[personal profile] jenn_unplugged
I've been mulling over a series of posts on my parenting philosophy, and now that my summer school class is over, I think I'll start. This is partly for record-keeping and partly for discussion. I want to remember what I was thinking at this point in my parenting experience when I look back. :-)

First, a few caveats: I have one child, who is currently 2.5 years old. What I write here clearly only applies to me and my family, and I don't mean to imply that anyone who does things differently is doing it wrong. I freely admit that I might be doing things wrong here, and I may look back and regret some of the choices I've made. However, as a Slacker Mom, I also feel pretty strongly that children are pretty resilient, and it's unlikely that I'm doing any real damage. On top of this, I only work part time, and I have no idea how things would be different if I worked full time.

With that out of the way, one of the first things I want to write about is Sleep. It's one of the biggest issues on every parenting board, and it seems to be the first question people ask when they see someone with a newborn: "Is he sleeping through the night yet?"

And the answer to this question, IMO, should be "Who cares?" I mean seriously, why it is so important to people whether or not a child is sleeping through the night? How has it become this measure of how good a parent you are (or worse, how good a child you have, whatever that means)?

As a Slacker Mom, I submit that it doesn't matter. A baby/toddler will sleep when they're tired, and the parent stressing out about it or trying to get them to sleep on a schedule that is convenient for the parent is just an exercise in frustration and futility. You can save yourself a lot of stress by just accepting the fact that for the first couple of years of your child's life, they're going to wake up at night.

And if you think about it, this night-waking thing is pretty universal, so doesn't it make sense that it's something babies are supposed to do? That actively trying to get them to sleep through the night before they are ready could be harmful to their development?

Dr. Sears writes extensively about infant sleep cycles, which are very different from adult sleep cycles. He writes:

Nightwaking has survival benefits. In the first few months, babies' needs are the highest, but their ability to communicate their needs is the lowest. Suppose a baby slept deeply most of the night. Some basic needs would go unfulfilled. Tiny babies have tiny tummies, and mother's milk is digested very rapidly. If a baby's stimulus for hunger could not easily arouse her, this would not be good for baby's survival. If baby's nose was stuffed and she could not breathe, or was cold and needed warmth, and her sleep state was so deep that she could not communicate her needs, her survival would be jeopardized.

Dr. James McKenna is a professor at Notre Dame whose research area is mother/baby sleep, and he writes:

One bit of information might help here: from a biological perspective, it is appropriate for babies to awaken during the night during the first year of life. In fact, although infants can be conditioned to sleep long and hard alone, and without intervention and, hence, fulfill the cultural expectation that the should sleep through the night, the fact remains that they were not designed to do so, and it may not be either in their best biological or psychological interest. (Link)

Along these lines, my slacker approach was to cosleep (because seriously, getting Carter to go to sleep alone and then having to get up several times at night sounded like WAY too much work) and not to worry about bedtime. We have never had a set bedtime for Carter. For the first year of his life, he nursed himself to sleep in my arms on the sofa. When we went up to go to bed around 9:30 or 10:00, I carried him up and laid him in the bed next to me. Once we were finally nursing exclusively (which took about 6 months, long story), it was super easy to just pull up my PJ shirt and nurse him back to sleep when he got restless. As he got older, he could find my boob without me even waking up. Even better!

Naps went the same during that first year: he would fall asleep at the breast, and I would hold him for the whole nap or lay down with him and also sleep. When I went back to work part-time, his nanny would hold him while he slept, or would nap with him.

In his second year, I experimented a bit with getting him to go to sleep earlier, and I finally gave up. I found I was spending more than an hour of my precious evening time with Doug, upstairs and just frustrating me and Carter both. I finally gave up, and now he goes to bed when we do. We usually go upstairs around 9:00 or 9:30, and we all snuggle in bed and watch TV or read books to Carter. He LOVES this part of the evening, and so do we! Around 10:00, we turn off the lights, and Carter snuggles down with us and goes to sleep. He sleeps 10-12 hours (depending on whether or not he had a nap that day). On the days I work, I slip out of bed in the morning and leave before he wakes up. Otherwise, I sleep in with him.

Once he dropped down to one nap (which he did totally on his own, because I was a slacker and didn't worry about what he "should" be doing) we worked on laying him down on the bed in the guest room during his nap. After a few weeks during which he woke up halfway through and needed to be settled back down, this worked beautifully. He still falls asleep while snuggling or nursing, but will sleep 2-3 hours in the guest room.

He only naps half the time now, and I don't try to force him to take a nap. He doesn't have a set nap time. That would take too much work on my part. And hell, you really can't make a kid go to sleep if they don't want to. On the days he doesn't nap, we have quiet time instead, during which we snuggle and watch a video or read a book. That seems to recharge him as well.

I hear a lot of people say that babies and toddlers need a schedule. I submit that my child is a counterexample to that statement. Maybe he's abnormal, or maybe he's more typical than people realize, but he has really flourished without any sort of schedule. In fact, I think it's helped make him the super easy-going, flexible kid that he is. I'm always bewildered when parents say, "Oh we can't go out then -- that's naptime, and my kids will only nap in their own beds." I mean, really?

At any rate, my humble opinion is that the schedule is for the parents, not the kids. And hey, there's nothing wrong with that if it keeps you sane. When you have multiple kids, you have to be a lot more organized, and letting everyone nap whenever they wanted to would clearly be a challenge. OTOH, I think that's exactly what people in many parts of the world do. Their kids sleep when they have a chance, and there is no one watching the clock or trying to get them "down" when they are otherwise busy playing.

When it comes to sleep, I really believe that left to his own devices, a baby or toddler will get as much sleep as he needs. I didn't want to fight that battle, so I chose not to, and so far it's worked out really well. Carter sleeps 12-13 hours a day. Today he took a 3.5-hour nap and woke up at 6:45 pm. He'll be up until 11:30, but then he'll sleep until 9:30 or 10:00 am. If we had to get up early for some reason, he'd be fine. He'd go to bed earlier the following night to make up for it, and he wouldn't be particularly cranky that day. He's pretty flexible that way.

And he generally sleeps through the night now. He'll go through phases when he wants to nurse around 4:00 am, but it's not an issue. I barely wake up, and I go right back to sleep, as does he. I'm fairly certain that he won't go to high school still sleeping with us and needing to be comforted back to sleep in the middle of the night.

So that's the Slacker Mom approach to sleep, in a nutshell: they'll sleep when they're tired. No point worrying about it. :-)

Now, is this inconvenient at times? Of course. There have been many days when I really wished he would take a nap so that I could get some work done, and he just didn't. It's really difficult to write calculus lectures with a toddler hanging on your arm. There have been plenty of times that I envied people who could reliably put their kid to bed at 7:30 and know they would have several hours with their partner. But in the end, I don't want to put in the work to make that happen. I'm lazy, and besides, Carter will eventually go to sleep. He always does.

Sleep has always been a hard thing for me personally, and perhaps that's why I've chosen not to fight this battle. I was never ready to go to sleep at 8:00 as a child, and would literally lay awake in my bed for hours. I would try to read in the dim light from the hallway, anything to keep myself from going crazy. It wasn't until I was an adult that I was able to find a sleep rhythm that worked for me. Carter sleeps on his own schedule, and we're all happier as a result.

What will happen when he has to get up early to go to school, you might ask? I have no idea, but my hope is that it will be something we'll be able to adjust to in a gentle way. Part of the Slacker Mom approach is to let kids figure a lot of this out on their own. More on that later...

Date: 2010-07-15 02:13 am (UTC)
ext_25473: my default default (Default)
From: [identity profile] lauramcewan.livejournal.com
rock on, sister!

Date: 2010-07-15 02:59 am (UTC)

Date: 2010-07-15 02:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ahurani.livejournal.com
Easily the most annoying question I got about Liam when he was younger. I absolutely agree that if the family is content with how sleep is going, then why on earth should anyone else care? And there's definitely no one "right" way. Adults don't all have the same sleep patterns/preferences, so why should babies? And where on earth did the concept come from that how a baby sleeps should be a value judgement?

For our family, we ended up doing a relatively flexible schedule, but still a schedule. But I was also working full time and then also went back to school when he was 4 months old, so I NEEDED that time in the evenings. He's slept all night in his own room since maybe 18 months or so...before that we co-slept either all or part of the night. And we did so because it resulted in the most people getting the most sleep.

Date: 2010-07-15 03:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jenn-unplugged.livejournal.com
ITA that what works for a family sleepwise is what they should do. That's something I heard a lot on parenting communities early on, and it really rang true for me. And it let me off the hook, heh, because I didn't have to go out of my way to do anything just because I was "supposed" to.

We thought we'd move Carter to his own room around 4 months, and then we thought it would be around 12 months, and then around 2 years... and he's still sleeping with us. I can't imagine it any other way at this point. We have a king-sized bed and also a crib side-carred to the bed, so we have a lot of room. The only times I've really wished Carter would sleep on his own were when we were traveling and in a smaller bed. That was pretty rough. :-P

Date: 2010-07-15 04:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ahurani.livejournal.com
Yeah, we only have a queen-sized bed and didn't side-car his crib...so once he started getting bigger, we ran out of room pretty quickly. And at this point, if we're in the same room as him when he's trying to go to sleep, he just fusses and fusses, but won't even settle if I bring him into our bed. So we now have to make sure we get hotel rooms with a separate bedroom when we travel. :)

Shortly after I went back to school, I was going crazy with the sleep situation, which is when we finally started trying to make things at least a little consistent. I think my parents were just laughing because I never slept well when I was younger. But now more often than not, Liam "reads" to himself (he's used a book as a lovey for over a year now...also adorable) in his crib after nursing and eventually goes to sleep on his own. It's really cute when he says "night-night" right before hand, even though he's alone.

It's hard, though, not to feel just a little bitter when I have friends talking about their 8 week old sleeping 6 hours a night or more on a regular basis. BUT, Liam is a very content and secure toddler at this point and I really like to think our parenting allowed him to become that way. At least it makes the chronic sleep deprivation from his first year worthwhile. :)
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Date: 2010-07-15 04:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jenn-unplugged.livejournal.com
One thing I didn't say above (that I meant to, argh) was that during Carter's first year, I spent a lot of time trying to read his sleepy cues. I read NCSS and the Sears Sleep Book, and those helped me figure out when he was getting tired. Then we did what we ended up calling "offering sleep", where I (or Doug or the nanny) would pick Carter up and snuggle with him, and see what happened. If we timed it right, he'd go to sleep easily.

So when I say it's always been easy to get him to sleep, what that really means is that we learned when and how to offer him opportunities to sleep that prevented him from getting overtired.

I would also guess that the dynamics of a one-child household are TOTALLY different from the dynamics of a five-child household (soon to become seven, right?). I also recall that you spent part of the last few years working full time, going to law school at night, and doing it all as a single mom. So the fact that you didn't end up killing one of your children says that you clearly have figured out what works for you!

That said, when I talk about unscheduling, I'm actually thinking about it in more of a Continuum Concept-ish way -- that the parents don't organize their lives around the child, but rather let the child blend into the parents' lives. Obviously there are things in your life that change drastically after you have kids, but I was just never going to be one of those parents whose life was completely ruled by the schedule I'd put my child on. And clearly you're not, either. ;-)
Edited Date: 2010-07-15 04:23 pm (UTC)

Date: 2010-07-15 03:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sprgtime.livejournal.com
Great post! I love it! :)
Looking forward to future "slacker mom" notes.

I know, you already said you were only talking about your kid, but... mine doesn't get enough sleep when left to his own devices. Never has, not even as a newborn. He gets overtired, wired, and very very cranky. If he misses his "bedtime" (which I set based on him and what time he first showed sleepy signs, and made that the time for every night) he becomes crazy impossible to get to sleep! Then he's super cranky boy the next day and much more difficult.

My sister's first son was an easy sleeper, slept when he was tired, and caught up when he missed sleep. Her next 3 weren't like that. :) I'm hoping for one like that next time, lol. For now, my life runs around his bedtime and wake time because he clearly needs it. It took me until he was 8 months to figure that out, but he's a much happier baby/toddler well rested. My friends think I'm nuts because I prefer to be home by 5, no later than 6, so that I can start his bedtime routine and have him in bed at 7pm sharp - which means I basically can't go to anything in the evening right now. That's okay with me, this is a short time in his life but it does make me annoyed/jealous that their kids don't turn into super crazed energized frantic angry monsters when they're up past bedtime so that they understand my priorities. :)

Date: 2010-07-15 04:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jenn-unplugged.livejournal.com
I realized after reading these comments that I left out something important in my post, which is that I spent some time figuring out Carter's sleepy cues during his first year, and that made a huge difference. We call it "offering sleep" here -- when he starts to show the first signs that he's sleepy, one of us takes him to the couch or to the guest room and cuddles with him and "offers sleep". If we time it right, he'll go to sleep pretty quickly. (His nanny is very good at this!) If he's not ready, he'll jump up and go back to whatever he was doing -- and I go back to whatever I was doing.

Some days he never shows sleepy signs, and some days he just fights going to sleep. I let him fight it, and don't interfere. He will eventually fall asleep, though it might be a couple of hours after he first seemed tired. There was definitely a moment when I made the decision that I wasn't going to ever "make" him sleep, and that if he fought it, I would let it roll. That's where the Slacker Mom thing comes in. It was too much work to fight with him, so I didn't do it. :-P

So when I say that he sleeps whenever he's ready, it's actually more complicated than that, heh. He's definitely gone through some phases when he would get cranky when overtired, but generally he just gets kind of hyper and giggly. And sure, there are days when he's tired because he really could have used a nap the day before, but since my schedule is really flexible, it's not a problem. We can just hang out at home instead of going out, or whatever.

Date: 2010-07-15 03:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] glasshouses.livejournal.com
Interesting. Lucas thrives on a schedule, and gets very cranky, and sometimes panicky if we deviate very much. That may be tied into Aspergers, I don't know.

I let him sleep a little later in the summer with no school, and he usually wakes me up. That cuddle time in the morning, and at night when he's sleepy but not asleep are wonderful times.

I am also very lucky that he started sleeping all night at 4 months. With us both working full time I was a zombie before that. We didn't have to do anything. When he got to be 8 months or so he found it a game to get us up at night if he woke up, and so I took a hard line, he learned it wasn't worth it, and when he woke in the morning he was happy as a clam.

The next challenge was 'night terrors' and him getting up and turning on his light. That lasted about 18 months and we just did a lot of soothing and proving there were no monsters and he outgrew that too, thankfully!

I think I will enjoy your slacker posts :-) Although if you are a slacker mom, I must be a catatonic mom!

Date: 2010-07-15 04:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jenn-unplugged.livejournal.com
Cuddle time in the morning is the best!

It's interesting that some kids just sleep easier than others. That's part of why it seems pointless to worry about whether your own kid is sleeping like someone else's, or like some preconceived idea you had about how they should sleep.

One thing that really helped me was to read a lot about developmental phases, and whenever Carter had a disruption in his sleep, it almost always mapped onto some developmental leap he was currently making. So being a slacker, I didn't worry about it or try to change it, and sure enough, it would resolve itself within a few weeks, and he'd have made the predicted cognitive jump.

I think that's what I mean here by "slacker", and I should define it in my next post. It's about not acting instead of acting in situations where what's happening is totally developmentally normal, and giving the child the space and support they need to grow. It looks like you're just doing nothing, but in reality you've made an informed choice to do nothing. ;-)

We've had a few night terrors, and those are pretty freaky. Everything I read said that you can't do much about them, and that trying to comfort your child would actually make it worse. That definitely seemed true for Carter. We haven't gotten to monsters and nightmares yet! :-P

Date: 2010-07-15 04:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] singofmyself.livejournal.com
I agree with you. To each their own!

If I could be a SAHM, I would probably do a very similar thing to you.

I feel pretty lucky that our sleep methods are working. I don't think Sam is on a strict schedule, but he's definitely on a structured sort of thing.

Sammy usually goes to sleep somewhere around 7p and we have to wake him up at 630a so I can get to work on time. I don't like having to wake him up so early, but bleh. But he gets a full 10-12 hours worth of sleep and it does him a world of good. This also allows me to defrag from 730-9p give or take a few.

I don't think you sound like a Slacker Mom at all! Everyone has to do what works best for their family. I don't see a bit of damage to your son in anything you do!!

Date: 2010-07-15 04:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jenn-unplugged.livejournal.com
I hate getting up early, and feel incredibly lucky that I have a kid who will sleep late with me! And when DH is out of town, I actually enjoy having Carter's company at night.

On the occasions when my work schedule was such that I was gone all day and Carter didn't nap and ended up going to bed early, I felt utterly gutted. It would only be a few days, but missing out on having large chunks of time to play with him was really hard. He would start to get whiny and cranky too, and it wasn't until things got back to normal that he would be happy again. It's hard for me to imagine having to do that every day. :-(

So really, we do have a "schedule" of sorts, and he does have a certain set of expectations for how his days will go. They're flexible and organic, but they definitely exist.

I need to define what I mean by Slacker Mom in the next post. My working definition is someone who makes an informed choice to stand back and not overparent. Something like that... ;-)

Date: 2010-07-15 06:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hazelhawthorne.livejournal.com
I never set a firm schedule with my eldest, and like you, just took her to bed with me when I was ready for sleep.

This one is different. If he is allowed to, he will insist that he is not sleepy forever and be extremely cranky for the rest of the day. It also doesn't matter what time he goes to bed, 6:00 am comes along and he pops up wanting to play. We call him our alarm baby. If he stays up too late the night before he gets tired and cranky.

At this point he takes two naps between 30 minutes and 2 hours each (longer nap means longer time of happy baby before mr cranky pants shows up and needs another nap) and goes to bed in his room around 7:30 after dinner, bath, story and nursing. When he wakes up (usually sometime between 2 and 4 am) I go get him and bring him to bed with us for the rest of the night.
Once I realized what he needed and started maintaining his schedule he became a much happier boy.

When we travel, he is fine as long as the general times and certain key elements of his schedule are maintained.

Date: 2010-07-15 05:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jenn-unplugged.livejournal.com
Do you think that part of the difference is that with your son, your family life is totally different than it was with your daughter? I'm under no illusions that I would be able to parent another child (or two) in the same way as I'm parenting carter. It seems that the more people you have in your household, the more organized you have to be. That's something I am probably not going to get to experience, though, so I'm trying to make the most of what I've got. :-)

Something I didn't write in my post (and meant to) is that we spent some time during Carter's first year focusing on learning his sleepy cues. When we saw them, we'd do something we now call "offering sleep", in which one of us would cuddle with him on the couch or in the guest bedroom. If we time it right, he'll usually go right to sleep, but if he decides to fight it for whatever reason, we let him. That's just not a battle I want to fight. He'll usually go to sleep later anyway. :-P

So it's not as simple as I make it sound above, really. There has actually been a lot of intentional effort and non-effort put into the whole sleep thing here. My main point above was supposed to be that sleep works itself eventually, often regardless of anything you try to do about it, and that stressing out about it is pointless. ;-)

Date: 2010-07-15 05:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] singofmyself.livejournal.com
Then I definitely want to be a Slacker Mom! I do my best, but it's not always easy, is it? :p

Date: 2010-07-19 02:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hazelhawthorne.livejournal.com
I'm sure the change in family circumstances makes a difference but I also think that they are just fundamentally different people. Eldest has never been big on the whole going to sleep thing and is decidedly NOT a morning person. Baby really clearly needs his sleep and pops up like a sunny little flower every morning ready to play. (It's taken two months of summer, but I have finally gotten him to wake up at 7:00 instead of 6:00! Too bad I have less than one more month before I'll need to reverse that.)
In light of your clarification, I will put out there that the schedule is not one that I have imposed on him. I guess it's more about looking for his sleepy cues and "offering sleep" as well, he just does it on a fairly consistent schedule and if I ignore his cues and don't get him to a place where he can wind down, he goes from the cutest, sweetest baby you have ever seen (I'm serious about this, not just mommy bias, people sometimes ask me if he is a real baby) to a howling, tantrum throwing banshee.

Over all, I would classify myself as a slacker mom as well. There are too many things that kids do need to be parented about to waste time on worrying about the little things.

Date: 2010-07-15 08:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ias.livejournal.com
The garklet seems to believe sleep is for the weak and slept very little when he was under 1 (bags under the eyes in a 6 month old are never good). Getting him to nap in the day helped his night-time sleep somewhat but he still regualrly woke at night until he was over 2 and then he switched to waking up really early (c. 5am) instead. Now at 3.5yo he goes to bed between 7.30-8.30 (usually by 8pm), wakes up between 6-7am (usually around 6.30) and doesn't have a nap in the day as standard (he dropped this himself in the past two months).

I'm not a fan of schedules but we have found routines work for us, but they are flexible routines that can be implemented anywhere (not for us the strict bath before bedtime - what if you are staying in somewhere which only has a shower?). As long as Alex has Monk and Cat (his toys) and has a story (book not strictly necessary as long as we can do it from memory) and has a hug and kiss from one or both parents (or grandparents at a pinch) depending on who is around, Alex is happy that the routine is in place and all is right in the world.

Since he was about 3y3m, we've had a lamp on a timer switch in his room: light on means he can be up and playing (great for evenings when he gets to bed early and still wants to read to himself etc) or, in the morning, come in and see mummy and daddy (not that it stops him all the time but often I'll hear him play in his room waiting for the light to come on to come in and wake us). We're not decided if we'll take it with us on holiday this time - we haven't before but then we're not usually away for a fortnight.

Date: 2010-07-15 05:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jenn-unplugged.livejournal.com
Ooh, yes, we definitely have routines here! They're organic, rather than planned, though, and they're often things that Carter initiated and we just went along with. I spent some time worrying at one point about the fact that we didn't have a bedtime routine, and felt guilty that I was too lazy to get one up and going. I would much rather play with Carter and relax with Doug during those evening hours than go through the whole bath, books, etc routine.

And then I realized that we do indeed have a bedtime routine -- it's just not the one I originally thought we should have. And it works! That was a great realization, and it helped me relax about a lot of other things. :-)

Date: 2010-07-15 09:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teleute.livejournal.com
I wouldn't call you a slacker mom! What about the classes you and Carter take together! I'm a slacker - we stay home until I have to go out grocery shopping: my kids get excited about it ;-) That tells you how much we go out.

I'm very much with you about not trying to force kids to sleep - how does that ever work for anyone? The most difficult thing for me is that Katie naps earlier than Jamie and will often be getting up just as Jamie goes to sleep, and then wants another nap (but doesn't actually make it to sleep) in the afternoon after Jamie has just gotten up. You mentioned about people who "can't go out because it's nap time" and for me the issue is that one will fall asleep in the car and the other won't. Then I have to attempt to silently entertain one of them, or wake the other prematurely - which is something I'm very loathe to do. As you said, a two-child family likely means more structure than a one-child family. What saddens me about that is that I can't necessarily let them be their own person as much as I'd like, else we really wouldn't ever leave the house (I was kidding up there - we do play dates and music class and so on). If I time it well, and if Katie wakes at a "useful" time (she has a very variable wake up time) I can take them both out in the morning to play before either naps, or take them out nearer to lunchtime assuming both will fall asleep in the car. But it only works on days I expect Katie to want to nap close to Jamie's naptime.

The other thing that is very different for me is that I need time alone away from the kids every day. If we didn't get them to bed early enough for me to have wind down time in the evening, I really wouldn't be able to cope. It amazes me whenever my friends talk about going to bed at the same time as their children - my most precious hours are the hours I get to myself, or with Adrian, after the kids are in bed. The hours I ENJOY most are with the kids. The hours I NEED most are when they are asleep. But that's likely because my brain is broken :-)

Date: 2010-07-19 03:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hazelhawthorne.livejournal.com
I totally get the need for "me" time.
When my Eldest was little and I was a single-mom/student I went to bed with her around nine and woke up between 3 and 5 to study and have "me" time. She was never a morning person and would sleep until 10 if I didn't need to wake her earlier.
No matter what time the baby goes to sleep, he is up by 6 or 7 so I have to put him to bed early to get the "me" time. Luckily, he has no problem getting to sleep. :)

Date: 2010-07-21 05:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] merrywandering.livejournal.com
I mean seriously, why it is so important to people whether or not a child is sleeping through the night?

Well, it does matter to people whose ability to parent is seriously hampered by their own lack of sleep. Which is not to say that people should expect a newborn to sleep 12 hours straight, but after a child is about six months old, there are good sleep habits one can cultivate in a baby. You need to be flexible, of course, and attentive to your child's cues, but parents' needs also should factor into the mix.

One of the most important things I learned from watching "Supernanny" was the need for kids to get enough sleep. She meant older kids, of course, but because of that, I read Elizabeth Pantley's book when Sam was two months old. Up to that point, I'd just put Sam to bed at night when he collapsed, which was around 11 PM. But EP taught me that this is really too late for a newborn, and I might be missing out on his sleep cues. So I started putting him to bed at 8:30 (at that point he slept in a bassinet next to my bed), and lo and behold, he actually fell asleep at that time! Which is not to say he slept through the night, but clearly he benefited from an earlier bedtime. He would sleep for several hours at a stretch, and he woke up less often during the night.

So I kept moving it up in 30 minute increments, and to my surprise, Sam's optimal bedtime proved to be 5:30! He was probably almost a year old before I started moving his bedtime back. It's now 7:30-8:30. Even babysitters who are intending to keep him up later as a treat tell me that around 8:00 he'll just flat-out announce that he's ready for bed. Not all kids are like that, of course, but I lucked out in that Sam is a big sleeper.

Sam also still needs a daytime nap. They're getting shorter, and he can skip one every now and again, but really he does much better if he takes a nap. One weird thing about Sam that doesn't seem to be true of most other children I know is that he can take a late nap - even as late as 4:00, and yet he will still be ready for bed at his regular time. So a late nap does not disrupt his bedtime.

Also, it is 100% the case with Sam that keeping him up late will NOT mean he'll sleep later the next morning. He'll get up at the same time. And if he's clearly sleep deprived, putting him to bed early means he will probably sleep later the next morning.

Interestingly enough, while we were on vacation this month, Sam went to bed much later than normal - sometimes as late as 9:30 or 10:00. But he ALWAYS slept precisely ten hours at night. In previous years he would wake up at 5:30 regardless of bedtime, which was very hard on us all.

Anyway, all this is to say that I agree with you: to a point. I think we need to follow the kids' lead, but I also think there are things we as parents can do to cultivate good sleep habits. This does not mean "sleep training," but to me being child-led does NOT mean that they get to pick their own bedtime or whether or not they'll have naps. Carter seems to be an exception to this, and more power to you! But most of the kids I know benefit from some structure when it comes to sleep.

I always recommend that people read EP's book in order to understand infant sleep issues, and to learn to listen to their child's cues.

March 2013

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