When You Question Your Parenting...
8pm, 8.45pm, 10pm, 1.40am, 3.30am, 5am, 6am, 7.45am Those are the hours that I tended to a wakeful baby last week. And the week before. And the week before that, in fact.
I lay on the bed beside that baby questioning every single parenting decision I had made from she entered the world wondering if I had completely banjaxed the whole entire thing. I scoured every parenting facebook group and forum for comfort or answers as to why this baby was intent on never sleeping.
I know there are many ways to parent a child, many decisions to be made, many things to consider. We have landed in a parenting place that aligns with a lot of the attachment/gentle parenting philosophies and practices but in the wee small hours of the morning and the very sleep-deprived hours of the next day, it has been easy to question so many of those practices, to wonder if you are "making a rod for your own back" by cosleeping, breastfeeding and prioritising attachment and connection. Have we created a monster? (not literally, obviously - look how sweet she is...)
(Cute pic of Ada by Ben Connolly)
Last Saturday was our 9 year anniversary, so Dave and I decided to try and venture out for a quick drink on our own. We lined up a generous grandparent, got the kids to bed knowing we had a short window to enjoy a glass of red somewhere nearby before the baby would wake up for a feed. Off we went, skipping down to the local pub (with a pit-stop to Asda for a pack of emergency nappies on the way - the glamour and romance was dripping from us don't you know). We got 2 sips into our Shiraz when the call came that the baby had woken up and was inconsolable. Not ones to waste good wine, we chugged our glasses and hoofed it back home, a mere 45 minutes after we walked out the door. It was the straw that broke the very weary camel's back.
I spent the next few days in a spiral of questioning, wondering if I would ever get to leave the house again; if the connection I had made with this precious girl-baby had backfired on me and my ability to have any independence. I called into question all the decisions we had made and we spent the next few days talking about whether or not we needed to make some changes. Maybe we should persist with the bottle (she's having none of it)?Maybe we should transition her into her own room?Maybe we shouldn't offer the boob in the night? Maybe we should do less of this, more of this. It's easy to question it all when you are running on fumes; when other people want to advise; when your maternity leave is rapidly dwindling and the return to work looms; when other peoples babies are sleeping through and you'd give anything for a three hour stretch.
Then I came across this quote from Peggy O'Mara:
"It is the nature of the child to be dependent, and the nature of dependence to be outgrown. Begrudging dependency because it is not independence is like begrudging winter because it is not yet spring. Dependency blossoms into independence in its own time."
These words were like manna from heaven, a balm to my questioning spirit that jerked me right out of my fog back into the clarity of what I instinctively knew was right for us.
This season, this glorious sleep-deprived season is teaching me heaps:
+ It is teaching me that this dependency is normal for all babies - not just the cosleeping, breastfed ones. Trust me, I've read an enormous amount of information on this in the middle of the night. This stage of babyhood (4-6 months in particular) is actually a pretty needy time and there's a lot going on - babies are learning LOADS about their environment and emotions. They are more mobile but not quite as much as they would like (frustrating for them), there are teeny teeth trying to make their way, digestion systems getting used to food other than milk - the list goes on. Interestingly, this is also the time when people start to think that parents of babies probably should have a good thing going on, that routines are firmly in place and they maybe don't need as much support or help. In fact, other than the very early newborn days, I reckon this is the stage that parents of babies need the most support. I am learning that this is normal and to ask for help.
+ It is teaching me that it's OK to make parenting decisions that feel right but to also resent them a bit at the same time. All of our feelings are valid - a wise friend told me that this week. I was starting to feel like I had no right to be sad about my lack of independence or my weariness because they were a result of decisions I had made but that's rubbish! In fact, in suppressing those feelings, I was not extending the same empathy to myself that I place so much value on in extending to my kids or to others. It's OK to struggle with your decisions and know that they are right at the same time.
+ I am learning that it's OK to take it slow - to go back to bed when you can, to ask for help, to not have to do all the things or go to all the things, to let some things slip in order to keep your own well-being in check. Most days, when Levi is at school, I join my girl for her morning nap. This is not a luxury I will be afforded for long, so I am taking it. I have a list as long as my arm of things I probably 'should' be doing while she sleeps (tidying up, exercising, blogging, calling a friend I haven't spoken to in ages, doing laundry etc etc etc), but I've had to retrain my brain to let those things go. In this season, recharging in this way is more important for my over all sanity.
+ I am learning that it's OK to reverse round, to change your mind and to decide to do something differently if it means it benefits the balance of the whole family. If something you are doing is making you more miserable than connected, it's OK to change it up. The beautiful thing about attachment parenting is that although there are practices that can encourage this along (breastfeeding, bedsharing, babywearing etc) those things are not the crux. The crux is attachment! It's empathy and secure bonding. If something you are doing is moving you away from connection and attachment with your child then you can call it a day! A healthy family life will always be a delicate dance of seeing that everyones needs are acknowledged and met.
I imagine we all question our own parenting decisions (daily! hourly!), so it's my hope that we can find comfort in knowing that we are all in the same boat but also feel confident to trust our own parental instincts, giving our children, each other and ourselves the empathy and connection we need. Is this you? Have you been here before - questioning it all? I'd love to hear what it's been like for you.