‘Leaving him to cry is just not my way of doing things: It never has been, and it never will be’.
Words I uttered to my husband at 1.30 this morning after I had been called out of bed- yet again- to find a lost stuffed toy. It has been an ongoing battle to get our youngest to sleep since day one and just when we thought we had mastered the art we seem to have fallen afoul of the ‘Sleeping Companion Conundrum’. Yes, a stuffed toy is a wonderful comfort during the night, but the loss of said stuffed toy results in a panicked sprint to the room to recover it before they fully awake. My son is four now and is more than capable of finding this toy himself but has realised there is a mother on speed dial who will do it for him. And now it has to stop.
Of course, this is where the real fun begins. A seemingly simple problem, but when you start to consider the options of how to deal with it you open up a Pandora’s box of parenting nightmares. This is the process a parent will generally follow:
Step 1: Google
Forever your best friend and worst enemy, Google will instantly present you with the worst-case scenario of your 25 year old child still requiring rocked to sleep every night. After you have gotten over that stunning visual you have to wade through a thousand articles each presenting a different argument with ‘scientific studies’ to back it.
Step 2: Asking Friends
Someone else is bound to have experienced this, you tell yourself, and so you begin to make quiet enquiries to trusted parenting friends. Depending on how good a friend they actually are, some will tell you their little darlings have been immaculate sleepers since day dot, while others will bombard you with advice on how you’re getting it wrong. The better of friends will commiserate the lack of sleep then offer up things that have helped them in the past. The absolute best of friends (and true keepers) will tell you how rubbish it made them feel too, that you’re doing a good job and then organise a night out.
Step 3. Asking Family
Possibly a double-edged sword, once you go down this route there is no coming back. Well-meaning advice will be forthcoming, some of it surprisingly helpful, some a little outdated and some of it, frankly, terrifying. From an age before the internet, parents and grandparents had little access to information beyond dog eared parenting books and what their own parents did. Quite scary for the current generation but also remarkably freeing.
Step 4: Asking the Professionals
If it gets that bad, you may consider asking for help from a Heath Visitor or even a Doctor. For some, this feels like admitting defeat and the worry that the professional will think of you as a less than stellar parent. The results depend entirely on the person you seek out. There are some marvellous, sympathetic, knowledgeable, calming individuals out there but some can also be cold, condescending, judgemental people too. It’s always a gamble.
Step 5: Asking Anyone Who Will Listen
We’ve all seen it before (and probably been there too), the wide eyed panicked look of a Mum at toddlers/ soft play/ nursery whose child won’t eat/ sleep/ poop/ walk/ talk/ draw a Picasso like masterpiece. She will bend the ear of anyone who will listen and beseech advice with the desperation of a drowning man. When I was that person, the best advice I ever got was to follow my instincts and THAT is where the real truth lies.
In times gone by, a parent had to make the best with what they had as they had very little other options, but in this day of social media madness we are positively bombarded with comments on our child rearing skills:
‘Studies show children who were allowed to go barefoot are smarter’
‘Kid’s yoghurts: are they actually healthy?’
‘Ignoring a toddler tantrum will damage your child’
‘8 Parenting mistakes you are making’
We are being told we are getting it wrong before we have even started. Who even does these ‘studies’ and more importantly… why??? The headlines are enough to bring any parent out in a sweat and have them instantly questioning their current methods. And I’ve not even touched on the advice from ‘well meaning strangers’ you seem to receive the moment a bump appears. All the articles screaming from every corner of the internet makes us question what is possibly a parent’s most important skill: instinct.
Nobody knows your child better than you and, while you may consult google at 4am to see if sleep deprivation had ever killed anyone, deep down you will know when you are doing the right thing. And, equally, you will also know when you are not. It’s a feeling in your gut, a squirming knot that tells you, it doesn’t matter how many ‘studies’ have been conducted, this is not the path for my child. We need to put more trust in that gut feeling, we need to believe in ourselves as parents.
The reality is, while every child is different, every parent is too. A style that will work for some may not be suitable for others. Ultimately, we must choose what works for us and what we feel comfortable with, it is the only way we will ever sleep (or not sleep, as the case may be) at night.