There's one word we need to stop using when talking to new parents. It's a dirty word. It's misleading. It can lead to horrible occurrences, yelling, and possibly even losing your sanity.
What word am I talking about?
It's dangerous to tell a new parent that there is a normal way to do things, or that there child should be normal, or there's a normal amount of hours to sleep, normal foods to eat, etc.
I had a meltdown this week because Weston went from waking up once (or sometimes twice) a night, which was doable, to more like seven or eight times. We would pick him up, he'd calm down, put him down, and ten minutes later he'd be up. Sigh. It was horrible. I was running on two hours of sleep, I was angry at the world, and I totally lost it. I yelled to Eric that Weston wasn't normal, why isn't he sleeping the normal 12 hours that babies his age sleep? We needed to FIX ALL THE THINGS so he'd sleep like a normal baby. Eric, ever the optimist, tried to gently reassure me that he's a baby and he's doing the best he can do. He's probably going through a growth spurt, or teething, and together we'd figure this out. But, that wasn't good enough for me. I cried for two days straight. I cried while eating (not pretty; hello, low point), I cried in the car...I was mad! I was looking for perfection from my sweet, smiley, smart, strong six month old. My amazing little man who isn't anything but happy and perfect. What was wrong with me? Was I cuddling him too much? Was I cuddling him too little? Was he hungry? Was he overtired? What was wrong with my mothering that he wasn't sleeping like a normal baby his age would? One of my teacher friends told me when I was pregnant that you can't fight the fact that you'll never sleep again, just accept it, and it makes everything much easier. I wasn't willing to do this. On top of that, I wasn't willing to let anyone help. Eric offered to wake up with him (which, when I eventually had to acquiesce, due to sheer exhaustion, Eric did a wonderful, perhaps...better...job than I do at putting him back to bed!), Jenny offered to come spend the night so I could get some sleep, my mother told me to come over and nap...but I didn't give in! Why? I had to be super-mom-wife-teacher-sister-daughter-granddaughter! I had to do all the things, by myself, and by Jove, I'd be happy doing it too! Except, I wasn't, I was slowly descending into losing my marbles.
I spent $50 on sleep books, I read blogs, I searched for answers. I was still tired, angry, and felt defeated. The idea of a normal baby who slept through the night became this mythical creature I was chasing to catch.
So, I reached out to a group of internet-mama-friends I have and I said, "My 6 month old isn't sleeping much anymore and I'm irritable, mean, and grumpy...anyone else find this true?" and I got a slew of amazing, supportive responses. Most of which, by the way, were along the lines of, "Hang in there, mama! He's probably just growing!" or, "I'm in the same boat, and it is horrible, but do what you need to do to get through this," or, "Maybe he's cutting a tooth and just needs you extra right now!" or "My baby has never slept 'through the night' and he's fine!" Sigh. Sometimes when you're in the thick of something, you feel so alone! (sidenote: many of them said when their kids went through these non-sleeping times, they often ended with a huge new development, and Weston did just learn to sit up on his own!)
|Watching Sesame Street on the couch with me on a snow day!|
But, what got me through the darkest hours of this was reading a blog post from Sweet Madeline. There were some quotes that resonated with me:
"You can’t sell a solution if there isn’t a problem, and in the past fifty years we have increasingly categorized what amounts to normal, human infant sleep as a problem needing to be solved."
"Guys – there is no pattern! There is no rhyme or reason or explanation! It does not matter if you sleep train or don’t sleep train or nurse to sleep or rock to sleep or whatever. Just give up! Adapt, react, give in. You don’t have to train your child to sleep, you don’t have to enforce rigid guidelines and you don’t have to stop nursing your baby to sleep out of misguided fear, perpetuated by experts looking to make a buck."
"And so is this: It’s normal for a baby to sleep 9 hours straight. It’s normal for a baby to be up every hour. It’s normal for your baby to do the former one night, the latter the next (and it’s totally normal to feel like an insane, husband-hating, coffee-chugging, borderline-emotional-wreck while this is happening.)"
Not to sound corny, but it was as if the skies opened up and I could see some clarity. We can't define anything as normal when it comes to babies: your normal is not going to be my normal...and guess what? Normal for a baby changes every day; sometimes they are teething, sometimes they are growing, sometimes they don't feel well, sometimes they just need to be held. Just like I'm different every day, so is my son. Sometimes I can sleep, sometimes I can't. Sometimes I love having Eric next to me, sometimes, I need my space. Sometimes I like falling asleep in front of the television, sometimes I read. We're human. Humans are evolving creatures. How can there be a normal way to be for a human who has only been in the outside world for six months?
By setting normal expectations, we're setting ourselves up for failure! I can't live my life thinking my worth as a mother hinges on whether my little boy sleeps from 7PM-8AM, as people say he should. Stop telling new parents that their child SHOULD, COULD, or WOULD do XYZ if they only...because you know what? New parents are scared sponges who will do anything to make their child happy and get some semblance of their life back. So, stop telling new parents that there is a normal. Stop saying something is abnormal. Start encouraging new parents, helping new parents, and telling us that we're DOING A GOOD JOB because our kids are loved, warm, and fed. Stop drawing boundaries over what is right and wrong; there is no right and wrong, there's what works for you, and you know what? Sometimes what works for you may work for a week, and then never again. I often joke that the theme of Weston's first birthday is going to be "We survived!" but, I'm not kidding, really. The first year, getting to know your child, and yourself as a parental team, is really, really hard. There are amazing moments and dark hours. There are excellent minutes, and minutes which seem to last for hours. There are months you are winning and months you feel like the biggest loser. And that ebb and flow, my friends, that is normal.