So We Had A Bad Night's Sleep, That Doesn't Mean I Am Parenting Wrong

I try hard not to judge other parents. Some days I do a better job than others and I'm always trying harder. My approach to baby care is a combination of evidence based science and the easiest options for me and my family. There are plenty of people who will look at the way I do things and think: nope not for me. Breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby led weaning, baby wearing, they aren’t for everyone. As I’ve said hundreds of times we are all different and our babies are all different. We have to do what works for us.

So it always surprises me when people give unsolicited advice based on a tiny snapshot of my life and then expect me to be grateful. I mean really? Does that ever go down well? I'm not sure I realised sleep was such a contentious issue before I had children. 

a black and white close up photograph of a baby held by his mother while he sleeps
Some nights it is harder for baby's to sleep than others


The parents whose babies sleep are either those who were lucky enough to be blessed with children who just sleep or those that did something to make it happen. Those in the first group may think it was their amazing parenting skills (although most realise it is luck) but having spoken to mums with more than one child I have heard “I did exactly the same thing with my second, but it didn’t work” to know it’s often not what they did, but the child.

Baby Boy loved to sleep as a newborn but as all parents will know over tired babies do not sleep well. Thanks to being a third child with an over attentive sibling he was repeatedly woken up and was so tired he couldn’t get himself to sleep. We didn’t have the luxury of putting him down when he was sleepy, but awake or to put him on a routine that worked for him. He quickly learnt how not to sleep. Things would have been so different if he was my first baby, but he’s my last so I’m cuddling him knowing full well these days will pass and loving how cute he looks sleeping in my arms.

I can understand that parents who have cracked the sleep thing will be evangelical about it. They think they have the secret and want to share the answers with everyone to help them. I get it. There are parenting secrets like baby wearing and reusable wipes that have changed my life and similarly I want to help save others pain, time and money. But those people telling me what I am doing wrong forget one thing: 

Just because it worked for you and your child doesn’t mean it will work for others. 

Seriously.

Asking "Have you tried putting them down awake?" is fine if people are asking for advice, but if someone is just sharing a frustrating evening or bad night they don’t need to know your smug achievements (no matter how well meaning). They are tired. They are fed up. They almost certainly don’t have the energy to explain why your advice won’t work for them right now and how they really want to reply will be a ruder version of “go away”.

There is no one solution when it comes to sleep. If every child could be made to sleep well with a few simple tips sleep consultants wouldn’t exist. 

What has started me off on this latest rant? I shared that I was struggling to get my son to sleep last night. Along with the sympathy from other parents were a couple of comments implying I was wrong to cuddle my son to sleep. What annoyed me most about these comments were that they were making assumptions that: 

  • I always put my son down in his cot asleep (I do, so what?).
  • That it’s a problem (it’s not, most nights when he is ready to go to sleep he goes off quickly and stays asleep, at least for a bit).
  • That by putting my son down asleep he can’t get himself to sleep. (Not true: everyone has multiple sleep cycles each night and we wake up slightly between them, normally without even remembering. My son, and before him my daughters, can move from one cycle to the next despite how I initially put him down to sleep.) 

It was one evening, although probably to be repeated tonight, where for some reason my son couldn’t stay asleep. After a minute or two he would wake up crying and the only thing helping him was being next to me. Even if you are the biggest advocate of Cry It Out then surely when there is something wrong you cuddle your child?

I have some wisdom gained from having 3 children. 3 children who were fed to sleep. Wisdom from thousands of nights spent cuddling my children as they fall asleep. I may have missed out on many nights out, time I could have spent on hobbies and multiple TV series. So what?

This is only a few short years in the grand scheme of things. I may get frustrated at times, but I don’t regret my choices. If I complain about a particularly bad night then it is just that. We all have them. If your child doesn’t cry or call out for you when they are in pain or feeling really upset about something then there is a problem. I wouldn’t want to encourage silence in anyone suffering. There are occasional nights now I have a bad dream, lie awake worrying about something or maybe just need a drink. I get myself a drink, or wake my partner for a cuddle, or turn the light on to make sure there is nothing there, or I read a book for a while. A baby in a cot can’t do that. There are times they can get themselves back to sleep and there are times they are asking for help.

When I shared we were having a bad night, that was my version of calling out for support. I wanted the back patting, the virtual cuddles and a big "thank you" to everyone that gave them to me.

2 comments

  1. This is true... My daughter just started sleeping all night after she made 3 years old. It's so hard

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    1. We are going through another sleep regression and I just keep telling myself he will sleep well on his own eventually.

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