I think one of the hardest aspects of being a parent is having faith in one’s ability. With every parenting decision there are many, many voices telling you the the “correct choice”, and these voices are very, very loud.
I mean, I already sense this and my son is only 3.5 months old. He still can’t really do anything besides eat, sleep, poop, and wiggle on his play mat, and here I am worried that I might be scarring him for life.
One of the first questions you answer as a parent is, "how is he/she sleeping?" Everyone seems to have an opinion on your child’s sleep habits. “You should NEVER nurse to sleep.” “Nursing to sleep is COMPLETELY NATURAL--why WOULDN’T you?” “You should NEVER use any sort of tool to help your child fall asleep as he will then become dependent on it and never be able to sleep without it.” (This includes rocking, swinging, swaddling, lights, music, white noise, etc.) While the opposite camp cries, “By whatever means necessary.” And let’s not forget the classic “let your baby cry it out”/“never let your baby cry” war that has been fought for decades. By four months, it seems as though I could have set my child up for poor sleep habits that will last him the rest of his life!
You can understand how all the conflicting information can start messing with your mind. I have to keep reminding myself that except for the Big Man Upstairs (aka God), I am the leading expert on this little guy.
Case in point:
Mr. F. and I are youth leaders for our church. This means that on Tuesday nights from 7-8:30, both of us should be at church for youth activities. Well, it became very apparent from early on that Baby F. was ready to call it quits for the day at 6-6:30. However, there has been a precedent set in our particular congregation that you just tote your baby around, schedule be d*****. “They will sleep in the car seat”, “They will sleep when they need to sleep”, and “babies are constantly changing their schedules” are phrases that I heard. So.....despite not being extremely comfortable with the decision, I continued to take Baby F. with us--and tried to keep him reasonably happy for the two hours we were there.
But....when we would bring Baby F. home and put him to sleep, it seemed as though we lost the Golden Window of Sleep Opportunity. He was up now and wanted to play! At least for another hour or so. Which meant that Baby F. was getting to sleep 3-4 hours after his “normal” bedtime. And he wasn't happy about it. And we, as parents, weren't happy about it.
We did this for about a month. And every time Tuesday rolled around, we were angry. Angry that we felt we had to force our child to stay awake. Angry that other people didn’t see it as a problem. Then one Tuesday, we decided enough was enough. We were going to make the decision that was best for our family--which was putting Baby F. to sleep at his natural bedtime of 6. We would then rotate which one of us would go to church and which one would stay home. It was like the clouds parted--I felt so much better and happier about the situation. This was the right choice.
This decision hasn’t prevented me from feeling judged though. I still get vibes that I “shouldn’t pander to my child’s sleep schedule” or if I am going to have a sleep schedule, then 6 o’clock is too early. I think though that these attitudes come from people’s own parenting experiences where there was no way their child would go to bed at 6 or follow a consistent schedule. However, they are the expert on their own kids, not mine. I am pretty confident that Baby F. really does need a consistent sleep schedule in an environment suitable for sleeping.
This experience taught me the lesson: I know my baby and what he needs. Me. Not well-meaning family and friends, but me. I need to take courage in that and have faith in my decisions regardless of their popularity.
And I have years and years to learn this lesson.