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.

The Sweet Art of Imitation

This week a mother shared a sweet photo of her daughter pretending to breastfeed her doll. Her mother breastfed her and as well all know toddlers love to copy their parents. I often catch sight of my tiny lady carefully watching me out of the corner of her eye while I have my dinner then she takes a bite in the exact same way. It is adorable. I’m sure the mother who shared this photo thought it was just as adorable. And it was. However, what I’m sure she didn’t expect was the ‘shock and horror’ brigade who descended to label this child’s pretend play as “weird” and that her mother should be “punched in the face”. Seriously who writes these vile comments? How can anyone call a child imitating her mother “some of the nastiest sh*t of my life”? I was quite taken aback.

Regular readers will know that I am big on encouraging and supporting bottle-feeding mothers. But this is due to the fact that I think it’s an area we fall down in and a lot of mothers feel guilty for making that choice. However, I believe every mama has the right to feed her baby as she so wishes and that mothers who breastfeed deserve our support and respect too. This nasty outburst at a photo of a child who is just copying a very normal and natural act is reprehensible. As a number of commenters pointed out there would have been no uproar if the child had been using a bottle.

What strikes me as kind of amusing here (amusing in a bad way though) is that women are nearly afraid to put up photographs of themselves bottle-feeding their babies. They fear the onslaught of questions and judgement. Yet a photo of a child using a toy bottle is fine. On the other side of it we have a woman who posted an image of a child pretending to breastfeed and there is a rush of negativity while a woman pictured breastfeeding her own child at a wedding was met with (mainly) applause. WTF? What is with the hypocrisy? Either you support breastfeeding or you don’t and if you do then what is so shocking about a child pretending to do it? It’s like a child pretending to give her/his dolls a bath or put them to bed. It’s preparing them to be good parents.

So what’s the deal people? If we are to help normalise breastfeeding in our society (which would go a long way towards helping mothers feel comfortable doing it) then a child imitating what she sees on a daily basis should be praised. As a former early years teacher I saw this happen quite frequently with children whose mothers were breastfeeding. We never made a big deal out of it; why would we? I know that some of the parents were a little embarrassed but only because they feared they (and their child) would be judged as this child was. I was always quick to assure them that it was perfectly normal for children to imitate what they see at home and there was absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. Let’s move on and recognise this picture for what it is; a sweet moment of child imitating life.

Parenting in the Age of Facebook

Yesterday my tiny lady had a meltdown. By meltdown I mean a major, off the scale, shrieking at the top of her voice tsunami of toddler emotion. It was epic. It started with my husband and I coaxing her into her buggy. We managed to get her strapped in but then, as if possessed by a demonic spirit, she began to strain against the straps; yelling as if we were trying to torture her. With tense voices we encouraged each other to stay calm; terse, short sentences were the order of the day. We attempted to carry on as if we couldn’t hear anything while all the world (or so it seemed ) stared at us. Finally I decided to carry her. This didn’t help and the screaming continued. We were on our way to buy some much needed warm weather clothes (neither my husband nor I had quite believed the optimistic Irish heatwave forecast). In the end we decided to divide and conquer. My husband went shopping while I took the toddler into Tesco to buy juice; yes I committed the ultimate parenting sin of bribery. Five minutes later – and trust me it was a very long and brutal five minutes- we were sitting down outside Tesco with a four pack of juice and peace had returned to my world. Yes, yes perhaps I could have solved it without the bribe but sue me I just wanted the shouting to stop.

As we sat there I started thinking how very quick we are to judge each other as parents in this age of Facebook and instant status updates. The looks of some of the customers in Tesco were heavy with disapproval. I caught the odd sympathetic glance but these were few and far between. The majority of people seemed to wonder why on earth my child was so upset. Welcome to the world of parenting a toddler, I thought grimly. I could only imagine the status updates the incident might have sparked off. I am guessing none would have been very supportive.

I have been following the case of the parents whose child recently fell into the gorilla enclosure in Ohio zoo. There has now been an investigation launched to assess whether or not the parents are to blame. While I wholeheartedly wish this majestic creature could have been saved I wonder have we been too quick to point the finger at the parents? How many of us have lost children when in a brief second of inattention we do not have our eyes on them? We are all just human and none of us are perfect.

I remember, as a child, going on a shopping expedition with my parents. My brother, who was only about two at the time, was carefully kept close by means of the controversial toddler harness. My Dad had a tight grip on him while my mum browsed the clothes section of M&S (note – how terribly restrictive for my poor mother to have her whole family follow her around clothes shopping). Suddenly, my brother had somehow gotten free and was racing through the aisles; joyous to be finally let fly. However, his flight of freedom soon ended with a bump to the head and a visit to the hospital.

It got me thinking if this happened today would my family have ended up on Facebook, my father widely criticised for allowing his child to break free? Would my mother have been judged for trying to take five minutes to herself to do some shopping? Would there have been cries of ‘This would never have happened to my child’ or ‘Parents should have watched child more carefully?’ A simple incident like this could have gained my family a level of unwanted internet fame. I wonder are we far less understanding these days or do we just simply have a greater outlet for our disapproval? Access to more ears to pour our judgment into?

I don’t know about you but I do think we are too quick to judge, too quick to update our statuses without thinking and too quick to throw our opinions out there without considering who we might be wounding. Remember, be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting their own hard battle.

Is Elsa about to come out of the closet?

I was very interested to come across a campaign recently which is aiming to give Elsa from Frozen (a film every parent knows in their sleep) a girlfriend. What interested me most was not so much the campaign itself (though I do applaud their determination) but rather the strong backlash it faced when news of it broke. People were horrified to think that a Disney film would introduce sex…wait a minute no-one said anything about Elsa and her girl getting it on. The point of the campaign was to allow Elsa a girlfriend just as Anna is allowed a boyfriend.

Such comments that were posted online. How could Disney even consider such a thing! In the end it came down to the fact that Elsa’s female crushing would be too sexual for a Disney film. But why did everything have to come back to sex? Nobody seemed to take any issue with the fact that Anna has not one but two loves during the course of the original film. Oh but of course, my mistake, that’s not about sex, it’s love. Huh? So demonstrating a homosexual relationship on screen is sexual but showing a heterosexual one isn’t? Something just doesn’t add up here.

Another argument was that old chestnut- think of the children. They will be confused, they won’t know what’s going on – children are a lot more aware than we are. And a lot more accepting. If you introduce a concept to them, when they are young, and normalise it for them than they won’t have a problem with it. We create the attitudes of the young. They are not born to hate or judge.

I genuniely do not understand it when people argue against portraying homosexuality on screen due to the sensitivity of children. I would love my daughter to grow up in a world where it’s just as normal to see a gay couple on screen as it is a straight one; for it to be nothing unusual or news-worthy.When I was younger I remember the mortification when I innocently asked about a gay couple on the TV. It would be nice if this wasn’t even an issue for my daughter. Furthermore, it is important for children who identify as gay grow up with famous role models the same as straight children do. How wonderful for a young lesbian girl to grow up with an awesome role model like Elsa?

Of course I don’t expect attitudes to change over-night and unfortunately I reckon Disney will not turn one of their biggest money spinners into a subject for debate. We can legalise gay marriage but keep it behind closed doors thanks, seems to be the reaction of many punters. I, for one, would think it a great step forward for young boys and girls to see Elsa and her girlfriend just hanging out with Anna and Kristoff; no big deal, no drama just two young couples in love.