[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...
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