t fair or nice, especially at this age. I had considered locking the door, as some other moms had suggested to me, “in order to break him.” Jill reminded me that when a child approaches three, they start to believe in all sorts of things—such as monsters, dragons or evil witches, etc. He may be having legitimate fears. And just after I saw Jill, sure enough, Jamesy started expressing them. Which is why I waited until after Halloween to start in ernest and I limited trick-or-treating to a neighborhood that wasn’t too scary.

Even still, Halloween got under his skin a bit.

“Monsters, mommy! Monsters under the bed!” he said one night, running into my room. “Spider came up through the bed and ate me!” he said another night.

So, after putting William in my room for two nights as I “trained” Jamesy, I’m having much more success. Not every night is smooth sailing, but it’s getting easier. I also came up with a few additional solutions of my own, that may help other moms with multiple kids or single moms who lack additional hands for help:

  1. Create a way to tackle fears.
    For me, it was monster spray. I made a huge deal out of buying monster spray and I showed it to my son. It is a spray bottle with water of course, but I said I bought it at a magic store and I sprayed it all around his room and bed…so now NO monsters can come near him! For the spiders, I told him that all spiders were terrified of geckos and guppies. Since we have a fish tank and a huge gecko in his room, he’s safe. In fact, the safest spot in the WHOLE house is his room.
  2. Reward the older sibling for helping.
    One night when we were saying our prayers, which consist of listing the 9 and 3 things the boys are thankful for (9 things for a 9-year-old, 3 for a 3-year-old) I said what I was thankful for: “I am super thankful that Jamesy has a big brother who would do anything for him, loves him and protects him.” William laughed, but it made a big difference. In the morning, I found the two of them sleeping together in the top bunk. (I’ve also added “being nice to your little brother” on his board of chores for his allowance. Might be bribery, but it’s starting to work!)
  3. Be flexible with bedtime.
    Since my kids are far apart in age, their bedtimes differ. I used to spend hours on bedtimes—trying to enforce on earlier time for the baby, then going through another routine with the older. Of course, finding it hard to find time to finish whatever I need to do later, such as dishes, lunch, my own editing, before bed, etc. I was spinning my wheels for hours, as the baby wouldn’t sleep until big brother was down. Why fight it? I’m now taking a more European approach. I let the younger stay up later with big brother, as I wash dishes and get myself ready for bed. Then I put them both down at the same time: 8:30. The older son gets a flashlight and can read in the top bunk for 30 minutes as I help Jamesy fall asleep. For now, it’s working.
  4. Stay Calm.
    Even if Jamesy doesn’t want to sleep on his own, I gently nudge him back into his room over and over again calmly. I never raise my voice. In fact, by the third nudge, I say nothing and just pat his back and walk him back to his room. For a week it was tough, but now, it takes about 3 nudges and he’s on his own.
  5. Tell them where you’ll be.
    I think just knowing that I’m right next door, reassures him. I used to think it would inspire him to follow me, but it does the exact opposite.
  6. Allow middle of the night snuggles.
    If your kiddo sneaks into your room in the middle of the night, let it slide. In fact, enjoy it. They grow up so fast, you’ll miss snuggle time later. I find that if my little guy goes to bed on his own, but sneaks into my room at 3 a.m. scared by something, I’m better off letting him stay there and not making a big deal out of it.

I hope these additional tips are helpful. If you’re a single parent of a little one like me, just remember that this phase of your life won’t last forever. Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t think about other couples who take turns with the kiddos. Don’t allow yourself to sink into doubt or self pity. Call a friend in the morning and thank God for your little angels. Remember that they want to feel safe and if you can help them feel safe now, it will last a lifetime. In fact, helping them feel safe, may be more important than getting them to bed at a specific time, so keep your cool.

Hope my story helps. Email if you’d like to chat, or let me know what is working for you!

~ L.

Connect With Your Children While They Sleep

Sleep Talk Therapy for Children Struggling With Divorce

One of the bitter ironies for most single parents is that we’d do anything for our kids, but find that we have very little quality time with them. Can you relate? Even when I’m not working on weekends, I find that I’m constantly playing the disciplinarian and not able to reconnect, reassure, or just have fun with them. Between my nine-year-old’s antics (that seem more like those of a teenager’s)—to my two-year-old’s temper tantrums, most weekends roll along with me nagging, discipling, and often yelling “No!” or “Stop doing that to your brother!” at my adorable boys. It’s exhausting. Sadly, when children are dealing with the stress of a divorce, experts say they often act out more than normal and take out their fears, anger, frustration and anxiety on the parent who is caring for them most. This is also a time when they need more reassurance, love and stability than ever. Striking a balance between providing much needed discipline and reassurance is tricky. It’s so tempting to overcompensate for their loss and let certain bad behaviors slide, which experts say is a mistake. (Check out this story of mine for discipline strategies.)

But if you’re spending most of your time together nagging about homework, racing to and from scheduled activities, prepping dinner and disciplining your children—when can you find time to reconnect and reassure your troubled children? Believe it or not, one expert says we can do it while they are asleep. Yup, you heard me right—after you say goodnight.

I met Lois Y. Haddad RN, the author of Sleep Talk, at a friend’s speaking engagement a few weeks ago. When she told me that she developed this program after working as a nurse with critically ill children at UCLA Medical Center, I was hooked. She realized that children often heard encouraging words whispered to them when they slept. She shared with me a story about a nine-year-old boy whose father set him on fire. More than 60 % of his body was covered with burns and he had lost the will to live. Lois, whose shift was from 3 p.m. – 11 p.m., would whisper to him after he fell asleep that she didn’t know “why this had happened to him, that he was a wonderful boy and that now was his chance to help other people through impossible situations.” The grafts began to take and the boy began to heal and he is currently a motivational speaker. Lois was so successful with children, that her husband, a general practitioner, often sent parents who were struggling with a host of issues with their kids—from back talk, to shyness, to lack of self esteem—to Lois.

When I was talking with her at this Orange County speaking engagement, I began thinking about all of the studies that I’ve read suggesting that some people in comas can actually hear what was said to and around them. (Read the story “I Was In a Coma But Could Hear Every Word” for inspiration!)

As she spoke to me I had a bit of an Aha moment, as Oprah would say. I instantly remembered a time in college when a dear friend had been crushed in a devastating car accident that instantly killed our other friend who was with her. I would visit Sarah in the south Georgia hospital the emergency crew drove her to, and see a version of her that was unbearable as she was completely immobilized and hooked up to tubes. She had suffered incredible brain and internal injuries, and while we weren’t sure she’d make it,  something told me to bring my photos along. Maybe it was Divine intervention? Before making the three hour drive to see her, I dug out my photography class notebook and found the gorgeous black and white photos I took of Sarah. In most of the shots she appears to be floating in air: her black curly hair is flying around her, her polka dot mini skirt creating a ballooned mushroom that her bent knees are tucked under, only her white tennis shoes emerging from. Her smile is infectious. Somehow, I captured the essence of her spirit in our photo shoot. Sarah, who was studying to be an art therapist for special needs children, was vivacious, silly, funny, a romantic nut and full of life. She wasn’t this immovable person attached to tubes in order to breathe and eat. I taped these pictures of her leaping in the air all around her bed. I wanted all the nurses in this small Georgian town where she happened to have a car accident en route back from Florida, to see who she was. I wanted them to talk to the girl in the photo. I wanted them to talk about the girl in the photo. I wanted them to address her as she was—because somehow, I just knew she could hear them. I hope I was right.

So, as I was speaking with Lois, Sarah’s smiling face flashed before my eyes and what the former RN was saying about connecting with children as they sleep made intuitive sense to me. Here’s the gist of Sleep Talk:

After your child is asleep, go back into the room and talk with him/her. If you’ve had a terrible day together with lots of disagreements, it’s great to talk with your child as he’s looking adorable asleep. Your tone of voice will automatically become quieter, softer, more loving. It’s hard to have a dismissive or aggressive tone as you look at your sleeping angel. And, what you have to say will have more power coming from a loving place.

“A child hears differently in a sleep state than a wake state … But you need to introduce yourself gently, such as ‘William, this is your mother,’ when you begin [Sleep Talk] so that you raise the child up to an alpha brain wave frequency and he’ll let you in, know you’re a safe voice,” she explains.

For single moms of children who are struggling with their conflicting emotions during a divorce, Sleep Talk can be a great way for both the mom and the child to reconnect, says Lois.

“Doing Sleep Talk helps you dump any emotional garbage of the day. Through reaffirming your love and pride for him, you allow him to truly hear you on the deepest level and you clear the slate for the next day’s activities,” she says.

Lois has created many scripts for parents to use in her book, including one for children of divorce, and each can be tweaked for your situation as I think single parents often know what they want to say to their kids. Depending on your child’s age, the divorce issues will vary. But for my soon-to-be 10-year-old, I know I need to reassure him that everything is going to be ok. He needs to know that he’s loved; that this divorce wasn’t his or his little brother’s fault; that I’m proud of him; and that I will always be there for him. For a little boy, he is worried about so many adult things for the future: about our financial security; about whether his dad will live permanently in London; about whether mommy will marry someone else some day and who that will be; about whether we’ll have to move from Los Angeles in order to save money, etc. I know what I want to whisper to him. And I’ve already started. Let me tell you, even if Sleep Talk doesn’t change some of my son’s behavior, it is changing me. When I look at his adorable face while he’s asleep, I remember that he’s just a boy. My resentments and my anger at him for back-talking just drift away. I’ll continue with my discipline during the day—I mean, I can’t let him watch TV and play video games all day or hit his little brother can I? And while I do tell him I love him during the day, it’s usually after a day of nagging and cajoling and I can tell he’s tuning me out. Now at night, I tell him softly: “Mommy loves you. She’s SO proud of you. This isn’t your fault. We’re going to be okay.”

And we are.