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Having a Bad Sleeper Doesn’t Mean You’re Doing Parenting Wrong

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image source: heather neal

I see the articles pop up at least once a week: “How to Make Your Kid a Good Sleeper,” “Get Your Kid to Sleep by Changing These 3 Simple Behaviors,” “Your Kid Will Sleep When You Stop Being Such an Incompetent Parent.”

Okay, the last one might be a stretch, but that’s how those articles tend to make me feel. Every once in awhile the articles actually contain good information, but most of the time they feel like a shot at parenthood; a jab at the ineptitude of my parenting skills. Of course I realize that’s likely not the motivation behind the writing of such a topic, but that does nothing to stop the visceral reaction I have to them; the immediate need that arises to defend myself and yell from the rooftop that my kid doesn’t not sleep because I’m terrible at parenting.

I’ll be the first to admit I make plenty of mistakes, especially when it comes to trying to parent my kid. I don’t have that sort of weird pride that doesn’t let me concede to being wrong (unless you’re my husband, then I’m always right). But nonetheless, I don’t see these types of ever-present articles as helpful. Perhaps I’m not the only one.

See, my kid really, truly, didn’t sleep for years. I’m barely exaggerating. If you know me in real life or even followed my baby blog at the time, you know this one thing about my life without a doubt: I’m tired. I was a walking, barely-functioning zombie for the better part of the year and a half after my son was born. Honest to goodness, he did not sleep for four hours until he was eight months old. It was not unusual for him to go days and nights on end only sleeping in thirty minute bursts. That first night he slept four hours? I woke up with mastitis because I’d never gone so long without breastfeeding. Once he did start “sleeping” (quotes necessary because if you have a kid that really sleeps, you’d think my definition is a joke), he was still up two or three times a night and started his day before the crack of dawn. He’s 3 years old now and I still try to go to bed at 9 pm because I’m terrified of what the nighttime hours will bring.

During those first few months and well beyond that first year, I was convinced I was failing miserably. I was about to receive my first “F” and unfortunately it wasn’t in math class where it would’ve been well deserved; it was in life. It was parenthood, during the one time in your kid’s life when you’re not supposed to be able to fail because they’re too young to know better. I was terrified what this first major failure meant in terms of the rest of my parental duties. If I couldn’t get a kid to sleep for a couple of hours, how was I ever going to tackle the big stuff? The manners, the not doing drugs, the making good choices thing? I was doomed and I hadn’t even started.

I read all the books and talked to all the people. We worked with a sleep consultant and doctors and moms who’d been there. It always ended up the same way: with a shrug of the shoulders, as if to say, “I have no idea, this kid just won’t sleep.” And that’s exactly it.

He doesn’t not sleep because I’ve done everything wrong his whole life. He doesn’t not sleep because I put him in a Rock ‘n Play instead of a crib as a newborn. He doesn’t not sleep because I swaddled him or didn’t swaddle him. He doesn’t not sleep because he was breastfed or not. He doesn’t not sleep because I didn’t sing him lullabies or read him two books instead of three. He just doesn’t sleep.

When I stopped listening to everyone else’s opinions and stopped reading the articles that were insisting how easy it was to get a kid to sleep (and that almost always meant change something I’m doing because it’s obviously terribly wrong), I realized my kid was going to be just fine. It didn’t make me any less tired, but it did make me less exasperated and frustrated. I realized he was doing fine — great, even. He’s not cranky and fussy and overly tired. He wakes up bright and wide-eyed, excited to start his day. He has more energy after “not sleeping” and getting up at 5 am than I do after 12 hours of sleep in a luxury hotel bed. Now at 3 years old, he may not want to nap or go to bed or stay asleep, but in the morning, he’s bouncing off the walls, ready to do all the things. He wakes up full of curiosity about his surroundings and questions of what we’re going to do that day. He doesn’t crash later or explode into tantrums of exhaustion. He just keeps going and going and going. And I’m okay with that, even if the parenting articles keep telling me I’m doing it all wrong. Because I know now that some kids just don’t come with the good sleeper gene, and I’m not going to feel guilty about it. Tired yes, but guilty, no.

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Article Posted 5 years Ago

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