Before I was a Dad, the children’s book ‘Go the F*#k to sleep’ seemed offensive at best and ludicrous at worst. Hearing Samuel L Jackson read it on YouTube may have added some extra comedic value, but I probably stuck up my nose and thought it was a ridiculous title written by a terrible parent with a heart of stone.
Fast forward to a time when these words have left my own lips feeling more like a desperate prayer than a satirical children’s book, and my perspective has been stretched a little. Even Psalm 137:9 looks different (the one about dashing babies heads on rocks). Ok, so that’s probably one of the most bleak reflections of humanity in all recorded literature, but I’m going to give the dude the benefit of the doubt and assume he had just been woken up for the fourteenth time in half as many hours by a nearby infant. It can make you think (and write) some crazy things.
This is a piece of writing about the S word.
Sweet and precious and the cousin of death and all kinds of controversial.
and as such, it may meet strong differences in opinion...
...but let's be graceful here,
because if you're in the heart of the
that is sleep deprivation,
or if you're just trying to wade through the fiery furnace of
opinions and pressure and clinics and research and good old fashioned instinct
it can be pretty hard to figure out what to do.
…and let’s extend our graciousness to the babies,
because no matter how much it can feel like they are trying to rip the lining off your heart
or how well timed they are at waking up as soon as your head hits the pillow
I’m pretty sure they aren’t actually intent on world domination
or ruining your career or straining your relationships
they are small and vulnerable and sometimes angry and sometimes afraid
and if it sucks for us, I’m pretty sure
they aren’t having the greatest time either.
My little fella is about as good at sleeping as chickens are good at flying. He is apparently capable, and occasionally gets off the ground, but it’s always very brief, very noisy and you wonder if this creature just wasn’t made for this feat.
In the first couple of months of the Hood, I noticed that some people have these strange litmus tests for young babies.
They say things like:
“Is he a good boy?”
and you think:
“He’s a tiny blob of gorgeous humanity that can’t consciously do anything ‘bad’. Of course he’s a good boy!”
but what you actually say is:
“Yeah…I think so?”
to which, they ask:
“Well, does he sleep well??!”
Is it just me, or is that a weird line of logic? And it feeds into this enormous ball of pressure and expectation and guilt that can keep you up at night (like you needed any help with that.) And the measure of how you parent, can feel like it gets boiled down to how you deal with sleep.
This is not a piece of writing on ‘sleep training’. It’s not a piece of writing about ‘attachment parenting’. It’s not really an argument for anything…except a bit of empathy.
Empathy for sleep deprived parents.
And empathy for little babies that sleep like chickens trying to fly.
My observation is that people on one side of the discussion can become so concerned about preserving the wellbeing of the parents, they start to talk about the baby like they are some kind of selfish demon.
And on the other side of the discussion people can become so strongly opinionated about putting bub first that they build up impossibly high expectations that can crush a parent who is already feeling pretty crushed by the general emotional weight of the gig.
Everyone ends up getting painted as some form of terrible. And whether you’re clocking 8 hours a night or 8 wake-ups an hour, you can still end up feeling like the conversation surrounding sleep is an exhausting one.
There are other people more equipped to argue for the most appropriate ways to approach sleep in the season of very young baby. But I feel pretty confident that it would be a positive thing if we stopped equating sleep with good/bad litmus tests.
Whether a child has trouble sleeping or not, does not make them ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
And the approach a parent takes to their child’s sleep does not make them ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
Or, in other words:
1. The amount your baby sleeps has nothing to do with their quality as a human.
2. The amount your baby sleeps has nothing to do with your quality as a human.
That’s not to say your approach to sleep isn’t important. Or that you shouldn’t carefully read and consider different viewpoints and engage in meaningful discussion. But how we deal with sleep should be a holistic part of how we parent. We shouldn’t set it on some strange pedestal and evaluate children and parents from sleeping patterns in isolation. Are Sam and I doing things a certain way based on certain values? Sure. I’m not going to pretend like we don’t land somewhere on the spectrum of opinions.
But, I’m pretty sure this isn’t a test to pass,
it’s a path to walk. It’s a conversation to engage in.
And more importantly,
it’s not a war or a battle with your own child.
You’re on the same team.
And if it’s a fight, it’s one you win or lose together.
So, let's be gentle. Let's be gracious.
(and let's hope our chickens evolve into other winged creatures soon).