Project Parenting

As I mentioned in my last post, Cameron’s sleep habits aren’t great and we decided to hire a sleep consultant to help us. We met with her yesterday and tonight ‘Project Sleep’ begins, but the process has already got me thinking about a whole other topic – the expectations I have of myself as a mother.

It started when I was filling in the forms for the sleep consultant. There were pages of questions about every element of Cameron’s life – food, sleep, illness, birth, routine, environment, feeding. As I waded through it I had a growing sense of failure. I found myself trying to justify my answers because I knew there was a ‘better’ one. But another part of me was also asking why I felt like a failure? And my conclusion – too much information!

In this day and age, we are bombarded with information about how to raise a child. And frankly, I don’t think it helps. (Incidentally, I feel the same way about ante-natal classes.) I love the way Steve Wiens put it in his post ‘To parents of small children: Let me be the one who says it out loud’:

We all need to admit that one of the casualties specific to our information saturated culture is that we have sky-scraper standards for parenting, where we feel like we’re failing horribly if we feed our children chicken nuggets and we let them watch TV in the morning. One of the reasons we are so exhausted is that we are oversaturated with information about the kind of parents we should be.

Before I became a stay-at-home mom with Cameron, I worked in project orientated fields. We had clear targets, deadlines and processes. I get a kick out of that sort of thing which is great because sometimes a systematic approach is needed. Take ‘Project Sleep’ as an example – the timeline is two weeks, there is a clear process for each eventuality (naps, bedtime and night wakings) and we have a chart to map our progress. (All this quite aside from the fact that ‘Sleep Consultant’ looks great on a business card and just screams ‘corporate culture’.) But for every day mothering I’m learning that this is not how to approach parenting. For me, all the information can make me feel like raising a child is some sort of project. All those handy month-by-month milestones just get me asking questions like ‘Am I meeting my deadlines? Is Cameron on target? Am I performing well enough as a mom?’ Talk about pressure I don’t need in my life!

In the same post, Steve Wiens goes on to say:

…maybe it’s time to stop reading the blogs that tell you how to raise the next President who knows how to read when she’s three and who cooks, not only eats, her vegetables. Maybe it’s time to embrace being the kind of parent who says sorry when you yell. Who models what it’s like to take time for yourself. Who asks God to help you to be a better version of the person that you actually are, not for more strength to be an ideal parent.

I think this is good advice so I’ve stopped reading the books. It’s nice to know they are there if I have questions, but mostly I ignore their existence. I only subscribe to blogs that inspire and encourage me. And I reject those failure feelings each time they raise their nasty heads.

The thing is, that as well as info overload, we also live in a culture where perfectionism is celebrated. To use ‘Project Sleep’ again, one of the reasons why I’d love Cameron to sleep better is because I suspect that if I could just get a bit more rest, I could be one of those cookie baking, home decorating, meal conjuring, craft creating super moms who make sandwiches look like dinosaurs. But again I question myself – ‘Why do I feel like I need to be?’ That stuff isn’t necessary. Yes, it’s nice to do if you like baking and creating and making sandwiches look like dinosaurs, but those activities should be added extras, not a source of more pressure. Those things can be fun creative outlets but there is a huge problem if I feel like I need to be doing all that stuff to succeed as a mom.

Writing posts like this makes me realise just how much motherhood is changing my perceptions and ideas. Maybe it’s got to do with having so little time – I need to make sure I use it well! So I’m prioritizing differently. I’m living at a slower pace. And most importantly, I’m redefining my expectations.

Tired of being tired

Have you ever had one of those moments when you realize that something you thought was going to be temporary has become permanent? I had one at three in the morning a few weeks back when I realized that Cameron just has horrific sleep habits and that this is no longer a passing phase. It was a bit of a crushing realization, but at the same time I’ve actually known its the truth for a while and have just been merrily rowing down that river known as ‘Denial’.

One of the possible reasons for my four-month long river cruise is that initially I thought Cameron was going to be a good sleeper. I read the Sleep Sense book shortly after he was born and it seemed so simple. When he started sleeping for a 6-7 hour stretch at three months, just as the book recommended for his age, I thought, ‘Hey, no problem! This is easy.’ In fact, when I saw on Facebook that a friend was going to a sleep consultant I even had the arrogance to think, ‘Shame, I wonder where it wrong?’

And then February arrived and with it Cameron’s growing appetite. In my quest to push through with exclusive breastfeeding until he was six months old, I just started feeding him whenever he woke. Which was every two hours. That’s where it all went pear shaped for me and four months later the situation is the same. My nine-month old is waking more frequently now than he did as a newborn and its really no joke.

You expect a level of sleep deprivation as a new parent and consequently I sometimes get the feeling that people aren’t really taking me seriously when I complain about being tired. But this is ‘tired’ on a whole new level, and the consistency of it over a period of months has left me utterly ragged. So yes, I may sound like a stuck record with my perpetual statement of ‘I’m tired’ but really, those words just don’t convey the extent of my exhaustion. And I’m too tired to think of ones that do.

I recently read a post on one of my favourite blogs, Science of Mom, called ‘Sleep deprivation – the dark side of parenting‘ and that, combined with desperation, started me on the process of getting out of that river. So I’ve found a sleep consultant. It is costing a fair amount of hard cash but my sanity and the health of Cameron and I is priceless. Oh, and did I mention that it’s the same lady my Facebook friend used? Now that’s humble pie, but I’m happy to eat it.

P.S. Our session with the consultant is only next week Wednesday so you’ll have to watch this space for a while.

Standing tall

Cameron the creeping (but not quite crawling) caterpillar is reaching new frontiers all the time. What’s more, he’s gotten a taste for an elevated view on his surroundings. On Wednesday he figured out how to pull himself upright in his cot. I’d popped him in there as I ran his bath and returned to the bedroom to find him standing upright and looking utterly chuffed with himself. He looked at me, so proud, and gave this contented little chuckle. My heart just melted and it’s a precious moment I doubt I’ll ever forget.