As I’ve admitted before, I’m no parenting guru, and I don’t presume to know what new moms or moms-to-be should be doing.
…At least, not anymore, I don’t.
But when our nest was just warming up, I had plenty of opinions. All of them, in my insecure/indignant mind, objectively true. And I knew they were true, see, because some even came from books. These books offered clear formulas with catchy names, like the E.A.S.Y. baby routine (“Eat, Activity, Sleep, You time!” — my mother laughed out loud when I told her about this), or like the Five S’s sure to soothe your screaming sugams. (For the record, they’re swaddle, side/stomach position, shush, swing, and suck, and, to quote Wayne Campbell, they certainly do suck. Or anyway, they do when it comes to colic. Because everything sucks when it comes to colic.)
Additionally, I’d stumbled, pregnant and underemployed, through cobbled Belgian streets with my nose buried in books by the Sears clan, a family of rogue doctors and attachment parenting champions, who bill themselves as “The Trusted Source for Parents” (emphasis mine). I borrowed these books from a nearby birth center-y place, and they may have some nuggets of practical wisdom to impart, but I don’t remember those anymore. All I remember is how well they nurtured the budding fear within me, and the guilt.
According to Sears wisdom, you must be physically touching baby as much as (or ideally more than) humanly possible — wear her on your chest all day, sleep with her at night, and by all means, hold that baby when she cries, no matter how many hours those gut-wrenching, nerve-fraying screams go on, do NOT put her down for a moment. And never let her cry herself to sleep, not at any age. (And by extension, I guess: abandon both sleep and career, and thoughts thereof, you selfish, ambitious ice queen.)
Now, there may be some “do what works for you” lip-service in there, but make no mistake: reading Dr. Sears in earnest will almost certainly leave you doubting your worth as a mother when you can’t soothe your baby, or even when you leave your baby’s side long enough to take a shower.
Case in point? The last chapter of one of their sleep books is written from the perspective of a new-born baby imploring his mother to sleep with him at night. I remember exactly where I was when I finished that nauseating low in maternal emotional manipulation. I’d been on the fence about bed-sharing, but after that screwy little petition, I closed the book, stroked my fruiting belly and solemnly swore, right there on that bus-stop bench, to share our bed with this precious baby as long as possible.
So conditioned was I by the fear tactics of the Sears camp that I reflexively attacked when a friend posted something on Facebook recommending Bringing Up Bébé, a book of parenting observations by an American mother, who like me, was raising her baby abroad, but in Paris.
Now, I hadn’t actually read the book, but that didn’t stop me from striking down its anti-attachment advice. I even went so far as to hypothesize a possible connection between emotionally disengaged French parenting during the early months and the French “infidelity double-standard” (which I knew was a real thing, see, because I’d just read a blog post about it somewhere). My friend rightly removed my comments and privately berated me.
I blush in shame to recall the deranged, sleep-deprived person I was becoming as an aspiring attachment parent.
Luckily, by six months post-partum, I had defected from attachment parenting, moved the baby OUT of bed and into the bassinet, and bassinet to the far side of the room. We’d even let her cry it out. (And it worked.)
I’d like to say that after that, adequate sleep restored my reason. Instead I found myself unwittingly converted to a new creed, this time characterized by rigid strictness regarding bedtime. I was now convinced that bed-sharing after three months was short-sighted and problematic. I had less patience for parents who couldn’t get their little ones down for naps or bedtime. During a Christmas visit home to the U.S., after leaving our one-year-old daughter in her travel crib, I could barely conceal my irritation when our four-year-old niece, excited by our visit and the coming holiday, struggled more than usual to stay in her room at bedtime.
Our daughter is now also four, and she behaves this way EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. (And she hasn’t taken a nap in two years.) Strict adherence to a bedtime routine is harder now that we have two very small, lively kids sharing a bedroom. Still, we do our best, and honestly, so does she. But the girl is a preschool night owl. She’s also a naturally obedient momma-pleaser who genuinely doesn’t want to rave the night away. But every night a switch flips in her brain, flooding it with racing, disparate thoughts like free electrons through a power plant. She tosses, turns, and eventually emerges, telling random stories at lightning speed like a four-year-old version of early Robin Williams’ stand-up.
We’ve tried waking her up earlier. We’ve tried earlier bedtime, later bedtime, music, nightlights, passion flower syrup, lavender oil, letting her play quietly her room… We have no earthly idea how to get this girl to go to sleep.
But I have noticed that sometimes, bed-sharing helps.