On Sleeping Through the Night, Babysitters and Other Things About Which People Have Ever So Many Opinions
One of the main phrases leading people to my blog at the moment is "how to get a baby to sleep through the night".
I get it. The early weeks of multiple night feeds are tough; the later weeks when your baby's gloriously predictable sleeping pattern falls apart are incredibly frustrating; my baby's still waking up once a night and it's exhausting (and I'm not looking forward to the assorted sleep regressions).
So I've had my (long and frequent) moments of googling for sleep solutions.
I hate to say it, though, but I really don't think there's a quick fix answer.
I'm starting to suspect that all of these tips and tricks and techniques - shushing your baby a certain way; cuddling them; not cuddling them; keeping the room at 18.555789 degrees - are only actually parenting placebos. They let us feel like we're doing something productive to solve the "problem" while our babies blissfully - or crankily, as the case may be - get on with growing out of their night feeds by themselves.
Oh, sure, there are things we can do to help them get to sleep more easily (don't let them get too tired). There are things we can do to help them stay asleep (don't let the cats jump on them). There are things we can do to help them learn day from night (don't have any lie ins). But we can't make them stop needing fed for a twelve hour stretch until they're physically ready to last that long.
Our approach is very much: wait it out. Our daughter dropped the first of her three night feeds around six weeks without prompting; she dropped the second around twelve weeks without prompting; the third one will vanish in her own time.
Still, there will be people who say we're too soft on her, going to her when she cries, letting her sleep in our bed some of the time, allowing her to set her own feeding schedule.
There will be other people who think we're too hard on her, having a bedtime routine at all, putting her in her crib while we're sitting up in the living room, planning to move her into her own bedroom sooner rather than later.
It's not just sleep, though. Whatever the parenting decision - to give or not give a dummy; to wean early or late; to dress you daughter in neon pink tutus or grey dungarees - there will be people at both ends of the spectrum who believe that you're getting it wrong.
Most of the parents I know have been told, at some point, that they're letting their baby walk all over them (yeah, my baby wishes she could walk all over anything) and/or that they're making a rod for their own back (by giving their baby hugs). A lot of them have also been told that they're being unduly harsh (for withholding sugary treats). Often they're being told this by the exact same set of grandparents.
I hear and read a lot of discussions in which parents question their own approach, not because they feel like they're doing the wrong thing but because so many people have told them so that they're starting to wonder if it's true.
I've even seen the supposedly reassuring responses devolve into in-fighting about the specifics. No, there's nothing wrong with your particular style of parenting as long as you do it exactly according to the exact same book as I do.
I find this fixation on parenting styles more than a little bizarre. Steve and I lean towards attachment/gentle parenting because we like cuddling our baby, we find babywearing convenient (when it's not pouring with rain) and because baby led everything makes more sense to us than trying to force an infant into a grown up style routine.
But the bits which don't work for us, we do differently.
We don't want to co-sleep for three years, so we won't. Breastfeeding wasn't working out for us, so we switched to bottles. We first left our baby with my mum when she was five weeks old and I look forward to the couple of hours every weekend when Steve takes her out without me.
Several times while I was pregnant, people warned me that the first time Steve took the baby "away" from me would be incredibly difficult. I was prepared for that. I expected to spend their entire trip fretting, staring anxiously out the window and fighting the urge to phone him and see if they were still alive. But I knew Steve was really looking forward to taking her for walks in the carrier and I had made a conscious decision to get the first time over with within a few days of her coming home.
In actual fact, having been apart from her for so long while she was in the neonatal unit, I found it surprisingly easy to let them go off without me. And it's something I personally believe is important - I think it's important for them to have some specific father-daughter time and I think it's important for me to have the odd hour here and there when I don't have to be in the role of "Mum".
But that is my opinion. If you spend every moment with your baby, enjoy it; if you go out with your friends every weekend and leave your baby with a sitter, enjoy it.
Because parenting shouldn't stop life being fun.
If anything, parenting should make life more fun. It's all the excuse you need to splash in puddles and sing silly songs and watch Lilo and Stitch on repeat. And to hell with anyone who questions the educational merits of looking for shapes in the clouds.