Miss Churchill was not to be dissuaded from the marriage to Mr Weston and it took place to the infinite mortification of her family who threw her off with due decorum. It was an unsuitable connection, and did not produce much happiness. Mrs Weston ought to have found more in it, for she had a husband whose warm heart and sweet temper made him think everything due to her in return for the great goodness of being in love with him. But though she had resolution enough to pursue her own will in spite of her brother, she had not enough to refrain from unreasonable regrets at that brother’s unreasonable anger, nor from missing the luxuries of her former home. She did not cease to love her husband, but she wanted at once to be the wife of Captain Weston, and Miss Churchill of Enscombe.
Jane Austen, Emma
I resort to re-readings of Jane Austen in times of stress, and never was I more stressed than when contemplating how to stop my child needing me to go to sleep. Like a strange repetitive saying running round my head, this passage of Emma seemed to sum up my parenting dilemma. My daughter was about one at the time, we were living in Greece with an unresponsive father and over-involved Greek grandmother.
I was beginning to really struggle with the reality of my choice to follow an attachment style of parenting, which among other things, espoused parenting your child to sleep. Rather than placing them alone in a cot and leaving them to “cry it out” until such time as they understood they were to fall asleep alone, you were encouraged to breastfeed, rock, dance, lie next to your child – whatever it took for them to drift happily and securely into sleep, without tears. It was a blessed duty at first. A wonderful joy to respond so quickly to my child’s cries, flaunt convention, family and the Child Health network, and feel that I was helping to create a new breed of children.
For that in many ways is the premise of much of the attachment style parenting. Taking its cue from the many indigenous cultures who routinely parent their children to sleep, perhaps even holding them while asleep, it promises some heady paybacks for all that extra work.
A child who perceives the universe as always responding to their needs, ever bountiful. A child free from inappropriate material cravings as they mature – food, alcohol, even drugs – because their needs were met my natural nurture, not a bottle, dummy, musical mobile or any number of ingenious mother-substitute articles now available. And ultimately, a more peaceful, attuned world, where people are able to pursue their life’s purpose, instead of being beguiled down hopeless cul-de-sacs chasing gratification for those unmet babyhood needs which never go away.
How I held on to this vision, and cherished it! But there were certainly aspects of the vision I didn’t properly think through. How long would the thrill of parenting my child to sleep last? As long as I was going to have to perform this task? By the time my daughter was one, I was parenting her to sleep three times a day, for morning nap, afternoon nap and night time.
She is not one of those children who peaceably drop off to sleep, but fights it tooth and nail. Even with me there, tears were nearly always a precursor to surrender and sleep. That is the way she is made. Not for me the babe who sucks briefly, rolls over with blissful red cheeks and dreams sweetly, allowing you plenty of time during the day to imagine her future, uncluttered by unmet needs. Instead it was one breast, then other breast, then other breast again, then first breast again, hell why not? Meanwhile I would march up and down, up and down with her in the sling, soothing music playing, me trying to breathe deeply and be patient.
There are many contributing factors to this drawn-out scenario – me watching the clock rather than my daughter for cues of tiredness, her natural propensity (just like mine) to dawdle slowly into sleepiness rather than rush there. There is also the undeniable reality that parenting a child to sleep is time consuming. And so settling my daughter to sleep caused occasional flashes of anger, distressing and frightening. Occasionally I would slap her bottom (albeit through nappy, sling and clothes) and then feel utterly awful.
My anger sprang largely from my utter jealousy of those mothers who had trained their babies to sleep alone. Come nap time, they could put the baby down, walk away and make a cup of tea and open those choccies. I could not think of them without longing as I paced up and down, up and down, or suffered my nipple to be painfully tweaked as my treasure drifted off. Eating away at me was the thought – have I made my life unnecessarily difficult? There is a known solution to getting a baby to sleep alone.
Is it so terribly wrong? Is it really so much preferable for the baby to be strapped onto an angry mother in a sling marvellously simulating that of some indigenous culture or other, as she stalks up and down to CD music longing to be free of the drudgery of settling her child to sleep? Still the ideal of attachment parenting bit deep. I wanted to be Miss Churchill of Enscombe, privy to all the joy of having a child able to sleep alone, and yet be Mrs Weston, who would never dream of leaving her child to “cry it out“.
Controlled crying – a highly structured form of “crying it out” was developed by Dr Christopher Green, paediatrician and father and documented in his two most popular books, Babies and Toddler Taming. Most people have at least heard of the technique, and of Ngala, a sleep resource centre in Perth who adapt this technique for parents of babies who want their babies to sleep without them. I knew of it, but every time I discussed actually doing it to my child brought an unbearable tension in me. I struggled between my two conflicting desires – to parent “perfectly” and to have more time off.
One particularly long and difficult lunchtime, when I thought my daughter had had quite enough of being swaddled to an angry mother, I decided to give it a try. I was partly spurred on by my only friend in Greece who had children. Hers were older now, but she hadn’t forgotten her own struggles around this issue. A friend of hers had used the controlled crying technique and was thereafter free at nap times. “I was as jealous as hell” she reported. I knew how she felt, and the phrase rang in my ears as I gave controlled crying a try.
Ngala was a long way away as I struggled on in Greece – and indeed support in general was very thin on the ground. Ngala were very kind over the phone and email, however I approached the whole thing very lopsidedly. Going from almost no routine I suddenly expected my child to be able to fit into a new, motherless regime. With no support from within or without, failure was inevitable.
I still remember wandering around the streets of Salonica feeling lost and bleak, checking in on her every 5-10 minutes or so (quite contrary to what Ngala or Green would advise) hoping that she had fallen asleep. Each time I returned, she was baffled, terrified, angry, anything but asleep. After an hour and a quarter she was hysterical and sweaty, I, not much better. I shrieked at her to GO TO SLEEP, then calmed down, took her out of the cot and at last held her to me. She fell asleep on my chest, still heaving in her sleep with the aftermath of such a violent crying jag. For the next week, she would only sleep on top of me, waking if I tried to move and escape.
With no break at all I felt all the anguish of having swapped a mild problem with a major one. Fortunately she soon realised I wasn’t going to do that to her again and we settled back into our routine. On the positive side, my experiment made me decide that perhaps I would stick to being Mrs Weston, and give up any thoughts of Enscombe. It brought me peace for a time. I even began to enjoy settling her to sleep again. It seemed that it was not too much to ask, after all.
That was over eighteen months ago, and in that time I have continued to revolve the issue in my mind to the point where I believe it is the single most important decision parents need to make together before their first baby arrives. It seems, yet again, one of those deep realities of parenthood that somehow never penetrate the Other World of People Who Don’t Yet Have Children. As I see it, your decision to parent or not to parent your child to sleep is going to have profound effects on your lifestyle for at least the first 3-4 years of your child’s life.
I don’t think I exaggerate here, because I have only outlined the frustrations of settling a child to sleep during the day, but night time is another whole issue. The reality is that children naturally wake throughout the night, and if they are unaccustomed to settling themselves back to sleep, you will have to continue to put them back to sleep throughout the night. That impacts on your whole family – how will you meet this need? I often think that if you are not going to train your child to sleep alone, its best to sleep with them in the family bed.
That way you can minimise the impact of frequent interruptions during the night and reduce or perhaps even eliminate exhaustion levels. If you don’t want to go down this path, expect to feel extra tired from having to physically get up and go to your child, and plan for how you will function during the day.
Another crucial issue around the implications of settling your child to is how much you can socialise, if your child wants you and only you when they awake. I can count on one hand the number of times I have gone out at night in two and a half years. The reality is that me going out makes her inconsolable when she awakes without me, and so ruins any pleasure I receive from venturing forth. Fortunately for me I had a child late in life, when the thrill of going out had considerably dulled.
And after all I have said, for me, the journey into parenting via the Family Bed route has been difficult, but extremely rich, and definitely rewarding. I have countless beautiful memories of a happily sleeping child beside me as I read a novel. I have felt the deep satisfaction when a little whimpering cry from my child is immediately assuaged by a pat of reassurance from me (without having to get up!). And I can honestly say that despite the fact that my daughter will still awaken perhaps twice a night for a suckle, this has almost no impact on my tiredness levels during the day. Without having to be organised, disciplined and determined, I have just wafted through the early years, moving ever closer to the time when my child will evolve into a more independent being.
Often I ponder whether I would have another child, and if so, how would I approach the parenting to sleep issue next time? I am not absolutely sure about that one, babies having a habit of being total individuals who will not necessarily bend to their parent’s latest theory. I think I would use the Family Bed again, but I would bring much more structure to it. The thought of leaving a child to cry is a difficult one for me to contemplate. The thought of having to settle a child to sleep for several years holds slightly more horrors.
I don’t believe the Family Bed and structure are mutually exclusive, but I do think that people who are attracted to Attachment Parenting and the Family Bed often lack personal boundaries, and are turned off by routine and structure. I know that at the beginning of my parenting journey, I feared that any “negativity”, any following of my own needs to the cost of my child’s need, would detrimentally affect my child.
I feared impinging on my child’s spiritual and emotional growth. Now I feel that life is not that simple. Humans are complex beings and I don’t actually think the method you use to raise children has all that much to do with how they turn out. Love comes pouring through whether you use a cot and schedules or a sling and the sun.
I have come to reassess much of the “mainstream” parenting advice, and found that although some of it is not to my taste, much of it has a lot of common sense. In a similar way to how I view medicine, I feel that the very different strengths of Western and Natural medicine are an unbeatable combination.
We are in the position to view both of them impartially, and take from each as needs dictate. So too with parenting. There have been some wonderful influences from Attachment/ Natural Parenting philosophies, but then there are some wonderful nuggets in mainstream parenting. Through choice and discernment, each family can work through the different wisdoms, choosing the formula that suits their family best.
So in short, I will probably have some kind of rocking bed, a family bed, a cot, a sling, a musical mobile, give them all a go and see which one works to ensure that my child falls asleep, HAPPILY, WITHOUT ME!!!
By Pip Brennan
Reproduced from Quolkids with permission from Faye Read from Soulbirth
Photo Credit: sdminor81