April 9, 2015

My Kids Are (Finally) Sleeping Well! So Why Do I Feel Like a Bad Mom?

*please note: they do not sleep together or with toys in their cribs, this was after wake-up when I was putting clothes away!

I feel like all I write about lately is getting these chickies to sleep. It is consuming my life and is always on my mind. I guess it's because it's important to me that my 8 month old twins sleep well so of course I'm writing a lot about it. One thing has been driving me crazy for a while now though.

I can't shake the feeling that I'm being judged, ridiculed and thought to be a "bad" mom just because my babies are sleeping well (finally and for now). It's starting to drive me crazy.

So I had a thought...

Maybe we should start a petition to change the name of the many sleep "training" methods that do not involve leaving your child alone to cry all night?

Oh wait, you didn't know that you have options aside from listening to your little love cry for hours on end? That's probably because a lot of people want you to believe that helping your child learn healthy sleep habits means you must abandon her and force her to scream until she vomits or passes out from sheer exhaustion, never again to call upon you for help as you have forever broken her spirit and she no longer trusts you.  Because that's the same thing as teaching them a valuable life skill. Really people?

I wrote a whole long ass thing before about how I was against sleep training young babies. I just unpublished it because I really need to refocus that. What I should have just said is that I do not like the extreme version of extinction - leaving a baby to cry all night long. Even so there are ways to properly carry it out when used in conjunction with establishing healthy habits prior to attempting it. It's not for us. It's not for most families. Sadly, this is always the method people think of when they hear the words sleep train. But it is so much more complex than that.

There are so many different methods of "sleep training" yet they are all grouped under that same shitty term and carry the same shitty connotations. In some circles, no matter how lovingly you do it, your choice to sleep "train" earns you a bad mom rep. You are accused of not loving your child, for how dare you force your need for sleep on your helpless little one! Why, if you ever wanted to sleep again, did you even have a child in the first place?! Don't you know the two are incompatible?

It is such bullshit. Healthy sleep habits are one of the best gifts you can give your baby (and of course yourself)! And if you disagree with that fact because you have been led to believe that any method of sleep "training" causes irreparable harm to your child or your relationship with them then you're a moron I feel sorry for you.

I know it's a shocker to some but you can sleep "train" your child in a positive, respectful and gentle way that works and still have a happy, well-adjusted child. You will probably still be vilified by those who are against any form of sleep "training" thanks to society's obsession with the ghastly image of true crying it out. So maybe it's time we change the way we word things and stop making people feel like shit for helping their child learn how to do what our bodies are made to do but doesn't always come naturally.

Instead of sleep "training" can we call it what it is? Sleep learning. Helping our children help themselves to learn a vital life skill. There are far more parents out there who use safe, gentle and child-directed techniques than those who adhere to straight-up extinction without any thought of the child's needs (which can be cruel and often does not work). Can we stop spreading the lie that they're all the same and that the desire for your child to be well rested but not nursed to sleep all night long makes you a shitty parent?

I mean really, have you ever actually met someone who just decided one night to close the nursery door at 7pm and didn't return until 7am? Or someone whose child actually screamed all alone all night long? I know they must exist somewhere, everyone who is anti-sleep-"training" talks about them, but the majority of people I encounter could never do it. And those that can, those that commit to it with full knowledge of what they're doing and then follow through, they don't have to put up with that kind of drama because they know what they're doing and it works for them!

From my totally unscientific Facebook and blogger based research I have found that for most families, those who are educated, prepared and have children who are developmentally ready, the average sleep training adventure works and it looks like this:

You start weeks ahead of time by deciding which method you want to use. Then you start dropping sleep props, transitioning to the crib if needed and introduce a lovey, because everyone likes to snuggle. You establish a good routine way ahead of time and start laying baby down awake. Once parents and baby are ready to start there are about three nights of crying, (some take longer, some only take a night), with the first night being for 30-75 minutes, the second being 20-30 and the third being for 5-10 minutes before the baby goes down with little fuss.  Some kids do better with incremental checks and varied degrees of soothing, others prefer to be left alone to figure it out. You don't waiver or cut corners for the first few nights and if you feel uncomfortable you stop and try again a couple days or weeks later. You may have a "burst" night where they cry more but if you are consistent you end up with a well-rested, happy child who views sleep as a comfortable, safe and necessary part of their day.

Yes, some babies vomit when they get mad even if you've done it right, it doesn't mean you're doomed or your child hates you now it just means you might need to hold off until baby is more ready for it. Or don't. Your circus, your monkeys, you decide. Your child won't be scarred for life.

Yes, you might hit bumps in the road in the future and have to do it again or your child might sleep through the night for the rest of their life. It's all up to your individual baby and the inner workings of their brain.

The bottom line is that I have yet to read of any of these babies waking up the next day and deciding "Eh, I'm just gonna lay here forever, why bother crying, no one comes anyway".

This does not happen. At least not if you're doing it in a way that is healthy and respectful to the child.

People, it's not hard. You're there to guide them, to teach them, to help them learn. We teach them to walk, talk and add so why can't we teach them to sleep without feeling like monsters?

Sadly the Anti-CIO movement is gaining support at a time when we should be educating parents about all the wonderful, helpful alternative ways for everyone to sleep.

First off they say, "Babies are not meant to be trained. Dogs are!" Well, that's reason number one why we really need to stop using the phrase sleep training. No, we don't train them but our babies can be taught. They can learn with love, respect and understanding. Most of the people who sleep train successfully understand this. Of course there might be some who actually create the issue of baby learning not to cry out because her needs won't be met. But this is not common and usually a symptom of greater neglect.  If you are smart and gentle about it and wait until your child is ready then what harm is being done? From what I have observed no well meaning parent goes into this with the intention of hurting their child for the sake of their own sleep. And the way to ensure this is by talking about it, not suffering in silence just because people like to think it hurts our babies. That just does not happen contrary to what the fear mongers out there are saying.

My other issue is that I've noticed so many personal accounts of sleep training experiments gone wrong (those who tout their "tried it, hated it" stories online) are so abrasive! Not only that but they down right do it WRONG most of the time. They explain how they did all their research, picked a method and jumped right in on night one.

I shit you not I just read a blog by a woman calling out a particular sleep training program as utter nonsense because it clearly traumatized her child.

Do you know what she did?

Her four month old baby was co-sleeping at night while nursing on demand and napping in the swing during the day. She read the book and decided one night to just make up a bedtime routine, pick an arbitrary bedtime not at all based on baby's actual sleep needs and tossed her in the crib. She then followed the rest of the book's tips, including checks and soothing, while her baby wailed on and on for two hours, much to her dismay, before she finally gave in and "saved" her. The next night her baby lost her mind whenever they even approached the crib. She then had the audacity to blame the method for permanently damaging her child. Are you freaking kidding me? Let me tell you, we've been grooming our girls for this since day one and I still struggled with committing to letting them figure it out.

You know whose babies are suffering from sleep training methods? The people who sit and ignore their baby while it cries all night after they've abruptly removed every comfort from them and left them to figure out for the first time ever how to fall asleep. I swear some people do this just to prove sleep training doesn't work and to feel superior to parents like myself. I won't call them out personally but after everything I've read I have to say it is complete bullshit. Often, these babies are too young (again, six months was the youngest I would and we didn't until 8 months), still fed on demand or not ready yet to give up all night bottles. To completely upend habits you have instilled and expect baby to catch on in one night is just wrong. Not only that , it's mean and disrespectful and of course it doesn't work. Because you're doing it wrong, assholes.

Worse, you're doing it wrong just to prove a point and then writing about it on your blog or your facebook group just to make all those genuinely well intentioned parents feel like shit over their choice to help their baby learn to sleep. Knock it off.

And as an added bonus these days you've got all this pseudo-science portraying the damaging effects of sleep training.

You want to tell me about the possible physical or neurological damage I'm inflicting on my kids because being left to cry for five minutes might flood their bodies with high levels of cortisol from which they may never recover? Come on. Because being chronically overtired and having a parent who literally cannot function for the lack of sleep is super beneficial for kids growing brains and bodies.

Or you want me to believe that my child will not be mentally ready to fall asleep on her own until she's at least FIVE? Give me a break. There are babies that fall asleep on their own and sleep through the night naturally at three weeks old! But yeah, you're probably correct in telling me it's not physically possible for another 4 years.

You want to talk science? Let's talk about the very real effects of prolonged sleep deprivation on the body, mind and its ability to reason and make choices, drive a car, care for children, etc. Actually we'll save that for another day. The first three months are easy compared to the seventh month straight of four hours of sleep a night.

And lastly, my favorite point that they try to make. They want you to think that teaching healthy sleep habits causes permanent attachment and security issues. Your kids will be forever be emotionally scarred because you helped them learn that they can fall asleep without the boob at 8 months old. Right. How about the fact that the shit they go through in high school will damage their psyche far worse than learning how to sleep as a baby? Or the fact that they are actually happier and healthier children as a direct result of our choice to "sleep train"?  Oh and let me ask you: which of your friends or significant others was sleep trained as a baby? Not sure? Ok, which of the infamous serial killers or which presidents were sleep trained? See my point? I think it's safe to say that people who learned how to fall asleep are not walking around blatantly damaged as adults. Sure there are some messed up people out there but I think it's an unfair stretch to say that their ability to sleep well is the cause of it, right? I mean, really?!

Have you ever met an adult who can't fall asleep on their own without some intervention from another person? Hi, my name is Maigen, nice to meet you. I was a high need child with an exhausted mother who did ANYTHING to get me to sleep, to the point that at nearly 31 years old I struggle nightly with multiple wake-ups and an inability to calm myself unless my husband is in bed with me. It's pathetic but I was doomed from the start. I refuse to believe that I am inflicting more harm on my children by teaching them the healthy sleep habits I myself have yet to learn.

Ugh I'm so sick of it all. I'm going on a crusade to update the terminology and push for more acceptance and less judgement when it comes to getting our babies to sleep. Let's talk about it and educate each other. Share our experiences with healthy, gentle, child-centered sleep learning. For all our sakes!

Oh and I have to give a big shoutout to the facebook group Respectful Sleep Training/Learning for all the fantastic help they have given us on this journey. Check it out!


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