The Importance of Mummy Instincts in the Great Sleep Debate

Many parents today seem to be confusing the terms ‘self-soothe’ and ‘crying it out’. It is easy to get the two muddled up as many parenting articles tend to get the two mixed up. Today I read a blog by Sarah Ockwell-Smith on Huff Post Parents (UK Edition) which begged parents not to teach their children to ‘self-soothe’. She believed this skill was beyond babies (although she doesn’t actually clarify what age group she is referring to) and therefore not the correct way of helping a child to sleep.

She made the point that as adults we are capable of logic and therefore can soothe ourselves while a child can’t. This is true. However, are we really helping our children by rushing in when they make even the slightest of whimpers?

I will be clear. I am not talking about tiny babies. They need our care, around the clock, twenty four seven no matter how sleep deprived we are. They are only just learning about the world and need constant feeds, changes and cuddles. However, a baby that is beginning to drop their night feed might just be ready to sleep without constant attendance (outside of the baby monitor of course).

My daughter slept through the night until about five am when she was about four months old. She dropped the night feed all of a sudden when I woke and realised I had slept undisturbed for the first time in months. A surprise and a very pleasant one!

A child who self-soothes is not necessarily one who has been left to cry it out. I know we never tried that method and our daughter does self-soothe. We didn’t sleep train beyond the usual advice of bed-time routine and put child down drowsy but awake. Sometimes she fell asleep on her bottle. We still put her down. Perhaps we did sleep train but didn’t have a name for it. Regardless we have a champion sleeper and winner of the Nap Olympics.

I have, on occasion, made the mistake of going in when she has merely snuffled or coughed. Then she sees mama – ‘oh joy’ she thinks ‘playtime!’. I try to leave the room again and she cries. Well I don’t want to be a ‘bad mother’ so I go and pick her up. I bring her into bed. She chats to me for the rest of the night while I lapse in and out of consciousness. Husband is greeted by two grizzly bears the next morning and she is wrecked for the next few days. I am obviously a slow learner as I have done this on more than once.

However, I think the real reason I rush in and pick her up is that I have been tricked into believing, through numerous online articles and debates, that I am a bad mother if I do not respond immediately. If I leave her to settle for even a minute I am guilty of neglect. She is two. She knows how to play her mama. She knows daddy won’t play ball but mama is the ‘soft touch’.

Now I guess people will say ‘oh yes they are only young once though sure a few sleepless nights isn’t the end of the world’. All very true. But I know, deep down, my intervening isn’t doing her any good. I have sat with her on nights she is wakeful while every instinct is screaming at me to leave. My mothering instincts tell me she sleeps better without me. And this is true. I have seen first-hand proof of this but all the while I tell myself ‘but you are a bad mother is you leave’. This is what reading every parenting post out there will get you; utter confusion and guilt with every move you make.

I guess the real trick is knowing your own child. Does your child really need you? Some children may very well need that attention at night. Mine doesn’t. Honestly I think we just got lucky. So my advice, for what it’s worth, is do whatever works for you and your child and your family. If self-soothing works; do it. If cuddling all night works for you; do it. Don’t let yourself, like me, be seduced into going against those instincts. Mama (and quite possibly even dada) knows best.

Eat Your Greens – Oh Wait You’re A Toddler

img_2387The current trend for eating dinner in my house involves either plain rice, mashed potato (if we’re lucky) or pasta with sauce. The tiny lady will also concede to eating fish fingers or chicken goujons. Anything even remotely resembling a vegetable is considered completely unacceptable. I have been trying all the tricks:

Make interesting shapes out of veg:

I nearly leaped with joy when I discovered a box of spiral-shaped carrots in our local supermarket. I made a big thing of putting them in the trolley. Toddler agreed they looked very interesting and actually talked about eating them. Then they arrived on her plate. ‘I no like that.’ It didn’t stop her playing with them but God forbid they go near her mouth!
We also tried broccoli trees — these made it into her mouth but were spat out again within seconds.

Hide veg underneath sauces, mash etc.

Firstly tiny lady won’t eat any sauce expect plain tomato sauce — or mayonnaise — so this is out. Secondly we did hide various veg in her mashed potato. It was promptly located and spat back out. In fact it may have put her off mashed potato!

Cover veg in grated cheese:

This should have worked brilliantly as toddler loves cheese (even more than I do which is really saying something) but she just picked all the cheese she could off said veg then asked for more. There were then tears and histrionics when no more cheese was forthcoming. Needless to say no veg was consumed either.

Be a good role model:

I have spent all week stuffing my face with various greens watched, slightly pityingly, by my toddler. Despite being a big fan of sharing mummy’s food she has absolutely no interest in being fooled into trying peppers or sweetcorn or cauliflower!

The only thing that keeps me going is that this seems to be a very common phase amongst the toddler set. Perhaps they have secret meetings when they turn two about how to drive their parents nuts — rule 1 there is no toddler club, rule 2 — you must never, ever eat vegetables — this will lead to immediate excommunication.

I think it is to do with their burgeoning sense of independence. They can’t control much in their little world and quite often have to do various things they would rather not — get dressed, go into car-seats, go to the shop etc. (the list is endless). So they decide to instigate a food strike of sorts. Of course this strike only seems to apply to healthy foods — you won’t often catch a toddler refusing chips or a bar of chocolate (see evidence above). No they are far too clever for that.

I have decided to just keep offering veg every day in the hope that one day I will finally wear her down. She may take pity on me and try. Or decide she suddenly loves veg. Either way I’m assuming the strike will end once she hits the teenage years and embarks on the traditional ‘I’m becoming a vegetarian’ phase. Until then more broccoli for me!

Nostalgia & Gold Earrings

Today I am wearing a pair of gold earrings that once belonged to my mother. They are small, golden swans and they were my heart’s desire when I was a small girl. I still remember looking into my mother’s jewellery box; a treasure trove of necklaces, rings and bracelets. But nothing could compare, in my eyes anyway, to those golden swans. How my little heart ached for them. But they could only be worn in pierced ears! My parents would not allow their eight year old daughter to pierce her ears. So I sighed with longing every time I spied those two swans, certain my life would be complete if they could only be mine.

Time passed and I became a teenager. The day arrived when my mother took me to the local jewellers to have two holes punched in my ears. Oh the pain! But the sparkly ear lobes more than made up for it. By this time I had forgotten about the golden swans and by the time I remembered them I was heavily into silver hoops which were all the rage in the mid to late 90s. I thought I was the height of cool one day when I wore ripped jeans, a faded plaid shirt and two silver hoops in my ears. Rock on sister! Definitely glad there was no Facebook back then. My fashion mistakes only exist in my memories!

It was only in my late twenties that I finally fell back in love with the swans. But my mother was not ready to part with them and so another five years passed before they became mine. I don’t think my mother realised the joy I got when they came into my possession. They are such a symbol of my childhood, a relic from a time when being a grown up meant simply gold earrings and lipstick. My eight year old self didn’t know about mortgages, job stress or the joyous pain of being a parent but she did know a pair of gold earrings can make even the rainiest of days that bit brighter. So today I wear my swans in memory of that little girl. Maybe my own little lady will one day fall in love with them herself.