Sleep Training: You’re Doing It Wrong
My parenting journey reads like many others of us who have started down the path of believing the “experts” before realising that their inner voice sings a different song.
Like these others, I too have a sacrificial eldest child who suffered the outrages of feeding schedules, sleep training and tummy time. I have a very different relationship with him to the one I have with the girls and I feel like it will be a long fight for us both to repair the damage of those first few months.
I remember, with absolute horror, leaving Alfie to cry for a few minutes each time he was put into his cot. I remember telling a curious relative that he “needed a few minutes to calm himself” because that is what I had read and the number one best-selling baby author couldn’t be wrong, could she?
By the time Alfie was six months my inner voice had drowned that “advice” and we were really starting to find our feet and trust our instincts with him, mainly due I think to the problems he had with eczema. It was left to us to find answers and to listen to what our boy was telling us and that helped us gain confidence as parents to know what was right for him.
In the last four years we have become parents who are guided by and trust their children: We feed on demand so that the babies have their milk when they want and take as much as they want. We practise Baby Led Weaning which means our children are in control of how much, what, and when they eat. We deal in natural consequences rather than punitive punishments. We allow the children to assess their own risks, usually while Keith supervises and I hyperventilate somewhere out of sight.
Despite all of that, there is one area where we were slow to modify our expectations – bedtime.
The children have long had the freedom to nap as and when they see fit – especially the two girls who have been Velcro babies from birth which has meant they have grown up spending as much time as they want in slings and sleeping when the mood takes them – but bedtimes were always something different.
We wasted hours upon hours in darkened rooms rocking, bobbing, singing, shhhing, patting, in various combinations to achieve the holy grail of Bed Time. The calories we must have burnt sweating under the dead weight of sleeping child. The pulled muscles we suffered trying to lower them into a sleeping position without waking them.
Because everyone has to have a bedtime.
When you think about bedtimes in the context of Attachment Parenting, bedtimes, like a lot of parenting assumptions actually give some very negative messages to our children and become counter intuitive.
Bedtime means I know better than you when you are tired and need to sleep.
Bedtime means I don’t trust you to make sensible choices.
Bedtime means I deserve some time without you around.
None of which actually holds true for me.
My children know damn well when they are tired. It’s roughly the time they become completely irrational, whine uncontrollably and make me want to punch myself in the head for a little light relief. Incidentally this is exactly the same way I act when I’m tired. The difference is that I recognise these behaviours as tiredness and at least try to remove myself from polite company. If I come from the standpoint that my children, like me, are intelligent enough to recognise their behaviour then maybe my role as a parent isn’t to force them to be tired by 7pm sharp, but to help them recognise what it means to be tired and what they can do to help themselves feel less like the world is ending.
My children also know how to make sensible choices – Except the baby. She has proven to me that her idea of sensible is to actively seek out large drops and throw herself off them with a whoop and hang loose hands. She is never allowed near sharp objects or any sentence starting “I bet you …” – The other children can make sensible choices though, they prove this to me on a regular basis. Given free reign, they don’t stay up until 2am every night, they take themselves off when it suits their body clock. Alfie is an early bird: He’s tucked up by 7pm and wakes before 6am. Esme is a night owl: She won’t sleep before 8.30 and will kick your ass if you try to make her up before 7am.
Do you want to know how many hours we have spent trying to change those facts? Many. Do you know what we achieved? Nada.
Well except to create a new saying.
It goes something like this …
YOU CAN’T OUT-STUBBORN A BATSFORD
Our children are going to bed at the exact same time that they have always gone to bed. The only difference now is that we aren’t taking hours out of our day to try and persuade them otherwise. Instead Esme stays up with us, sometimes on Keith’s back, sometimes “helping” me tidy up until she starts yawning and then with Keith or I will take her to bed for cuddles until she drops off. Alfie wakes up at sparrow’s fart and either plays in his room or goes to the dining table to eat the bowl of cereal Keith has left out for him. Neither of these things involves me wanting to cry with frustration which I consider a win/win.
All of this is possible because I am genuinely blessed enough not to feel like I need “time off” from my children: Perhaps because I am at work every day meaning I always feel like I’m playing catch-up with my family time. I’m also blessed that my evening pastimes don’t involve ritual animal slaughter, getting fall over drunk, chasing the dragon, orgies, or anything I wouldn’t want to explain to my children.
There are plenty of hours when they are asleep for all of that.
I love Attachment Parenting for many reasons, but way up there on that list is the fact that it allows so much more time and energy to be poured into positive activities rather than into battles. Like so many of the realisations Keith and I have come to since we started this journey, the question becomes why the hell didn’t we do this earlier?