Q. My life is a mess. I am 36, with two children -- a boy, 3, and a little girl, 9 months -- and I know that I am really very lucky, but lots of times I feel trapped.
I can't sort out the problems of sleep and discipline, especially with my son, and some nights I'm still putting the children down at 10:30 or 11. The problems are complicated by the part-time work I do at home, and difficulty in finding regular sitters.
The baby was a wonderful sleeper for the first six months but got upset by teething and a small illness. I began to nurse her back to sleep at night, and then I started nursing her to nap, too. My son is the real problem, however. He only sleeps 10 to 10 1/2 hours a day, including naps -- and he only takes those if he's in the car.
Bedtime is even worse. His father can't resist roughhousing with him, telling him stories or giving him astronomy lessons and then he goes to bed and leaves me with an over-stimulated child. My husband will help me put them to bed if I press him -- usually keeping the baby while I bathe our son -- but I still have to nurse the baby during the night and answer the boy at least once, which is hard. He's often angry or upset or having some sort of tantrum.
I am exhausted, I always seem to have a cold and I don't have the energy to deal with my son's boundless energy. I know he is over-tired when he throws his toys, sits on his sister -- or bites or pinches her -- or throws his chocolate milk for the 407th time but sometimes, as much as I love him, I want to smash him to a pulp.
A. If a husband really knew how tiring -- how relentless -- children could be, he'd book his wife into the nearest hotel and leave a "Do Not Disturb" sign on her door.
You'll certainly have to do something for the sake of your children as well as yourself, but first you have to let go of some responsibilities -- and you can't let go of them as long as you think you're indispensable. Your part-time job is important, but right now you need time for yourself more than you need money for your family. Just tell your clients you're too busy to take on any more work.
It's also important to breast-feed the baby, but not every feeding. You can prepare formula or express milk into a bottle for someone else to give her, and you can trust that someone to bathe and bed the children, too. That someone is, of course, your husband. He can handle the bedtime routine willingly and well if you treat him as your equal, not your 'helper,' and get out of the house every night for a week. That's about how long it will take to set up a new regime.
You'll just have to serve dinner, wash the dishes -- so you won't have to face them in the morning -- leave a couple of bottles for the baby and GO. Go to the movies. Go to the library. Go shopping at the mall. And then go for a drive. Or go park in your own driveway and take a nap. But don't go into your house until your husband turns on the porch light to let you know the children are asleep.
This cold-turkey approach will be hard on everyone for the first few days -- especially you. You won't like to hand over the scepter of parenthood -- even to your husband -- but everyone will learn from it.
Your husband already knows that 10:30 or 11 is too late for him to stay awake and he'll soon find out that it's too late for children to stay awake, too. He'll also discover that roughhousing is a poor way to get an energetic little boy ready for bed and you really do need more routine help from him than you've been getting. He may even decide that he likes to bathe and bed the children, and will keep on doing it if you don't interfere.
Even if he chooses some other regular household job, this interlude will teach your children to put themselves to sleep -- one of a child's first and most important skills -- but it probably won't be enough to make you feel resilient again. Call your OB for some strong vitamins -- they're usually prescribed for nursing mothers -- and tell him about those constant colds. He may want you to take extra Vitamin C, and he may want you tested for allergies, since they're often confused with colds.
You also want to consider allergies and sensitivities in your son, for they can cause many physical and even psychological problems. Milk, or certain food dyes, or a feather pillow are some of the many things that can turn a child into a handful by day and a shrieker at night. "The Impossible Child" by Doris Rapp (Practical Allergy Research Foundation, $8.95) explains it very well.
Finally, you and your husband should read "Living With the Active, Alert Child" by Linda S. Budd (Prentice Hall, $19.95), an original, well-researched book that will teach you how easy it is to over-stimulate intense children, how hard it is for them to wind down and how parents can bring out the best in them.
Questions may be sent to P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.