The issue of sleep has been at the forefront of my mind for some time now… this is unsurprising really, since my youngest son hit a sleep regression two months ago.
Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis will know how I feel about baby sleep training. I have always had very strong opinions on the subject and although that still stands, since The Squishmeister decided that sleep is for losers I have felt a lot more understanding of parents who resort to it. I no longer view them as cruel, selfish parents – they are human beings, like we all are, simply trying to do what is best for their families. I may not agree with their methods but I certainly understand their motivation.
Over the past two months we have had maybe two or three nights that have been okay, but on the whole Squishy’s sleep has been atrocious. I’ve been lucky to get an hour at a time out of him, and it takes double that to re-settle him each time. As a result I have been an absolute wreck; crying or shouting or losing my temper at the drop of a hat. I have not been present with them, and I have not been providing a nourishing environment for them.
I have not been the kind of mother I want to be; the mother that my beautiful, amazing children deserve.
So what are you supposed to do when your kid(s) won’t sleep, you (like me at the moment) are unable to co-sleep and you don’t agree with CIO and CC (Controlled Crying)? I felt helpless, utterly helpless. I was stumped. How on earth could I carry on like this? I’d reached the point where I was wondering if sleep training was the lesser of evils, in comparison to my poor children having to endure a mother who was bordering on sleep deprivation-induced insanity.
Then I stumbled across an article or three about sleep from the lovely Suchada at one of my most favourite blogs ever, Mama Eve. She wrote about the issues she faced as an attached, respectful and horrendously sleep-deprived mama of two young ‘uns and suddenly I felt less alone.
She wrote about how she gently and kindly helped her children to learn to sleep, and I knew I wanted to know more. I wrote to her after a twitter conversation one long sleepless night, and she responded to my email in a blog post, which you can read here.. She explained about how she implemented a flexible daytime (and night time) routine, and how she supported her children through their frustration over the changes – never once leaving them feeling abandoned.
What I have learnt from Suchada’s experiences and from my own reading since is that crying doesn’t necessarily equal crying it out. To implement a CIO sleep training technique requires you to desensitise yourself to the noisy pleas of your children. It goes against every instinct you have as a mother. Allowing your children to express their frustration and anger whilst still supporting them – physically and emotionally – is completely different. It actually helps you connect with your child on a totally new level. It’s easy to meet your child’s needs and to give them what they want, but it’s not easy to allow them to feel the ‘negative’ feelings that we so want to protect them from.
I always felt like, as an attached parent, I had to ignore my own needs. I was trying to pull patience and energy out of the bag when I had none to give, and therefore was feeling like an utter failure as a mother. I felt like I was missing something that the other gentle mothers had all discovered. However, there is no way to summon energy when you have none. You simply cannot give when there is nothing left. Despite what many online parenting communities would have me believe, I am not a bad mother for needing to get some god-damned sleep.
So thank you, Suchada, for helping me realise that there is a middle ground. At present I feel that Squish is still too young for any kind of night-time guidance, so for now we will persevere with implementing a flexible daytime schedule (following his natural rhythm, of course) and bedtime routine – this will be harder on me than it will be on him.
A huge part of attached parenting is respecting your own child’s individual needs. This is why, in my opinion, sleep-training programs are no good for babies. You have to be creative, and figure out solutions based on what you know your children can handle – and of course what you can handle too. I’m not expecting my 6-month-old child to sleep right through the night; he still needs to nurse. All I am asking for is 3-4 hour stretches – and to still be able to look him in the eye come morning. And I now feel like that is possible.
There is a light at the end of the sleep-deprived tunnel! I will keep you updated on our progress.