The One Thing I Ignored That Could've Made Sleep Training So Much Easier
Before I had babies, I sort of assumed they'd be great sleepers. I thought I'd put them in their cribs, walk away, and they'd know what to do. I mean, people wouldn't say "sleep like a baby" if babies weren't good at sleep, right? Needless to say, I quickly learned that babies are crappy sleepers, including my own. In fact, my little ones needed to learn how, and I wasn't the best teacher. So, I ignored something that could've made sleep training so much easier. Namely, that I didn't have to be the one to do it.
That's right. Just because I'm the mom doesn't mean I'm the default, go-to parent for absolutely everything. And just because I sucked at sleep training (and I honestly and truly did) didn't mean that I had to skip it altogether. After all, I didn't make those babies by myself. They weren't the bi-product of some immaculate conception. My partner was there, invested, capable, and more than ready to take over and make sleep training his problem. But for some reason I couldn't let go. I had it in my head that I needed to be the one to put my babies to bed at night, every night, even if it killed me. I was their mom, so it was my job, right?
Perhaps it was the fault of my postpartum hormones, my desire to be an "attachment parent," or the overwhelming fear of being a bad mom, but I couldn't stand to hear my babies cry for even a few seconds without my anxiety going through the roof. I couldn't bear their tears, and sleep training often involved them crying, so it didn't take long for me to fail. Miserably.
Instead of sleep training them, I snuggled, rocked, carried, or feed them to sleep. I became their nighttime and nap time sleep surface, vehicle, and food source. It was not ideal. I often ended up falling asleep on the couch, or on the floor of their room after laying them gently in the crib. Then, if one of them woke up in the middle of the night, I would start the process all over again, or give up and bring them to bed with me. It was exhausting, frustrating, and overwhelming. And, at least at the time, I had no idea that it really didn't need to be.
I ending up spending over four years trying to get my oldest two kids to sleep independently at night. Four years. I have no idea why I didn't just hand this task off to my partner and let him at least try to facilitate sleep training in some capacity. I was so not a "sleep training mom," but that didn't necessarily mean he wasn't a "sleep training dad."
I spent four years listening to my babies cry, whine, and fight sleep, and this dude came in and sleep-trained our youngest child in three days, suffering through only a few minutes of tears.
In fact, it wasn't until I had my youngest, with my current husband, and was suffering from a desperate need for sleep that I realized I didn't need to be torturing myself in the name of "perfect motherhood." Between postpartum depression, insomnia, and general sleep deprivation, my mental health was seriously suffering, and I needed help.
So my husband and I decided to give sleep training another try. At first, I made the same rookie sleep training mistakes I had made previously and, as a result, our baby got used to being snuggled or fed to sleep. I was, once again, the go-parent for all his nighttime needs.
Then, one evening, my husband offered to take over sleep training entirely. I was skeptical, to be sure, but I was also desperate... so I let him. Guys, he turned out to be awesome at sleep training. If there was a contest, he won, and while it probably would've made me feel totally inadequate as a parent at any other time in my life, I was too exhausted to care. My baby was sleeping. I was sleeping. Life was, once again, glorious.
My husband's approach to sleep training was actually rather simple — feed the baby, change his diaper, set him down in the crib when he was sleepy, but not asleep, and set a timer for three minutes. If the baby was still crying when the three minutes were up, he would go back in and gently pat him on the back or pick him up for a minute or two, and then try again. During the first sleep training session it took three rounds of crying before our baby was sound asleep. I remember thinking that it must have been witchcraft.
I think there are a variety of factors at play, but the idea that motherhood is synonymous with martyrdom certainly plays a role.
I spent four years listening to my babies cry, whine, and fight sleep, and this dude came in and sleep-trained our youngest child in three days, suffering through only a few minutes of tears. I am still astounded, to be honest. Now, I am not saying that our little one hasn't had sleep regressions due to teething or illness, because he has. But even his crappy sleep nights are exponentially better than before he was sleep trained. My husband made a difference, and my only regret is not giving him a chance to work his magic earlier.
So, why do moms like me try to do it all? I think there are a variety of factors at play, but the idea that motherhood is synonymous with martyrdom certainly plays a role. I know I was afraid that people would judge me for sleep training my babies, or not rocking them to sleep the way moms do in nursery rhymes and lullabies. But now that I have been through it, sleep training doesn't seem so horrible or scary. Some babies — like mine — just need help learning how to sleep. They deserve sleep, and their moms do, too.
I also believe the way our society views moms and dads and their roles within relationships and families is to blame for my hesitation to hand off a parenting task to my partner. It's actually a little funny when I think about it. My husband and I talk about gender roles and the division of labor in our relationship and family all the damn time. So why do we still hold these ideas about what moms and dads are "supposed" to do and be good at? I honestly think that they run so deeply that we aren't even aware that we're at their mercy.
So, my most important parenting lesson of the past year ended up being to let my husband take the lead sometimes. We are naturally better at different parts of parenting, and those skills and abilities complement each other. Plus, both of us are way less exhausted and overwhelmed when we each take a share. I wish I could go back in time and learn that lesson sooner, but I can't. What I can do, however, is go to bed and let my husband handle bedtime. In fact, that's exactly what I'm going to do right now.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.