Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Besides, if there isn't sleep, there's always coffee

For two weeks I have feverishly consumed every piece of sleep literature I could get my hands on, trying to solve the problem of Oliver’s bad sleep. I read No Cry Sleep Solution while he napped, I surfed message boards while he ate, when my husband was enjoying quality time with him I checked the archives of Mothering magazine, I’m ashamed to say I even sneaked peaks at sleep books while he was cooing happily next to me, hoping to play. I have read about cry-it-out, ferberizing, pick-up/put-down, wearing down and family beds. I have guiltily and jealously listened to friends and family talk about their 12-hour-sleeping 5 month olds and wondered ‘what I am doing wrong?’, and I believe I have the answer:

Thinking that I’m doing something wrong is what I’m doing wrong. 

My wise friend Marnie and I had a little chat about western thinking, parenting and religion on the weekend that went in many directions, but the relevant one to this post was this: Modern, western middle class types (and others, of course, but I’ll speak of what I know) love to think that we are in control. That having control will make us happy and safe and losing control is a failure and a reason to fear.

The reality is, we are not in control, and striving to wrestle control over our circumstances just fuels frustration and robs us of the chance to be happy when the opportunity is presented. To sit next to your happily babbling child while desperately looking for a way to train him to sleep according to your schedule is the clearest example of this that I can think of. What a wasted opportunity for happiness in the pursuit of control.

Some people who know me might suggest that I am a tiny bit more control-oriented than average, but I am also fairly self-aware, and have tried for years to find ways to allow myself to let go. Practicing yoga and meditation, and hovering around the outskirts of Buddhism have helped me manage the ups and downs of  the past few years. Where I struggle is to apply these practices to the smaller, daily aspects of my life, to let go where it really counts and just take each day as it comes to me.

Finding yourself responsible for the entire life of another human being can reinforce a very strong but not necessarily realistic sense of power, and although the beginning of my life as a mother showed me that life moves through me, rather than by me, I’ve let the idea that I can reign things in creep into my thinking over the past five months. This week, I am reminding myself that all I can control is my response to what life brings.

So, this week Oliver sometimes goes to sleep early in his crib, and sometimes stays up late. He always ends up in our bed, and we all wake up rested and happy this way. We stick to a bedtime routine, because I do think routine is important for a child’s development, but I will not allow myself to spend three hours in his room, fighting for him to sleep, making both of us miserable just because other babies sleep at 7 p.m. Of course, I worry that he’ll lose the ability to go to bed early, that he’ll never want to leave our bed, or that he’ll never learn to sleep through the night, but realistically I know that that won’t be the case, nature will take its course and he’ll sleep through the night and want his own space. In the meantime, there is no point in losing sleep over what might happen in a year when I could be getting a good night’s sleep with my baby beside me and my husband beside him. This is what sleep looks like in our house today, tomorrow might be different, and I just have to be OK with that.

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