Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Using Space Flexibly

It's time to start planning the "nursery" (even though the room is currently comprised of wooden beams). I put the word "nursery" in quotes because it definitely won't just be a nursery.

When we first designed Henry's "nursery," we were living in a 2-bedroom, 1-bath, 1000-square foot bungalow. Because I loved the way the light came into his room each morning, we set up that room almost like a second living room with a couch (which folded out and became our guest quarters as necessary), a desk for crafting, Henry's floor bed (that doubled as a Montessori movement area with a mirror and a mobile), and a low shelf for toys. Henry and I spent many hours in that room in our early months together.

Our new house will have three bedrooms and two bathrooms and be 1,779 square feet. As I was standing in it the other day(!), I realized that the entryway actually has a ton of space. I realized that it can double as a crafting area when our boys are older and want their own bedrooms.

It's really liberating to look at a house through the lens of functionality and utility rather than tradition. I remember reading about a woman who turned her never-used dining room into an arts-and-crafts area. Even though we won't have a formal dining room in our new house, I hope that we apply the same principle to the design and organization of our space. Our homes should reflect--not define--our lives.

My mind is swirling with all the possibilities. Our plan (which is always subject to change when it involves a new baby!) is to co-sleep with the baby for the first two months (which, in Montessori philosophy, corresponds with the Symbiotic Period). During that time, we'll use our third bedroom for guests, crafts, and probably a secondary play space.

Now that we live in Austin, we seem to host many more guests. Also, Matt and I are planning to upgrade to a king-sized bed when we move, so we're thinking it would be nice to keep our queen-sized bed for guests (and sell the pull-out couch). It's hard for me to think about devoting all that space to a bed that doesn't get used all that often, but I know it's so much more comfortable for guests. If it would all fit, it would be great to have the queen-sized bed, a table for crafting, and the baby's floor bed. That way, post-partum guests would have a comfortable place to sleep (while the baby is sleeping with us), and the baby and I would have a secondary place to breastfeed and relax during the day when we're alone together.

Then, when the baby transitions to sleeping in his own room, he'll be comfortable with that space. He can sleep in there until we're able to successfully support him to sleep through the night (we'll start at four months and try to finish by six months, per our pediatrician's recommendation). When he sleeps through the night, we can move him into Henry's room and the third room can be used for crafts, office space, guests, and work. At that point, we may even occasionally rent out the room through airbnb to generate a little extra income. 

Years later, when the boys each want their own room, we can move the craft/office space into the entryway (and the boys can revert to sleeping together whenever guests come). Although I'm the kind of home decorator who likes to "set it and forget it," this kind of flexibility and fluidity comes with the territory when you have a growing family.

It will be interesting trying to accommodate Henry's needs and the new baby's needs in a relatively compact space. Depending upon how much space we have in our living room, I'd like to set up another Montessori movement area with a mirror, mat, and mobile for the new baby. We can use one of the shelves in our built-in bookcase for the baby's first toys. We can also set up a mobile above our bed, and the baby's floor bed (even though the latter is not recommended by Montessorians because the sleep area should be separate from the work area).

Even though our non-traditional "nursery" will not stand a chance at gracing the front page of Ohdeedoh, we can take solice in the fact that it will be exactly what our family needs!

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Isa said...

have you thought about a murphy bed setup? I'm planning to do that once my remodel is finished. Usually the room will be the kids' playroom, but when guests come we'll be able to open up the bed and have a comfortable place for them to sleep.

Gabriela said...

I love this post, and all your new home posts, because our family is currently looking to purchase our own home and perhaps welcome a new family member as well. However, I would like to ask you, how did you help Henry to sleep through the night? I can't figure it out. My daughter is 11 months and sleeps on a floor bed but I just don't know how to help her sleep through the night. She usually wakes up once a night, she nurses for 1 hour to 1.5 hours (on her bed) then wakes up at around 7 am. If you posted about this before, I'm sorry to ask, but I'm completely at a loss. Thank you in advance!

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Isa! I think Murphy beds are really smart solutions, I just don't think it will work for us right now (because of the placement of our walls and the additional expense--especially since we'll have an extra queen-sized bed waiting to be used).

Honestly, I wish we would have planed ahead for it and asked our architect to built it into the wall so that it wouldn't even have to protrude. That would have been really cool! (although it would have limited our flexibility with the space...).

Hi, Gabriela! The sleep stuff is so hard! I've written a lot of posts about it. This one links to some of them:


Our pediatrician said that at four months, babies should go 8-10 hours without breastfeeding in the night, and at six months they should go 10-12 hours. The various posts explain how we combined those guidelines with letting Henry cry.

I was really worried about scarring Henry for life by letting him cry in the night (because I really believe the science that says babies absorb everything and incorporate it into their personalities), but we haven't seen any negative residual effects at all. He's very trusting, friendly, happy, willing to share, loving, etc. He gets a great night of sleep nearly every night, which helps him enjoy his days (it's also really good for us as parents--we're able to be more rested and therefore more patient; we also have lots of free time every evening when he goes to bed at 6:30 and sleeps until 7am).

Erin Curran said...

One should not assume that a 4-month-old can go 8-10 hours without eating at night, especially a breastfed baby. It makes me crazy when pediatricians make blanket statements like this. (Most pediatrician have very little specialized training in lactation or sleep issues, which also infuriates me, since they give so much advice.)

Anyway, let me explain my concern.

Around 4 months or so, babies are becoming much more social and interested in the world. It's not uncommon for that to distract them from getting all the milk they need during the day and then need to make up for it at night. That is okay.

Of course, this isn't true for all babies, but that's just my point, make sure it makes sense for YOUR baby.

Here's an excellent article about this issue: http://kellymom.com/parenting/nighttime/4mo-sleep/

PS - Sara, I'm not saying it wasn't the right choice for Henry. I'm just saying it should be a case by case decision.

Just my 2 cents! ;-D

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Erin! Thanks for sharing your insight!

I totally agree that it's dangerous to apply blanket advice to babies. I want to clarify that we didn't apply the pediatrician's advice as a hard and fast rule; instead, we used it as a guideline (that's the same way I used the Baby Wise book).

When a baby cries, it can be difficult to know the source of the crying. I would use the pediatrician's advice as a starting place. If Henry would wake up before the recommended amount of time had passed, then we would first try to soothe him back to sleep without food. Most of the time it would work (which is how Henry learned to get all of his calories during the day), but sometimes it wouldn't. If our soothing didn't work, then we would assume he was hungry and feed him.

For us, it was helpful to have the pediatrician's guidance as a framework for knowing what was possible and what we were aiming for. If we were just following Henry's cues, he would still be waking in the night to breastfeed (and to drink milkshakes and eat goldfish). Of course I know plenty of families who still breastfeed their two year-olds in the night, but that wouldn't work well for our family. I would be exhausted and less patient with Henry during the day. I also think he would be tired. He sleeps straight from 6:30pm-7am and is still ready for a nap earlier than the other children in his classroom.

Each of us has to find our own parenting paths. I share my path as a way to stimulate dialogue--not in any dogmatic, didactic sort of way. So thank you for contributing to the dialogue!

Gabriela said...

Thank you so much, Sara! This really helps. Our daughter was a very good sleeper until we traveled when she was six months old. She hasn't been the same since.

We also started doing the "soothing back to sleep" before feeding her technique (I know her different types of cries by now) and then I got sick so it was just easier for me to feed her on her bed, which I think made things a little worse. What was easier for me wasn't necessarily best for her.

One last question about sleeping, in the link you gave me, you talked about the 5 - 10 - 15 minute method, but how did it work for you with the floor bed? Didn't he get out of the bed? We have a gate on her doorway, and before she could walk, she would crawl to the gate and cry. I just couldn't leave her there to cry for the full 5 minutes. It was awful.

Now it's even harder because she just walks out of bed and straight to the gate and cries (more like screams). Did Henry do that when he woke up? and if so, did you just let him cry at the gate? I am sorry for all the questions, I would just really like to get your perspective on this.

Thank you again!

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Gabriela!

We don't even use a gate--we just shut his door (now we have to put a child-proof thing on it to prevent him from being able to open it). It's definitely hard to tolerate the light of your life crying behind a closed door because he wants to be with you!

When we did the 5-10-15 strategy, it was really, really hard. I just tried to keep in mind that being able to sleep through the night was better for everyone involved and that three days of crying would be overshadowed by years of healthy sleep. Of course it was a gamble because we had no idea if it would work or not! (and I had fears that it would have a negative, residual impact on his personality and his ability to attach/trust).

When we went back in at the 5-10-15 intervals, we would just hold Henry and explain to him that it was time to sleep and that we would see him in the morning.

Even now, he sometimes has trouble falling asleep at nap times on the weekend. We don't do the 5-10-15 minute thing anymore, but we do let him cry for a few minutes before going back in and explaining that he needs to get good rest so he's ready to play when he wakes up.

In one of the sleep books I read, it said that getting kids to sleep is sometimes like putting them in a carseat. Even if they don't like it (and cry while you're doing it), it's still something you do because you know it's the best thing for them.

That perspective really resonated with Matt and me. We wanted Henry to be able to sleep independently through the night from an early age--both for his benefit and for the benefit of our family as a whole system. So we've tried various things along the way, always trying to be as gentle and loving as possible while also helping Henry learn to be independent and how to live within boundaries.

Definitely let me know if you have more questions! I was very unsure of the process while we were going through it, but now I'm thankful that we did it. It's easier to talk about it in retrospect.

Also, keep in mind that it will be harder for you now because your daughter is so much older. Our pediatrician recommended starting around 4 months and finishing by 6 months-old.

Best of luck to you as you figure out what works for you and your family!

Erin Curran said...

Hi again, everything in your response makes perfect sense to me! Guidelines as starting points are a wonderful thing!!

What still rubs me the wrong way has nothing to do with you, rather just a pet peeve of mine that a lot of sleep advice out there (from docs and some books), if not given in a way that is sensitive to the specific baby in question, can really undermine breastfeeding. I especially worry about a new parent who looks to the pediatrician as the all-knowing authority and doesn't realize that it's okay and even necessary to decide for themself. Clearly you think for yourself but some people don't have that confidence to *not* follow authority figures, or to modify advice as needed. It's an important skill, especially for a parent!

Anyhoo... off my very random soapbox that is waaaay off topic from your post!!! ;-D

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