The Battle at Bedtime

He’s so small.

He’s refusing to sleep in his own bed because he wants his mama. This is how it goes these days – and I can’t really blame him because he’s so small – so I agree to tuck him into mine.

He snuggles under the covers, head on pillow. Round cheeks, fuzzy hair, soft lashes. I see how small he is and how quickly this stage will go by. I can absolutely understand why he would want me to lie with him while he goes to sleep. That makes sense to me – as a person and a mother. His mother. And yet I’m lying there with my teeth clenched so tight my jaw is starting to hurt.

There are some nights when I just don’t have it in me. He resists the routine at every stage, squawking and stomping and running away. Laughing because he thinks he’s funny and he knows I think he’s not. He slams doors and throws things and I feel my ability to cope drain away.

When he’s finally in bed, he takes a while to be still. He’s like a butterfly, flitting from flower to flower trying to find just the right spot. He rolls over, pulls the covers up, pushes them away. He snuggles into me, then flops right out of the bed and announces, with conviction, that he’s not interested in going to sleep.

I start with ultimatums, but before long I’m begging.

Please lie down. Please, please go to sleep.

I’m begging a two-year-old to sleep, despite months and months and years of evidence that this is in no way effective. That it serves no purpose except to highlight my inadequacy and remove all hope that this will become a peaceful process.

When he finally settles and asks for a cuddle, my first response is an emphatic, “No!” I need to get out of here. I need to…do something else. I can’t. I just can’t.

And I immediately feel awful. Awful. What kind of mother says no to a cuddle at bedtime? Besides, I know I’m going to give in.

Some nights this cuddle time is my absolute greatest joy. Some nights I would give everything to freeze time and lie there with him. My son. My baby. He has his spot – his back curled right into my chest, his head tucked under my chin. During those times I can feel his breathing – his chest rising and falling, his breath on my arm – and everything about it is peace.

Those good nights outnumber the bad. But, oh, the bad. When it’s not going well and I don’t have it in me I simply cannot summon that peace. We’ve had bedtime battles with this child since he was an infant. A very small, very screamy infant. One night when he was two or three months old it took us five hours – FIVE HOURS – to get him to calm down and go to sleep. When he was finally asleep I called my parents and told them to bring whiskey. “For you or for him?” my mother asked. Both. Definitely both.

We clearly needed to do something different, but two years later we haven’t really figured out what that is. Some nights he’s fine, but most of the time bedtime is not easy. And on those nights I start to think he’s actually going to kill me.

We have the same routine every night and he knows what to expect. He says he’s tired and wants to go to sleep. Stories are usually fine, but lately I use the toothpaste test to know if the rest of the routine is going to go well: if I end up with toothpaste on me – wiped on me, spat at me, thrown at me – that’s not a good sign.

I’m sure my frustration and anxiety about this process transfer to him and get him all hopped up when he’s supposed to be calming down, but I don’t know how to change that. I’m willing to give up the battle – he can sleep in my bed, though that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to get him to go to sleep. It just avoids the screaming. It means I’ll sleep better than if he were in his own bed, but it doesn’t mean I’ll sleep well. But after over two years of this battle, my husband and I know when we’re not going to win and we concede defeat.

The bedtime battle always eventually ends – for one night, at least – but I feel like there are so many other parts to this war.

[Side note: Just when I was trying to decide if it was productive to post this my iTunes mix jumped to Pink. I told you…she’s following me.]




  1. Toni Byrnes says:

    Great post! Not a ramble at all, and in fact very meaningful after our last few nights of struggling with our little ones sleep. Getting to sleep is not the issue, rather the keeping her asleep. Up every 1/2hr or hr. It soooo impacts my ability to cope the next day and means my husband comes home to a screaming baby, and crying wife. So, after my rambling comment I can confidently say your post hit home for me. Thanks for sharing and I wish you all many nights of easy bedtimes!

  2. Is he already in a big boy bed? Like you said yesterday, we have SO much in common but my 2 year old still gets put in his cushy pack 'n play for sleep. I can't imagine him in a big boy bed, he'd come out of the room every time I closed the door!. YIKES!

    You're not a bad mom for resisting cuddle time. You're not actually resisting the cuddle, you're resisting his cute little manipulative way to get you to cuddle! You got him sister.

    • MamaRobinJ says:

      He is in a big boy bed, although he doesn't sleep in it. He was ok at first after we converted it but now he doesn't stay in it all right. The crib has the side on again right now because we had a baby sleep over the other night and now he won't get in it. Gotta take that rail back off, but I doubt it will help. We left him in a crib for a long time for the same reason, and I'd happily put him back if he'd sleep there 😉

  3. I think the most frustrating part of these sorts of episodes with my 2 year old (any episode; not just bedtime issues) is that I know I'm being played like a fiddle.. and he knows how to get my goat every. single. time. You'd think I would've learned how to diffuse it by now, but no. I apparently have some masochistic tendencies when it comes to my children. You aren't alone!!

    • MamaRobinJ says:

      Yep, exactly! He's got the manipulation down to an art and it's so hard to get him to stop! Especially the "I peed" or "I need to pee" one. What if…? Ugh.

  4. We are sleep buddies, you and I. I could have written most of this post myself–and I frequently do! Jax has a good night of sleep every 10-12 days, a severely awful night every 5 or so days, and the rest are all in the middle. Most nights, I rock/nurse him to sleep (yes, even at 19 months), which takes 30 minutes. Then he goes into his crib almost 100% asleep (I know, another rule broken), where he says anywhere from an hour to 8 or 9 hours (on an amazing night) before he wakes and we bring him to our bed. Once he's in our bed, he tosses & turns and wakes to nurse anywhere from every 1/2 hour to every 3 hours. I rarely sleep through the night, ever. I empathize with you. I'm sure by the time Jax is 2, he'll be using words to delay bedtime, like your son!

    I also beg him to sleep on the not-so-good nights. And I frequently lose my patience those nights. I'll have to tell you via DM or email about my really bad night & what I said to my son. It's funny and awful at the same time.

    I hope you get some good sleep. I know firsthand how much crappy sleep affects moms.

    • MamaRobinJ says:

      The good thing is that at least if he ends up in bed with me I sleep better than if he's up several times a night. I shouldn't complain because I get to sleep much more now than I used to. I remember the nights during the stage you're at. It's so hard.

  5. The battle of bedtime has been an issue in our house lately, but Lucas REFUSES to lay in bed, let alone sleep with his dad and I. He wants one of us (usually me) to hold him and rock him in the rocking chair in his room. Not comfortable!! I wish he would sleep with us sometimes, but after reading this, I'm not so sure.

    One thing I know for sure is there is nothing worse than a yucky night's sleep for you or your little one!

    Don't get me started on the teeth brushing battle! Ugh!

  6. I totally understand these feelings. It's hard to be frustrated with your child, but sometimes, they are so frustrating. I totally sympathize with you.

    And you're right–reading our experiences in tandem highlights why we feel both sets of emotions.

    I'm glad you wrote this.

  7. It's been a long time since I've had this but your description is so wonderful it brings back memories. My granddaughters do spend the night sometimes and the oldest is now 2. She slept better when she was a baby but now that she's older it is so hard to get her to bed. Especially since her dad works second shift and she's on his schedule. But worse is that when she gets up or refuses to lay down she continually shakes her 1 year old sister and yells "Wake up baby!". So then I have them both up laughing and giggling and running around the house at midnight!

    I'm a new follower from Hump Day blog hop.

  8. This account is scaring me away from motherhood forever! Thanks a lot! ;-p