I came across this post in my Facebook feed the other night, and then couldn’t sleep because of ALL THE ire. You know, the kind of rage that makes you want to shout mean things to strangers on Facebook, and then keeps you up composing imaginary blog posts in response to specific comments? That.
And all because of baby sleep.
But why? I mean, baby sleep is a beautiful, peaceful, sugar plums and fairies kind of deal, right? Why get so worked up about it?
For two reasons. First, because baby / toddler / preschooler sleep is not tranquil. At least not in my experience. It is fitful, broken, and fleeting. It comes after much effort. Pretending that it is always easy, if you just try this simple tip denies this realty. And also makes me want to throat punch you.
Second: There are all sorts of complicated judgments and insinuations surrounding baby sleep: Your child sleeps badly because you haven’t followed all the tips correctly. You’re child sleeps badly because you are a soft, lily-livered parent failure. Or, my favourite from Facebook, your child doesn’t sleep well because you didn’t co-sleep and breastfeed long enough.
Regardless, the bottom line is this: your kid’s sleep is a direct reflection of how well or poorly you’re doing as a parent, and if your kid’s sleep is not happening, it’s because you’re doing it wrong.
Well. What if I told you that I tired all the tricks. I bought all the books. I hired a sleep consultant. And guess what? No dice.
What if I told you that we tried to cry it out. And the only thing we got from that experience was the knowledge that my kid could just out-cry me. You guys. Four hours. FOUR HOURS of cry it out was enough to teach me that it wouldn’t work.
What about you hippie AP lactivists who insist that co-sleeping and extended breastfeeding is the answer? Well, you guys are the worst (and PS, this is coming from a cloth-capering, baby-wearing, long-term co-sleeper). How much longer would you like me to breastfeed my kid? Two-and-a-half years isn’t enough? And, PS, we still co-sleep, at three-and-a-half. My kid still sleeps like crap. So, your smug insinuation that I’m dooooin it wrong is kind of assholery at its finest.
For all you sellers of books and givers of parenting tips, take this: My kid is a terrible sleeper. Always has been. She didn't sleep though the night (as in five hour uninterrupted sleep) until she was almost a year. Despite reading every book, trying every trick and the most well-intentioned sleep plans. She still sleeps badly.
Despite the black-out blinds (never mind the fact that she often wakes up before the sun anyway, so blackout blinds are a moot point.)
Despite the fact that we fill our days full, full, full, with activities.
Despite soft lamp light evenings and candle-lit dinners.
Despite the fact that breakfast isn’t served until 6:30. Ever.
Despite the little clock that lights green at 6:15 each morning, signifying that it’s okay to wake.
Despite the consistent bedtime, from which we rarely waver.
My three year old does not sleep through the night. She still wakes a couple times per night (not every night, but several times per week) and is up for the day around 5 AM.
No amount of scheming strategery or smug guilting is going to change that.
From what I can gather after observing infant and child sleep patterns in the non-Western world is this: it’s not that children sleep better or worse in non-Western countries, it’s just that non-Western parents don’t worry so much about sleep. There is a whole lot less anxiety about how, when, and where children sleep. Kids just sleep when they sleep, NBD.
Certainly co-sleeping is more normative, in most non-Western countries, which suggests a more relaxed attitude to sleep. And I am guessing, from what I see around me, fractured sleep patterns are more normative, too. In Indonesia, for example, it seems to me much more acceptable to wake during the night (for prayer, for example, or as one guy told me recently, to cook his pregnant wife midnight snacks.) So being disturbed by a sleepless child is just kind of life. Get over it. Catch up on your sleep when and where you can.
What if the biggest secret these baby sleep advice dispensaries are keeping from us is this: some kids sleep great regardless of their parents’ efforts. And some kids sleep like crap, every trick and every book notwithstanding.
I think in our family we’re coming around to this: poor sleep is what it is. There’s not a whole lot we can do to change the way our kid sleeps, so we have to adapt.
In our family that means that for now, Mr. Chef takes nighttime duties. He’s better on less sleep than I, and, importantly, he’s not pregnant. When he needs to catch up on sleep, I’ll give him a night off, or he’ll have an early morning nap.
Still, we haven’t managed to entirely escape the sleep anxiety. Each morning we ask each other how the little monkey slept. I always want to know how frequently she woke, how early she rose, and whether or not a few nights of good sleep is indicative of a trend, and what precise combination of actions / inactions from the previous nights is responsible for the sustained slumber.
As we get ready for baby number two, I’m really hoping we get a sleep-friendly kid. Failing that, please, please, please remind me to just chill out about the whole sleep thing and for gawd sakes, put down the baby books.