Hello Sleep – I’ve missed you

A month ago, under the guidance of a sleep consultant, we started sleep training with Cameron and it has utterly transformed our lives. Cam has gone from waking every hour and a half at night to sleeping for 11 hours or more. What’s more, he usually goes down for his naps with very little fuss, and using the system, anyone babysitting for us can get him down too. He is thriving and I am a functional human being again!

As you can gather, the rewards have been huge, which has made it much easier to stick with the program on the tough days (of which there have been plenty). There have been lots of tears (mostly Cameron’s but some of mine too), resolve has fluctuated and occasionally doubt has crept in. Our sleep training story is not one of those miraculous 24 hour transformations – heck, a month in, Cam’s naps are still incredibly inconsistent! But having gone through it, I am firmly on the side of sleep training because not only does it work, but I can see the benefits decent sleep has had for our entire family.

Simply put, we had to remove all props Cameron was using to sleep (i.e. feeding and rocking) and give him space to learn to fall asleep by himself. Initially that space was filled with lengthy protests and plenty of tears but in a surprisingly short amount of time that stopped. Now when we put him down after his bath, he rolls over and mostly we don’t hear a peep from him until 6 am the next morning. The change is so dramatic that some days I have to remind myself it’s the same baby!

While it is true that Colin and I had to do the hard work in implementing the system, I am incredibly grateful for our sleep consultant, Petro Thamm*. She’s like a South African version of Mary Poppins – firm yet fun, professional yet easy to relate to and with a whole host of tricks and sage advice up her sleeve. And I needed that because sleep training was as hard as I anticipated it would be. In those first few days when I sat next to Cam’s cot, he would crawl over to me, put his arm between the slats and lie with his little hand stretched out, crying in confusion. It broke my heart and looking back now, I’m not sure how I managed! But knowing Petro was going to phone the next morning somehow strengthened my resolve.

The process of sleep training has been our first attempt at disciplining Cameron and we’ve learnt some big lessons. The first is just how consistent consistency needs to be. The second is that tough love is tough on parents too. The third is that there is a strong link between discipline and love. As Cam is testing boundaries more and more, we have plenty of opportunity to put these lessons into practice and are growing as parents in the process. To quote Bill Cosby:

In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot of love and luck – and, of course, courage.

Here’s to love, luck, courage and a good night’s sleep!

*Petro Thamm is a certified Sleep Sense consultant. To find out more about her program, visit her website at http://www.goodnightbaby.co.za

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.