Updated: Apr 1
I said it!
Have you ever had a strong gut feeling about something, ignored it and then regretted afterwards?
Well, that’s how I feel about sleep training.
I struggled with so much when my eldest was born. Breastfeeding, sleep, setting boundaries with visitors, not having a bloody clue about anything I was doing, quite frankly.
It’s not a time I look back on and remember fondly. I was the first in my group of friends to have a baby and I felt completely alone.
It felt like my world had been turned upside down and I craved some sort of routine. I hated not knowing what each new day would bring. When she went to sleep, how long she’d sleep, how I would get through another day without sleep, how would I keep on top of everything I had to do?
Going to back to work played on my mind… ‘I would need to get into a routine before I go back to work or I won’t be able to function!’
So many well-meaning friends and relatives kept suggesting that I try sleep training.
‘She needs to learn to settle herself’
‘You’re making a rod for your own back’
‘Read this book, follow this routine, it changed my life’
I got the book that was recommended and was resistant to trying it, but after weeks of not sleeping and feeling like I had no alternative, I gave it a go.
There were so many times I stopped reading and thought ‘that doesn’t sound right, surely that can’t be good for the baby?’
I remember distinctly, leaving my daughter to ‘cry it out’ for the first time and the gut wrenching urge to go to her, which I did after a short while, but I continued to ‘train’ her, so she would eventually fall off to sleep on her own.
Eventually she did. It worked, and we all started sleeping wonderfully. I felt amazing! We had strict routine and we all got sleep.
I think back to that time now, and realise how disconnected I must have been from myself, from what I knew to be right, deep down.
I did it with the best of intentions in my heart (this isn’t a post to make moms feel guilty, I’m right here with you!) but why didn’t I follow my instinct ? What stopped me?
I went on to sleep train my second child too.
Not long after I had my 3rd child I met with a friend in the park, who was a midwife. We got talking about all things ‘sleep’, as I had another new born and was back at the ‘no sleep’ stage. The topic moved to sleep training and she mentioned that there was research to suggest that, when the baby starts to sleep after being left to cry, it was the babies brain protecting itself, because it could no longer bear to be left alone.
‘When the infant falls asleep after a period of wailing and frustrated cries for help, it is not that she has learned the “skill” of falling asleep. What has happened is that her brain, to escape the overwhelming pain of abandonment, shuts down. It’s an automatic neurological mechanism. In effect, the baby gives up. The short-term goal of the exhausted parents has been achieved, but at the price of harming the child’s long-term emotional vulnerability. Encoded in her cortex is an implicit sense of a non-caring universe.’
Dr. Gabor Mate
AWWW, I felt like I’d been kicked in the guts. That made sense.
At the time I had no evidence that this was correct, but something rang true inside me, and I knew it was something I had to look further into – even if it meant that I had to admit I’d made a mistake with my first 2 children.
I thought about how I’d treat an adult if they came to me upset and crying, the last thing I would do, would be to ignore them and say they need to learn to get through this on their own. No, quite the opposite, I’d embrace them, I’d spend time with them, I’d connect to them. So why is it any different for babies – who need that connection with their caregiver, for healthy brain development?
Fast forward a few years, another baby, a mountain of research and study + 2 children who were sleep trained, I’m not sure how ‘sleep training’ is still a thing.
There is so much research now, that shows that childhood stress manifests into adulthood. I can see it. Can you?
Behavioral issues, Depression, Anxiety, Addiction, Dis-ease.
Society does not support parents to raise their children. Maternity leave is minimal in a lot of cases, and a lot of parents feel they need to get back to work due to economical pressures. Some parents feel they need to get back to work because they can’t be with their kids…. I understand this, especially when there is a lack of support. I suppose the question is, WHY don’t we want to be with our kids?
Would it look different if there were others around us to help and we weren’t doing so much on our own?
‘In our stressed society, time is at a premium. Beholden to our worldly schedules, we try to adapt our children to our needs, rather than serving theirs. More “primitive” aboriginal peoples in Africa and North and South America kept their infants with them at all times. They had not yet learned to suppress their parenting instincts.’
Dr Gabor Mate
What I have realised is, we are not meant to be raising our children like this. We are not meant to be doing this alone.
It's so true...'it takes a village to raise a child.'
Children are wired for attachment; they need it to survive.
So do we. How do we feel when our needs are not met? Maybe we resort to things like ‘sleep training’ because we can’t see any other way to get our needs met.
We, as a parents, need to find ways to get our needs met, so we can be emotionally and physically available for our kids. How do we do that?
I started with me. It’s the only place I hold true power
Getting curious about the disconnection within me, that ultimately led to many of the decisions I made.
Start with YOU
What needs to change?
What do you need help with?
Who can you ask for help?
Are there other people in similar situations that you can connect to?
I made some radical changes in my life. We sold our house, left jobs, bought a caravan, travelled Australia for a time, and have just finished building an off grid, tiny home on wheels. It means we are not tied to a mortgage, and we get to spend more time with the kids, who are homeschooled.
I can tell you, this journey has not been an easy one. It’s been a roller coaster ride, physically, emotionally. It’s been painful at times and simply wonderful at others.
I know we still have ALOT of work to do. My life is FAR from perfect.
AND I know this wouldn't be everyone's choice, but EVERYONE DOES HAVE A CHOICE.
There is always room for change.
Nothing changes until you change it.
I don’t have all the answers and and this is a topic that covers so many areas of life, that it won’t get covered in 1 post.
I think as a society, we need to change the way we view the mother, the family, our children and ourselves. We need to get a better understanding of what we need, in order to thrive.
We need more meaningful connection, with each other, with ourselves.
So, this isn’t a quick fix post. It’s to get us thinking outside of the box, because things need to change. Sharing and talking about it, is a step forward.
It's not all gloom and doom, I can see the effects of sleep training on my older 2 children, but I can also choose to connect to them NOW. We now know, through Neuroplasticity, that the brain can change and adapt according to the environment.
“It refers to the physiological changes in the brain that happen as the result of our interactions with our environment. From the time the brain begins to develop in utero until the day we die, the connections among the cells in our brains reorganize in response to our changing needs. This dynamic process allows us to learn from and adapt to different experiences”
Celeste Campbell (n.d.).
This post also isn’t about shaming parents who sleep train. Shame does not serve us, ever.
If it doesn't resonate with you, that's ok.
Has this post triggered you?
If so, then inquire into that. Is there some fear there? What is the fear about? Are there other emotions you feel around this topic?
Let’s start the conversation, lets talk about our struggles and our mistakes. We all have them. They're what help us to grow, to move forward.
I know Moms are stressed, tired and lacking support and that’s precisely why I feel I need to share my experience, I was that Mom – I still am, to some degree.
BUT NOW I FEEL ALOT MORE EMPOWERED
Society can make us feel that we don't have a choice, that this is just the way it is.
'Be thankful for your LOT and get on with it.'
Yes gratitude is essential, but gratitude and growth is beautiful and so much more fun.
Join 'The Journey Home Private Facebook group' if you'd like to connect with others on a similar path.
Let me know if you're ready to make changes, but you need some help with where to start.
I'm offering free zoom calls to anyone who is ready to MAKE A CHANGE and who would like to find out more about the approach I offer.
Thanks for reading.
Have a beautiful day.