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.

Writing in Toddlerdom

I am currently attempting to find other outlets, beyond my blog, to write for; online or in print and have been lucky to find some publications that have given me some wonderful opportunities. I am delighted but finding the time to write has been hard. My tiny lady used to nap for about two hours in total (including the time it took to fall asleep and wake up properly). This was ideal as it gave me time to work on my blog as well as my other pieces. However, lately she has cut this time in two and is only asleep for about an hour so the most I can stretch nap time to has been an hour and a half (as now she is falling asleep almost immediately instead of after a half hour of chat!). Today she decided not to nap at all!

I am aware that as she gets older she will need less and less sleep (and then – oh the horrors – no day-time sleep at all) but I figured I had a while to go before she would need any less than the two hours. But I could be wrong. She could just drop the naps all of a sudden. And I have to be prepared!

So what to do? I can either work in the evenings (when I find it hard to stay awake past nine o’clock much less produce coherent work) or I can learn to work while she is awake. Hmm…me thinks this will be quite the learning curve! Since I started this post (about half an hour ago) I have been asked to find a doll, locate her teddy, fix a train track and play tea parties. I’ve tried to explain about mummy working but it kinda breaks my heart to turn her down so I’ve played for a few minutes then jumped back to the laptop. I guess it will take us both some time to get used to. I can’t resist that smile and she loves having play-time with mummy. It’s something I enjoy about being at home with her too; I have time to enjoy really being with her.

Perhaps I may have to set my alarm clock -which hasn’t been set once since she was born as babies are mother nature’s alarm clocks! – and wake up a little earlier so that I can combine the life of a writer with the life of a mother.

Toddlers & Temperatures

I am writing this in a somewhat delirious haze. A certain tiny lady woke at 1am and then did not sleep again until about 4am. Needless to say I am shattered, wrecked, knackered, tired beyond words. Not only was she awake at 1am but she was wide awake as in standing at the end of her cot, talking at the top of her voice awake. This is not like her. She hasn’t woken at night since those early, sleep-deprived newborn days and I have always been thankful for it. If she does wake she is generally still very sleepy and easy enough to lure back to sleep.

Not so last night. Or should I say this morning. I went in and picked her up. She was thrilled. She was also burning up. The thermometer read 35.4 degrees but I know a sick toddler when I see one. She was behaving very much like I do when I have a fever – very chatty, very hot and very hyper. She actually asked me for calpol! I agreed it seemed like a good idea. Calpol was duly administered. I climbed into the spare bed with her and was just drifting off to sleep when the chatting began again. Great. Here comes the calpol high. She was telling me all sorts of stories – half of them so garbled I couldn’t even make out what she was saying…and I was so tired I didn’t care to be quite honest. Then she started to shout for water. The neighbours must love us – a loud toddler screaming for water and a mother on the verge of shouting back. I gave her water, I settled her back down….and then she started to bounce on the bed. Bouncing on the bed at 3am! What fresh hell is this! I was very close to tears and very close to losing the rag…but you can’t very well get cross with a sick child can you?! Can you??

Obviously the easiest solution would have been to call my husband. He even offered to take over. But no. Thank you maternal instinct because as much as I was hating the lack of sleep I knew I couldn’t leave her either. I would only end up lying in my own bed listening out for her and wanting to be near her again.

There were some compensations. She isn’t the most cuddly of creatures but she was extremely cuddly last night. She rolled herself into me but then kept jumping awake causing me to wake from various nonsensical dream scenarios with a start. She also woke at one point asking for Bing’s house. I can only guess she was visiting Bing in her dreams! Finally, finally after seconds that felt like hours and minutes that felt like days she fell properly asleep. It was an unsettled sleep with lots of snuffles and murmurs but it was sleep.

Husband took over at nine am but like Lady MacBeth sleep was lost to me now. Husband, noting the bags under my eyes, begged me to nap when she does. She is napping now and here I am writing so you can imagine how I took that advice! Now off I go to get more coffee and carbs and cheese – these will surely keep me going!*

*Apologies if this blog lacks sense and any kind of meaning!

Mama knows best

Naptime and Bedtime have become a bit of a battle in our house over the past few weeks. My daughter’s latest trick is propping herself up at the end of her cot, throwing all her cuddly toys out then shouting for us until she gets some attention. This can go on for at least half an hour sometimes longer before she finally gives up…or we do. Now I know some people might suggest she doesn’t need as much sleep anymore now that she is nearly two. Couldn’t we cut back on the naps? To those people I would say – are you f***ing kidding me?? This child needs her sleep and we need her to sleep. She is not a pleasant kid to be around when naps are off the agenda for the day.

All children are different and I think, as a parent, you are able to recognise when your child doesn’t conform to the developmental guidelines of a particular stage. I used to work in a creche and there were some two year olds who could last the day on very little sleep. Others….well the less said about them the better. They needed that rest! As children get older some drop naps altogether while some still benefit from an afternoon siesta. As it stands my tiny lady has quite an odd napping schedule. I always thought she would need an afternoon nap – all the books speak about an afternoon nap and thats what I was familiar with. But my tiny lady gets tired around half ten so its usually snack then bed at eleven am. She has her lunch when she wakes up and is generally good to go for the rest of the day…until the dreaded five o’clock slump but that’s a tale for another day.

I am very glad she attends a childminder rather than a creche as in a creche it is easier for the older toddlers to nap around the same time. Generally this is just after lunch around one o’clock. This is to allow for children to get maximum fun and activity time but it would not suit my little girl. If I try to stretch her nap past eleven then we miss the vital window of opportunity. After that it’s terror toddler for the rest of the day as she fights any attempts to put her back down. Thankfully her childminder works around her schedule not the other way around for this we are very grateful!

The point of this slightly manic blog is this; you know your own child best. So if she wants to nap for 15 minutes or three hours then work with her needs. If she wants to nap mid morning go with that. Don’t listen to the advice of others if you have a routine that works for you and your child. Yes there will be times when your toddler fights her sleep or just doesn’t nap but this doesn’t always mean she is ready to go without sleep either. Trust your instincts and trust your gut. Mama (and papa) know best!