About Me

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I live in Kent with my husband, toddler Tilly (henceforth known as Monkey) and another baby due in November. We have two cats, Duncan and Lady Macbeth, and four chickens who kindly lay us eggs daily. We live in the picturesque seaside town of Broadstairs. I enjoy reading, knitting and cooking. I'm trying to be a bit 'greener' (not sure how successfully), and to be a gentle parent. Extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping don't freak me out, we use cloth nappies and try to follow some of the ideals of Attachment Parenting. If that sounds as if I know what I'm doing, I don't! I am also a psychotherapist with an interest in Focusing-oriented therapy, and I have a small private practice in the area.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Bedtime Tears

The tears in question are the Monkey's and Mummy's. Bedtime is something that has been hovering in my mind for a while now. I've always breastfed Monkey to sleep and then once she's asleep, transferred her to her cot. It's the easiest and most reliable way to get her to bed, and of course it's also lovely for her. There are a couple of issues with this, the first being that she is dependent on me to get her to sleep. Daddy just won't do, which is hard for him because I know he'd love to be able to settle her. It is also hard on me at times, because although I enjoy our evening snuggles I also find myself getting impatient if she doesn't fall asleep quickly enough. The other difficulty with this bedtime routine is that she has become rather cot-phobic. She has to be FAST asleep when I put her in, otherwise she wakes immediately and cries. In the mornings when she wakes she now cries immediately to come out, whereas previously she might play with her toys a little or talk to herself. During the day I can't sit her down in her cot while I run a bath or shower, it causes instant and vocal disapproval. So, for a while now I've wanted to change things. I don't want to do controlled crying, I don't expect her to get herself to sleep entirely by herself, but I do feel that it would be beneficial for her to develop a more positive relationship with her sleeping space and for us to accustom her to being there whilst awake. I feel that by putting her in the cot when she is asleep and taking her out as soon as she wakes we are almost reinforcing to her that the cot is a Bad Place.
What has stopped me making a change before now is that our little girl gets very upset when my nipple is taken from her mouth, and even more upset the moment her body touches the cot mattress. We have on a couple of occasions left her to cry a short while to see if she would drop off but she has got distressed and so have we, we've abandoned trying to do things differently because we've questioned whether the change is worth the upset. But whose upset? I think this is a crucial question for me. I've rationalised leaving things as they are by referring to AP principles and telling myself that I am meeting her needs by nursing her to sleep, being a Good Mother. That may well be true, but I now believe that the real reason is that I am meeting my own need, in particular my need not to feel bad or to have to deal with my daughter's anger or upset. This is why I haven't persisted with a gentle and kind change to Monkey's routine. Doing this gently and kindly means (to me) staying with her if she cries and until she falls asleep, and doing whatever I can to soothe her whilst she remains in her cot.
Now the mistake I made is not thinking this through in advance, and deciding on the spur of the moment that perhaps tonight was the night that she should go to sleep in her cot. Not one of my better ideas considering that I was going out for my massage at 8pm and MIL was coming round to babysit. After almost an hour or stroking and singing, Monkey was in her cot, sans nipple, but defiantly not asleep and crying hard whenever I moved away. I decided, rightly or wrongly, to leave anyway and MIL came upstairs to sit with her. I asked her to try to soothe her for another ten minutes or so, and then to get her out of the cot if she was still upset.
I felt awful leaving. I felt terrible that my actions were the cause of her distress. But the massage was a gift, not because of the healing touch (my muscles were tensing up again as fast as my massage therapist could release them) but because it gave me the time to process what was happening for me. I realised that this was not so much about choosing a particular style of parenting, and for the first time I felt quite certain about the course of action I had chosen. No, the core of this issue was my fear of disapproval. I can't bear ruptured relationships, I go out of my way to avoid conflict, I avoid anger and I submerge my own needs in the face of another's. Lying on the massage couch I found my mind concocting terrible scenarios of the baby falling ill, being rushed to hospital and me not being there. My punishment for making her do something she didn't want to do. I found myself desperate for the massage to end, to be able to go home and make it all better. And it all began to become clearer, that this is a familiar pattern for me, this is something that is hard for me. It might not be absolutely necessary for Monkey to be able to settle in her cot, but it is something I want for her. This is the first of many battles of will, and I need to get my head around that, I need to get comfortable with providing boundaries, saying no, being the parent. Hopefully in a gentle, collaborative way, but it is unrealistic to hope that it will always be like that. Monkey is a cherished, adored, calm and peaceful baby, our bond is strong enough to withstand her temporary anger and frustration.
All was well with the Monkey when we woke (late) this morning, we've had a lovely day meeting with two friends and their May babies. This evening I felt a lot better giving the new 'routine' another try. When she first started showing signs of tiredness we snuggled up on the sofa for booby and cuddles. When she seemed ready for bed I took her upstairs and lay her in the cot, and she started to cry. I hummed a tune and rubbed her back, and she nuzzled into her quilt and soft rabbit, the crying almost immediately changed to a sing-song moan, and over the next five minutes she gradually drifted off to sleep. I couldn't believe it! I'm not going to jinx myself by claiming this as a remarkable success, I think it's more likely that she was exhausted from the day's exploits. But a nice, stress-free bedtime, and now Mummy and Daddy are going to snuggle up themselves!


Cave Mother said...

A really interesting post for me, as I wonder how we will teach our baby to get to sleep on her own when the day comes that she is just too big to nurse to sleep in her sling. Please tell us what technique you finally settle on. I often read about people rubbing their babies' backs to get them to sleep, and it always sounds so far from what my baby would ever accept - she would just be in hysterics if I tried that. And please don't feel guilty for any choices you make - attachment parenting is about following your instincts, not following any set of rules.

willow81 said...

Hi CM, thanks for your comment. And I love your blog, just went for a little visit. I don't know what our 'technique' will look like (see my updated post for what we did this evening), basically ANYTHING to soothe her in her cot and help her acclimatise herself. It was actually my MIL who initiated the back-rubbing last night, and it seemed to work well when I tried it tonight. She had already relinquished the boob before we went upstairs and I think that helped, she too has hysterics if the nipple is removed without her permission!

Mon said...

I think that being there for her and rubbing her back is great. It's counter-intuitive for a child to accept being left alone in the dark to sleep, so it's normal and healthy for them to cry and want us. We are their source of trust and security. Being there until she sleeps, as you did, will help her in that I believe.

Cave Mother said...

So back rubbing worked! That's good to know. And I agree with Mon that it is best to soothe a baby to sleep, protecting them from any stress caused by fear of being alone. Thanks for then update.