Total Backfire: Goodnight Grab Bag


Family-bed-300x200 We all like to think we're getting this parenting thing down, right?  Yet it always seems that just when relief settles in, the babes throw us a curve ball, no?  Am I the only one this so consistently happens to?  For our little family of 4-1/2, such is the case with the Goodnight Grab Bag, which I elatedly wrote up a week or two ago after it got my "jack-in-the-box" three-and-a-half-year-old to sleep allllll the way through the night, in his own bed.  Until, that is, he became desensitized to the fabulousness that is the cheep, Chinese-made dollar store toy.

It started, of course, a couple of days after I posted Total Genius: Goodnight Grab Bag.  H woke up in the morning, excited to dig into the grab bag, pulled out a water frisbee, and said, "Can I pick something else?"  Me: "No, sorry Honey, that's not how the grab bag works.  This is going to be sooo much fun at the pool!"  And it was.  But the seeds of expectation and disappointment were already sowed. . .

The next day, H. woke up around 5:30 AM.  He crawled into bed with me, all warm and snuzzly (and this is where the lines blur, right?).  It was sort of morning.  I'd really kind of missed snuggling up with him. . . It seemed OK, and off we dozed until our rock star, all-the way-through-the-night-in-his-own bed-since-he-was-eight-weeks-old-sleeper, 22-month-old Little Lou, woke up around 6:30 AM, and clamoured to gain admittance to our unwitting family bed.  He hopped around as hubs, H and I all groaned, hoping for more z's.  H shouted at L, "YOU can't be in OUR BED!"  L cried.  Little Lou had never factored into our lazy co-sleeping arrangement before–he'd always been blissfully unaware.  Or so I'd thought.  I calmly told H that if HE could be in mommy & daddy's bed, L certainly could, too.  My hand instinctively flew to my 16-week baby bump, and I wondered if we could fit five people in our bed, and whether we really wanted to.  I know some people swear by the family bed, but um, no, I don't think that's for us, I concluded.

Around 6:45 AM, H bounced out of bed and half-whined, since he knew it was questionable, "Can we do goodnight grab bag?"  L parroted "Gwad bawg!" and ran to the hall closet where we kept it.  He'd been callously excluded from the morning ritual for the past two weeks, but now he was demanding his place, and if anyone deserved a gift for good sleep habits, it was him.  I reluctantly ponied up two dollar store items, reflecting that my $7 weekly investment had now doubled to $14.  H was again disappointed, this time by a malfunctioning helicopter shooter.  As it whizzed roughly 16 inches into the air, H's disgust with the quality of the merchandise was palpable.  "Can we pick something elseeee," he whined, again.  Little Lou was thrilled to have something, anything at all.  I caught myself wondering why H couldn't just be satisfied like sweet Little Lou.

And that is when I had one of those stellar parenting lightning bolt moments: I realized I had been parenting for almost two years as if I had only one child.  And I remembered that actual parenting (you know, stuff other than keeping the child clean and snuggled and fed, like setting limits, teaching manners and empathy–which I could have clearly used a refresher course on), kicked in with H around age 2 as well.  Further, I realized I was tired of giving my son plastic crap he didn't appreciate, and that I didn't want him, or his brother, or his other brother (it's another BOY!), to become habituated to expecting material rewards, however pitiful and disappointing, for following my rules.  Especially given that Little Lou had now stepped up to remind me that whatever I do for Huck, I must do roughly equivalent for each subsequent sibling.  Goodnight Grab Bag had to stop.  Fair and equitable treatment had to start.  Now. 

Well, two weeks later, I must say, we've had some ups and downs.  It's been an adjustment for all of us.  With #3 on the way, I am resolved, finally, to treating my children if not the same, equitably, and that means trying really, really hard to do nothing for one that I would find burdensome for all three.  We put our foot down with Huck: sorry, we love you to pieces, but you're not allowed in our bed at night–you really need to sleep in your own room.  No matter what the time or how tired we are, we return H to his own bed when he tries to get into ours, and his visits are becoming much less frequent.  Little Lou is following suit, and in a few weeks, in anticipation of the new babe, we're moving them into the same room to keep each other company. 

So no, this isn't the fast track miracle solution I'd been hoping for, but I do think it's a more lasting one, and one that won't cost me $21 dollars a week (or a thousand dollars a year!) for three kids.  Here's what Goodnight Grab Bag did do for us, however: it illustrated that H's night waking habits were, in fact, by and large under his control.  It showed us, and him (we've brought this up in many conversations about sleeping in his own room), that he could, if motivated, sleep all the way through the night.  It underlined the fact that Huck has my number, and that yes, even a three-year-old (or maybe especially a three-year-old) is capable of manipulating situations to his advantage.  And ultimately, it gave us the confidence and resolve to simply put our foot (feet?) down on some pretty simple house rules.

Wish me luck getting the big boys sleeping before the little one comes along, Mamas!

– M. 





  1. I feel your pain. My 3 year old was a rockstar sleep from 18-30 months, and then it all fell apart. For the past year he’s been getting up in the middle of the night, waking up at 5am, and not falling asleep until after 9 some nights. My 1 year old has finally started sleeping through the night (most nights), but for a while they were tag-teaming us.
    I definitely don’t have sage advice to offer, but I can offer you sympathy and wishes for good sleep!

  2. We just put our two boys together in a room (15 months and 3.5 years) in anticipation of another baby in less than a month, and I have to say, the sleep thing has been hell. We’ve never allowed co sleeping in any form, and both boys do sleep through the night for the most part, but the transitions on either end have been really tough. My older son (a terrible sleeper from day one) has a hard time winding down and spends about an hour shouting, running around, laughing maniacally, screaming, and generally making a ruckus before he sacks out. My younger son (the awesome sleeper from the get-go) is great about putting himself to sleep in a quiet room with a bottle, but needs a quiet dark room to do so. Put those two things together and you have two kids who are awake for hours beyond their normal bedtimes. Oh, and the 15 month old still wakes up before 6:00 (sometimes 4) for a bottle, and often wakes his brother (who wouldn’t wake up normally until 7) at the same time. So we are tired around here. I’m hoping the novelty wears off soon. We have had some luck with staggering their bedtimes, but given their relative ages, it is hard to be sure that the younger one is totally asleep before the older one goes to bed without pushing the older one’s bed time ridiculously late or the younger one’s bedtime ridiculously early! (Which then makes the morning that much earlier). Argh. And we can add a nursing newborn to the mix in a few weeks.
    But hopefully you’ll have a bit longer to work the kinks out!!

  3. Oh, Mama! This parenthood thing is a TOTAL trial & error, I’m afraid. I don’t normally comment, but I just FEEL ya this morning. My previous awesome sleeper(5yo) has been fighting bedtime & wanting to sleep with us lately. My solution was that he has to fall asleep in his own bed, but if he wakes up he can grab a blanket & sleep on a “palette” beside our bed…thinking that would get old fast. NOPE! He ends up on the floor almost every night around 2 or 3 a.m. I mean, great, it doesn’t wake me….but the 2 year old ROCKSTAR sleeper from day 1 is starting to figure out that big bro is in mommy’s room…..what to do???
    Adding that to the fact that I am currently 15 wks pg & the 2 boys will need to combine rooms soon…along with the fact that 2 yr old is still in the crib…Lots to transition.
    Thanks for making me feel like not the only one going through this.
    PS – Total sidenote: I am a couple weeks away from finding out if we are having a girl or boy#3. Of course, healthy is the #1 priority! But, I am afraid of having a little initial disappointment if I don’t experience both genders. Horrid, I know…but honest. Even though I know the feeling will disappear fast, any advice?? I feel guilty even having the thought.

  4. I have no advise as my only kid is a baby, but congrats on three boys!! I think matching sets of siblings rock. ๐Ÿ™‚ I bet they will be best friends for their entire lives.

  5. M, this was SO well written and SO well timed! I reached a similar conclusion a few days ago – while R isn’t getting up in the MIDDLE of the night, getting him down initially makes me want to shoot myself. I started reading that Positive Discipline book you recommended oh-so-long-ago for the sixth? seventh? time now? And we have now started the I-will-lead-you-back-to-bed-with-no-talking routine. Sigh. It’s getting better sloooowly. There really are no quick fixes.
    And regarding an earlier comment about wanting to experience both genders….isn’t that a totally normal feeling????? I know I could relate! ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. This is one of the reasons you guys are my favorite girls out there. The honesty and reality–and LOVE–in this post is just absolutely inspiring. Thanks, M. You make parenting–and good parenting–seem possible. Love ya.

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