Mothers come to me each day feeling distraught and in downright despair from the social pressure to co-sleep. They share deep-seated guilt in their knowing that they quite simply – can NOT pull it off. They think that if they don’t choose co-sleeping that there is only one other choice: traditional sleep “training” that involves “cry-it-out.” Every day I hear their words of concern – torture, fear of breaking my child, abandonment, neglect, and trauma.
Even after the child is falling asleep and peacefully bridging sleep cycles some mothers are haunted by the mounds of information they read on the internet about the beauty of one and the evils of the other method. As this mother put it.
“The attachment parenting or gentle parenting scene has been making me feel a lot of guilt—I have some friends who follow these beliefs and think letting a baby cry in their crib at all is cruel. Their philosophy says that you support babies to sleep with rocking or nursing at this age because dependence builds independence later, and babies need as much closeness as possible right now. What does the RIE approach think about this idea? — I also wonder what the RIE approach says about the idea that sleep training teaches your baby not to signal for you, even when they need you.”
Here’s the deal: Dependence is the reality of the child/parent relationship for about 18-years. In this reality, we are ushering our little ones, incrementally, respectfully, and lovingly towards separateness, autonomy, and our bigger ones into individuation until they leave our home and head into differentiation. Nurturing relationships while supporting the learning of new skills builds interdependence and resilience. Enmeshment that happens longer than the symbiotic stage of the newborn is a choice but it is not necessary for a secure attachment.
There is an idealization and romanticization of the family bed and parenting little ones to sleep for years on end. AND there is an idealization of “sleep training” – as in – “We will suffer through cry-it-out once and never have to do it again.” Sorry, development is much more dynamic than a one-time, fix-it-all approach on anything.
Life happens, change happens, hormones happen and it all affects our sleep. Sleep, like nutrition, intimate relationships, and quality relaxation are all elements of self-care that we will touch, tweak, revisit, and nurture our entire lives.
Sometimes the answer for a family lies in one of these two extremes. For those families – YAY!!
For the rest of us: Open up, loosen up, and welcome to the wiggle room.
Most often, lasting solutions are more nuanced and require far more flexibility in our parental role when supporting learned skills that lead to healthy habits and wellbeing.
Parenting to Sleep VS. C.I.O.
Villainizing either camp is not the answer. If we are villainizing some other way, to make us feel good about our way – we are in idealization. Idealization most often comes to an end. When the idea of something is better than the reality of that something it is time to change what we are doing.
My program is another way through this health and wellbeing gauntlet. It is decidedly not what is described in the following post that I saw the other day on Facebook.
SHE IS NOT SLEEPING.
She has her eyes closed, but she doesn’t.
She is feeding her child.
Her arm is in the wrong position, she hurts, but she does not move, because the baby is comfortable like that.
She appears to be sleeping, but she is not.
She’s tired, she closes her eyes, but she listens to every breath of her baby.
Even tonight she will spend it like this.
In that position.
Awkward, weird, but like this.
She doesn’t move so as not to wake him up.
She would like to fall asleep but she doesn’t.
She could hurt him.
Stay alert, alert.
A mother’s night is only the other half of the day.
For many of us, mothering the other half of the day on sleep like this feels like entering the ninth circle of hell.
If you LOVE this intertwined nest of fragmented sleep with your little ones then this is definitely for you. I have known many families who have chosen this and swear by it. Right on!
If you think that by NOT doing this you will damage your child I invite you to reconsider that perspective. When we do (or don’t do) something for our children out of fear, guilt, or martyrdom — the child picks up on the underlying fear and feels the inevitable resentment of the martyr. Saint motherhood was not my path in this life. Messy humanness fits me much better.
I AM NOT SAYING that all mothers who choose this scenario are scared and choosing martyrdom. What I am saying is that if you choose this and it does not work BUT you continue on out of fear – then that is not the ideal emotional environment of the family bed. If you choose this and start to resent your child even the daddy of bed-sharing – Dr. William Sears – advises parents to move the child out of the bed.
What I AM saying is this:
The family bed works under these circumstances:
- It is safe – This is the easiest fix.
- Everyone wants everyone there. This should be discussed with your partner and decided together.
- Everyone gets the sleep they need.
#3 is where it most often falls apart. If you can’t do this type of sleep AND hold onto your sanity, your thyroid, your job, your marriage, etc. – there is a compassionate, loving, and respectful alternative.
Compassionate Sleep Solutions are grounded in attachment theory, regulatory theory, and the RIE® Approach of respectful care. The results look like this…
THEY ARE ALL SLEEPING
She closes her eyes knowing that her child is safe nearby.
She feeds her child in the night as long as there is an authentic need for food in the night.
She moves freely in her bed with comfort and ease knowing her baby can do the same in his own bed feeling safe and secure.
She trusts that her child will let her know if he needs her, she surrenders to sweet sleep.
Her child trusts his parents are reliable and consistent in their responsiveness and he too surrenders to sleep.
Every night will be different because development is not linear. But most nights the entire family will relax within the safe and secure walls of the home knowing that they are cozy in their sleep sanctuaries and sleep can reliably happen there.
There is no harm in separateness because her child knows she will come to him in his sleep space thousands of times. His parents will come to him for reassurance and in joyous reuniting when they awake to start their day.
Learning any new skill feels awkward and weird at first. With practice comes mastery and more often than not she loves her nightly sleep and so does her child.
Relax, rest, let go and sleep.
A mother’s full night in sleep is an act of self-care and self-love. She is modeling this foundational element of wellbeing – sleep.