The politics of sleep: The milk wars
Posted on December 8, 2017
It’s 1:32 am as I post this. This must be something that all parents grapple with but I never know for sure. How do you help your child sleep? Do you let your child drink milk at night and in what container?? Sometimes it is another path forward.
For context, Collin is 3 years old and is no longer using the pacifier, the bottle or the sippy cup… we are now transitioning to the cup. We don’t drink milk at night after he brushes his teeth and he has been good with it, for the most part.
Before I continue though, why does it even matter? There are some material consequences. Too much milk at night can get you rotten teeth. Long term use of the pacifier and/or the bottle can get you a over/underbite. AND too much milk at night means you pee in bed. It’s basic input and output, no matter what kind of night diaper. This leads to poor sleep for the parent and child.
So this week, most evenings we’ve had what I call the ‘milk wars’. It’s late, very late, or should I say very early, like 4 am, and he can’t fall back asleep and demands “MILK!” And usually I’m so ready to give into the demand.
But the first night he was adamant about drinking milk from the thermos, which we only allow when we are outside, especially now as we are transitioning to the cup. The thermos has the fine feature that it doesn’t spill and it has a straw which I’m sure the sucking sensation helps with calming him down so he can get back to sleep.
I was so ready to give in but somehow I could tell from his crying it was a tantrum NOT a meltdown (this is a new capacity!) So held my ground and negotiated with him what he really needed/wanted. I said, “Do you want milk or the thermos?” He said, “thermos.” Then i said, “Then, no milk.” This went on for some time. Loud, I mean loud, crying and screaming occurred. Finally after a 30 minute standoff, I said, “Do you want baba to leave the room?” He said, “No!” After more reflection, he said, “I want milk in the cup, not in the thermos.” He drank it then fell back asleep, eventually.
Ok so he still drank milk, but in the process I realized that he was just trying to self soothe to get himself back to sleep. This will change over time as he grows up but will keep coming up as challenge.
So last night, he had a similar demand and I tried a bunch of things and finally decided to sing to him. I’m not a great singer but what do you know that did it.
It was never really about milk, actually. Sometimes there is something behind what is being said. Sometimes we just need a song. A lesson for all of us. Next time he may need something else. He just woke up again and I sang my song and he’s back asleep. Let’s hope we’ll get some (uninterrupted) sleep tonight.