Releasing Rhythm


I write a lot about trying to establish rhythms in our home and the varying degrees of success in which we find them. Most recently, though, I've been thinking about the challenge of releasing rhythm and routine once we've outgrown them and they are no longer useful to us. When Silas was a baby, I developed and clung to a sleep routine for bedtime. Sleep has always been a priority in our house. All three of us function better when we are well rested, as I suppose is the case for most people. So, we have always put Silas down for bed at the same time at night and once he (finally!) settled into a clear nap pattern, there has had to have been a pretty epic event going on for me to have him away from home during that time. I absolutely cherish the brief window that I have to myself during the day while he is napping and Steve and I would not be a functional married couple if we didn't have an hour or two together sans baby in the evenings. But it took some time and more than a little bit of effort to get there.

In those early days when he was so fussy and he cried all the time and he refused to nurse and all we could do was to hold him and bounce (not rock...oh, no, we hated the rocking chair) in the dark, I maintained my sanity by counting. The bouncing would settle into a rhythm and I would count. 1, 2, 3, 4....the minutes would pass...56, 57, 58, 59 and the crying would slowly stop and his breathing would shift. It became meditative. Suddenly, I wasn't lost in a dark room, I had a purpose. I could track the time and knew that he would eventually fall asleep. It no longer seemed hopeless. There was no time or space in my brain for thoughts of frustration or anger, I was too busy counting.

For the past year, with only minor adjustments, our nighttime routine has been the same. Then a couple of months ago it just didn't fit anymore. Silas was cranky and would howl if I tried to hand him over to Steve for songs, as was our custom. Bedtime was becoming a battle again. Something needed to shift. Steve and I agonized about what to do. How about dropping the songs? What if I faded more into the background and bedtime become a Papa/Silas event? With more than a little bit of trepidation, we took the leap and changed. Silas took it like a champ, of course, and we have embraced a new, calm rhythm that is peaceful and effective. It includes cookies and warm milk. And as much as I do not long to return to those early days, I find it so hard to release my old habits. After he nurses to sleep I still count as I rock, waiting to reach some magic number that will allow me to lay him down without waking. My rational brain knows that he will either sleep or he will wake and which one it is has little to do with whether I rock him for the count of 200 or the count of 157. But, my habit-brain keeps whispering, "what if..." 

I've been practicing letting go, trying to release to the universe my need for habit and control and instead trying to maintain my presence in different ways. Instead of counting to crowd out the negative thoughts and feelings, I'm trying to be blank and open to give the positive room to enter in. As I look down at my sleeping boy, so little of him still a baby, I embrace how far we've come and how far we have yet to go.

16 comments:

  1. beautiful post! this is so, so true. it seems that as soon as you find what works and you let your guard down, it's time to be brave and embrace change, sounds as if your mama-intuition is strong and you're doing a wonderful job!

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    1. Thank you so much, Amanda! It's constant change, isn't it? So, I'll have plenty of opportunities to get used to it. :)

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  2. Being a parent is allowing yourself to let go, to change as your baby grows and the needs shift in another direction. I have been following you for awhile now Courtney and I really must tell you that I think you are doing such a fantastic job being a mama and I love being able to watch as Silas grows from a baby to a little boy!

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    1. Thank you so much, Tracey. That really means a lot coming from you.

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  3. I can so relate to the difficulty of releasing various rhythms as they no longer work! That has been one of my greatest challenges of being a mom: the constant change and how just when we or I have found some rhythm that works for this or that part of our day (or our day as a whole!), something shifts and I have to then shift along with it. And it seems that I am perennially lagging behind a step or two, so caught up in the rhythm that *finally worked!*, that I fail to notice that my boys have moved on ;) Best to you as you find your way through the holding and releasing (a whole rhythm in itself, really...) - Annie

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    1. The whole "finally worked" thing is exactly what I mean! It's so tough to let go of those things after you've spent so many sleepless nights working them out in the first place.

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  4. I think the number one lesson I have learned in my short time as a parent is to let go. I am not always good at it, I have been known to be a bit of a control freak, but in the end I find it serves me and my little man well if I can release and let go.

    You are working with your little man, changing the rhythm to make things work for him, I would say you are on the right path, even is that little bit of control wants to sneak back in. Hang in there.

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    1. Oh, yes, the challenge of letting go. It is most definitely one of my number one struggles. Each time it gets just a little bit easier, though!

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  5. Seriously? I count too! I thought I was the only weirdo out there doing that. When Evan was very young (and colicky) I found that if I counted, I relaxed my body and Evan would sense that I was relaxed and somehow calm right to sleep. But you are right that it can get a bit obsessive. Now with Clayton, I felt too like I had to reach a magic number, but I've been letting go of that as he has gotten older. Now that he is in a toddler bed, I am even trying to put him down, sing a song and simply leave the room. Still working a bit on this though...

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    1. Ha! That's too funny. I'm an obsessive counter from way back. My other little secret is that whenever I'm in a situation that makes me anxious I compulsively spell. Usually the same word over and over. Weird, huh? :)

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    2. Spelling? That's awesome! I think you might be my new best friend :)
      I've been counting forever too. I remember as a kid, when we were at church, I would count how many of a certain letter I could find in the missal...or how many people in the rows in front of me were wearing a certain color of clothing.
      Sometimes it's just passing the time, but definitely gets more "serious" when I'm anxious too. Then, I play "memory games" when I'm walking down the street, finding patterns in the colors of the cars parked along the sidewalk or something. Totally weird...but okay if it helps get us through, right?

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  6. thanks for sharing..

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  7. I think evolving with children is one of the most difficult aspects of being a parent. I crave order and patterns and when my kids were little they in turn thrived on them as well. My son was very fussy as a baby and was a challenge to care for until he went to kindergarten. I think it's great that you and your husband think over and review and alter the nighttime routine. Sounds like it is working!

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  8. Oh I so relate to this. I'm having trouble these days making sense of the rhythm that comes with adolescence...so hard all the time. I do look back on each phase and love it, so in the end we make sense of it all right?

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  9. I pop in from time to time and I can't remember if I've commented yet... Hi, I'm Lisa. I very much relate to this post and we've shifted bed time routines many times in my daughter's 2.5 years. And still, it takes the efforts of my husband and I about an hour before she drifts off to sleep. I keep reminding myself that it's temporary and this phase of life will seem so short when it's passed, and still, it's hard in the right now. And now with a newborn, this dance is even more interesting.

    And like you, I count and spell. I've been doing it for years and years. But as a sign language interpreter fingerspelling random words (I've done this since my teenage years). Sometimes I catch myself doing it walking around a store even and my mind chatters away. And I do a weird counting thing where I have to turn words into five letter words and have them still be phonetically correct. Oh! The crazy games our brains play in an attempt to calm us!

    Wishing you bedtime peace.

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  10. It's been so long since I've had to think about bed time routines, but we have one. A hug and kiss for the 16 year old and a text for the college student...a far cry from nursing and rocking. Enjoy these moments even as they change.

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