Sunday, July 05, 2009

"Sleep Props" and Parental Expectations

You know, I really should not click on those targeted ads in Gmail... that's how I found the crib that's "just like being in Mommy's tummy." I clicked on a few again today, and found a website that had some information on "sleep props."

First off, this website (and another I clicked on) is the site of an infant/toddler sleep consultant. Yes, there is such a career now, believe it or not. These sites are run by "sleep experts" who will come up with a "personalized sleep plan" for your baby. Hmm, personalized? I would suppose that each plan is just a variation on "cry it out." Why people need to pay a consultant for this information that they could find in a library book is beyond me!! I guess it says a lot about this age of parenting... so many of us are looking for answers on child-rearing, whereas 100 years ago, people just knew what to do (from experience of being raised with many siblings and within close communities where they had lots of experience being around babies/children), or if they had a question, they just asked their mothers or the neighbor who'd raised eight children of her own. This is coming from someone who does read a fair number of parenting books, by the way! It is unfortunate that we need these books and even less fortunate when we feel that we must hire consultants to tell us how to care for our children.

Anyway, back to the sleep props... some people call them "crutches" instead of props. The term would appear to mean anything that is used to help a child fall asleep, stay asleep, or get back to sleep upon middle-of-the-night awakening. Sleep props might include rocking, walking, singing, nursing, laying down next to the child, patting his back, replacing a pacifer, etc. And apparently, according to this website and many others, they are bad. Bad, bad, bad. It is never really stated why they are bad, but one would assume that it is due to their inconvenience to the parent. From all appearances, sleep props are not bad for the child (hopefully nobody out there actually believes that "if you don't stop nursing that kid to sleep, he's going to have to take you to college with him in order to get himself to sleep in the dorm!"). So, one would assume that if they are bad for someone, they are bad for the parent - unless they are just "bad" on principle?

My real reason for blogging about what I read today is this: on a page of the above-mentioned website, there is a section on "introducing a lovey or blankie" to your child (a "lovey" would seem to be a stuffed animal-type toy which a child can cuddle for comfort). If you want to read it, you'll find it under the "reading" tab (which, I might add, is FREE!). What aggravated me about this article on loveys (or is that "lovies"?) was that it went into how sleep props are something to be eliminated so that the child can fall asleep alone, but that a lovey or blankie is not a sleep prop. Uh, hmmm... if a sleep prop is something that assists the child in falling asleep and a child cannot fall asleep without a lovey/blankie, then yes, by definition it is a sleep prop. If this item gets lost or if the child pukes on it a half hour before bedtime, well.... then the child will have a very hard time going to sleep. So it is still a prop.

So why does this author purport that loveys are acceptable sleep props whereas none of the others are acceptable? Because the lovey is parent-free. The other "props" (nursing, rocking, laying near) all require an adult to do something. Which again goes back to the issue of - who is it that these props are bad for?

I think the answer boils down to some of the testimonials found on that and other websites. The most common comment seems to be that after following the personalized sleep plan, the parents "got our lives back." Got their lives back? Got back "to normal" perhaps? Because life is guaranteed to go back to the way it was previously once a couple's first child is born - where is that written? It is "written" (pictured, actually, and we all know that a picture is worth a thousand words) in the media, in our pop culture, in life all around us. Parents are disposable - anybody can raise a baby/child, we are told. Babies are inconvenient, life is more fun before they are born, so something had better be done afterwards to get them trained into being more independent from the get-go so that parents can "have their old lives back." The thought of a pioneer woman in a covered wagon trying to "get her life back" just popped into my head, and what a silly picture indeed... she has her life and is living it out already! Our lives are what is in the here and now, not some idealized image of what it "used to be" or what life looks like on TV (like in soap operas how you see the kids maybe once a month, and when mentioned, they are "off at Grandma's for the summer" or "with the Nanny" - and then they appear all grown up three years later, lol!). And life with babies and children is much different than life before kids, no matter how much our society tells us it shouldn't be.

Expectations - it boils down to what we expect as parents. Our society does us a great disservice in that it portrays babies who sleep all the time and only need attention when they need to eat (which is only every 3-4 hours, by the way!) or to have a diaper changed. This is a fallacy! If parents were taught to expect that infants do not sleep like adults do (or even like five year olds do), babies and small children need very frequent contact (Harvard did this study a few years back), and that they cannot be spoiled by being carried around constantly as you go about your daily work, then parents would be set up with much more realistic expectations before the first child's birth. Instead, we have to dig for this information (did you know that babies spend more time in the lighter sleep cycles as a survival mechanism, to help them stay alive, and not because they want to manipulate their parents?) and then feel the pushback from the rest of society as they get the "you'll spoil that baby," and "you need to get your life back."

Ah, but my children are far from spoiled, and I have my life - my beautiful phase of life which will slip away from me as the years pass. To everything there is a season, turn, turn turn, yadda yadda - right? Expecting that each season of life brings changes and that life will never be the way it was before, and then embracing these changes (knowing they will pass) seems to me to be the healthiest way to deal with it all. Sure, there can still be frustration, longing for the past (this coming from a highly sentimental person!), but overall, expecting things to change and not having a set definition of "normal" has brought me much peace. "Normal" a year ago was a baby who needed much nighttime attention. "Normal" now is a baby who still needs nighttime attention but less frequently and accepts it from Daddy in the first part of the night. "Normal" in two years will be children that don't wake up often at all during the night... and so on, until the season in which the children are no longer as dependent and will need me in a very different, less hands-on way.

Turn, turn, turn...

7 comments:

Kate said...

more on the "lovey" thing.... i LOVE that my kids don't have an attachment object they have to sleep with. i joke that i am their attachment object, and it is true. isn't it better to want a warm person to hug when you are scared and can't sleep? instead of a stuffed animal or blanket?

we have a good friend who's son is lost with out his "li-li"... it's ridiculous and kinda sad. if he gets upset he screams for it and once he has it he sucks on it! i definitely prefer that when my kids get scared they cry for me and climb in my arms for a hug (when younger they would climb in my arms to nurse).

i shudder when i see some items that are now available for sale to "help" parents. once i saw a pacifer that was really a straw.... it had a tube that ran into the bottom of a bottle. so that the baby could lay down and eat without mom or dad having to hold the bottle! ridiculous!

johnston5in5 said...

Amen to that! It is hard with 3 who need me or Heath most nights but I wouldn't have it any other way.

mel said...

I am the lovely. lol....
We now have four of us in the bed by morning...and sometimes a couple of cats. It is tight and irritating sometimes. Especially on a warm summer night. But I love when Tess wakes up a little bit and sticks her arm out to "pet" me, then falls back asleep, or the way Jack sleeps with his feet jammed under my butt to keep them warm. lol...I know it sounds really uncomfortable, and some nights it is, but really I've gotten used to it. I struggled less with this issue when I realized that this was just the way it was going to *be*, until I was done raising kids. I've had a child in my bed most nights for almost 13 years. As long as that sounds, I know they will be gone someday and I will miss it.

Carrie said...

I completely agree with and am so sad of parents who seem to not want to be parents for a full 24 hours... just the part when they get to play the mommy and daddy and show everyone their family. ugh.

That Married Couple said...

This one is also great! Keep these coming - I want to be as prepared as possible when our time rolls around! :)

Nicki said...

thank you for your blog post! I was just shaking my head at how so many sites offer "all the answers to your child's sleep problems... for just 3 easy payments of 9.99!" I'm glad my baby girl knows that when she needs me or dad, day or night, we are there for her. It may be sort of irritating some nights, like when I am tired and just want to sleep, and Baby A is crawling over my head to sleep between me and my husband, but she'll only be little once. Let them be little! :)

Nicki said...

thank you for your blog post! I was just shaking my head at how so many sites offer "all the answers to your child's sleep problems... for just 3 easy payments of 9.99!" I'm glad my baby girl knows that when she needs me or dad, day or night, we are there for her. It may be sort of irritating some nights, like when I am tired and just want to sleep, and Baby A is crawling over my head to sleep between me and my husband, but she'll only be little once. Let them be little! :)