Thoughts on: “Sleep: A Misguided and Unhealthy Obsession”

Luca Sleeping in His Carseat with His Beloved Gentle Giraffe
Luca Sleeping in His Carseat with His Beloved Gentle Giraffe

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you to Tracy G. Cassels of Evolutionary Parenting for writing this exceptional post about parental sleep obsession. I hope you all will read it too. Then, I hope you will share your thoughts on the article. Here are mine:

Parenting is difficult. Our culture sees the words “difficult” and “undesirable” as synonymous. So, I guess I’m basically saying that parenting is an undesirable venture. Let me unravel this a little further… Kids aren’t convenient. They frequently inconvenience us. We can hardly eat, sleep, or bathe without taking them into consideration. In contrast, when looking at our current marketplace, I think it’s fair to say that our culture highly values convenience. So, is it any surprise that “parenting experts” emerge to “help” us make our children more convenient? Of course not. Now, they don’t package their products as “convenience-making” but as helpful advice to make my baby healthy and me happy. Well, I’m calling  bull sh*t.

In my group of Mama friends, one confided to us during the first few months of parenthood, that her husband repeatedly insisted they must be doing something wrong. “This shouldn’t be this hard,” he stated despairingly over and over again. Did they have a particularly “high-need” baby? No. Parenting really is just that hard. Finally, her husband embraced the difficulty and ironically, this has allowed him to enjoy fatherhood more.

I have decided to walk the unbeaten path by embracing that parenting is just hard (Who am I kidding? By “embracing”, I mean “surrendering while kicking and screaming”). I’m not going to fight a losing battle. So, I’ve decided to run a little experiment and not put Luca on a schedule. Gasp! Ok, honestly, it just seems like a set-up for disappointment and frustration to me. Kids change so fast and have so many different growth spurts and other sleep hindrances (like teething) that it seems pointless to even try that during the first year or so. Also, Caleb and I have fluctuating schedules ourselves so it wouldn’t really fit. I understand that some parents live in a more scheduled environment due to work or whatever and so structure is a priority for them. I value flexibility because my days aren’t structured. Fortunately, I’ve discovered that Luca will nap in different places and at different times. He sleeps more some days than others and I believe that he sleeps according to what his needs are for that day. So long as I’m providing him a comfortable sleeping environment when he gets tired, I feel like I’m upholding my parental responsibility to meet his needs.

I realize that not all babies are flexible like Luca. Yet, I wonder how many babies are more flexible than we think, but their moms never get a chance to experience it. So many “experts” have told us that sleep needs to look a certain way, moms are instructed not to follow their baby’s cues but the prescription of authors. How many of us have been brainwashed to believe that our babies should sleep the same exact amount of hours at the same exact time every day? That’s just not right. How many nights in a row do you sleep the exact same amount of hours at the exact same time? And aren’t their days when you feel more tired/energized than others? Why would our babies not be the same? Especially when they are going through such drastic developmental changes. I agree with what the author said about training causing babies to disregard their own needs. Our baby’s needs are going to be different day-to-day.

So far, I’ve noticed that naturally, Luca does have a general schedule. He tends to get in phases where he will nap around the same times and for the same amount of time. Yet, it changes weekly. Also, if he misses a nap he usually just sleeps longer the next time. Of course there are days when he doesn’t sleep as much, and I’ll be honest, those days are frustrating because I don’t get as much done. I’ve chosen this experiment knowing that there will be frustrating days because let’s face it, even if he were on a schedule there would be frustrating days. I think frustration just comes with the package of parenthood because our lives are no longer our own. This just seems to be the path of least resistance for our family. I realize that it would be maddening for others.

I really want to hear your thoughts on this guys! I know this is a HUGE issue in the mommy world. Seriously, when you meet someone with your baby, what is one of their first questions? “Is he/she a good sleeper?” There is so much pressure to deal with how our babies sleep. How are you handling it?

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

“Why We Chose to do a Sleep Program for Our Baby.”

True Attachment Parenting vs. Helicopter Parenting

Turning We-Time into Me-Time (An Experiment)

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11 thoughts on “Thoughts on: “Sleep: A Misguided and Unhealthy Obsession”

  1. Wow Jaclyn! So glad you posted on this! We are absolutely obsessed with sleep in our culture, particularly for our kids! Before I had a baby, every parent I knew had their kid sleeping at 9am and 1pm for naps, unless they were old enough to “drop” the morning nap. I didn’t really question it, I just assumed that’s what babies did naturally. Well, then I became a mom and I quickly learned that my baby had no intention of sleeping much at all. There were days in the first few weeks when 3oclock rolled around and he was screaming because he had not slept a wink that day. I tried everything! Nursing, rocking, swings, car rides, white noise, swaddles, pacifiers. For whatever reason, nothing really worked. I started wearing him and finally that worked! But then after a few weeks, he started waking up every time I made the slightest sound. So for the next month, I wore him and stood around in a dark room with Facebook as my only entertainment. Finally, depressed from doing this for 3 hours everyday, I started standing at my desk or going on walks for naps. This seemed to work ok. But he would still get really angry when I was trying to “make” him sleep. Oh and he was waking up every 20-90 mins at night. I was still going crazy so I started looking into gentle methods for sleep training. Around this same time, I decided to ask my MIL what she thought. She suggested I just go about my day and that he would sleep when he needed to. I didn’t believe it at first but decided to give it a try. He was a little cranky the first couple days, but then a funny thing started happening! He was falling asleep in the car, in my lap after nursing, in the carrier on walks with no fuss, even in the stroller. The bigger miracle is that he started to sleep for long stretches at night. You know why? He was actually tired! Turns out he didn’t need to sleep for four hours every day! And I was much happier too! He still doesn’t nap completely on his own (I am involved in some way and don’t get to leave and get something done, but its a far cry from where we were. We do have a routine and bedtime at night, but other than that it is pretty go with the flow. I’ve started to notice that he is developing his own patterns, so I work my day around those, but if I can’t he just sleeps at other times. I definitely think my son had a very tough time adjusting to the world and he is not the kind of baby that will just fall asleep if you just set him down, but I also think we would have been happier and healthier if I hadn’t tried to impose a schedule those first few months. Hindsight is 20/20.

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    • Thank you so much for sharing your journey Juliana! I know that sleep can be such a sensitive subject. I’m so glad you shared because I think new moms need to hear real stories about real babies. It’s easy going into parenthood thinking that you’ll just follow what everyone else does until reality sets in and you realize that the “norm” just doesn’t fit your family for whatever reason. I think it can be very isolating and we can start to think that there is something wrong with us or our babies.

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  2. Telling someone how/where/when to sleep is like telling them what underwear to wear. Sleep is a super personal thing. Strangers have instructed me how to “teach” my baby to sleep. Imagine telling a stranger to wear a g-string. People should mind their own business.

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  3. Well it’s 1 am and my little one is hyper. I kinda wished we had a schedule right now. He likes to be rocked to sleep and I wait for the cues. Generally it’s 1 to 2 hours of playtime and anywhere between 30min 1 and a half nap. Some days we too excited and hyper and some days we sleepy. We just try our best. I can say that babies know best.

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    • I also believe that night time routines are beneficial in many ways because maintenaning a good relationship with your husband is important and some alone time is essential for many reasons. Day time routines are useless in my opinion.

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      • Well…we tried for over a year before we got prgneant with a sticky baby, so in that sense I wish I had had one sooner…it was a rough year. BUT if I had gotten prgneant sooner, I wouldn’t have Evan. I’d have a baby, but it wouldn’t be him, and I’m so crazy in love with him it’s unreal, so I voted Neither. The baby that was meant to be mine came exactly when he was supposed to…

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  4. So it’s been a while and I thought I’d try a bit of a routine because of the feeding schedule we have put in place for our son. He does 2 to 3 hours of play and 1 hour sleep time, unless he is wayyyy too hyper. He eats solids at around 12 and around 7/8ish in the evening. He goes to bed by 8:45 every night and then he is unfortunately still waking up for feeds during the night, but he sleeps and doesn’t wake up to do other stuff …. like playing. The way we do it is eat, bath, story time and sleep. So he knows that he is going to sleep and it has been much easier for us to put him to bed and put the baby monitor on, while the grown ups can have dinner or watch a movie or talk, which has been great by the way. How you guys doing?

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  5. It was pretty early on, at 2 or 3 months that I realized I had next to no control over my baby. It was an incredibly liberating realization. Now whenever I find myself getting really frustrated and freaking out out it always turns out to be because I’m trying to control him. I believe a large number of parents with babies are stressed for the same reason. Mr. Baby falls into a schedule more or less on his own, but it is forever changing. He’s almost 11 months old now and has dropped to 2 naps and even 1 on some days, but then will sporadically go back to 3. Things are unpredictable right now, but they’ll fall into a general pattern- and then that pattern will get all messed up again and morph into something else. It’s so much easier to just go with the flow and try to avoid too much scheduling of any sort. I know some people aren’t able to do that and I’m extremely lucky to have such flexible days. Maybe all of the advice is geared toward them.

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    • Thank you so much for sharing your experience! It’s nice to hear words from a mom with an older baby. I completely agree that most of our stress comes from trying to control the uncontrollable (ie our miniature people!) and feeling like we’re failing when it doesn’t work. I hear other moms say that their babies are on a schedule but then when you talk to them about the day to day realities of their schedule, it really isn’t rock solid in terms of consistency. We’re all just doing the best we can. I love how you said it’s liberating to realize that you have no control. I have found that to be so true for me too! I hope that more moms will embrace that truth so that they can experience the relief that comes with letting go.

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