What is expressing itself as a difficulty—him not sleeping properly—could actually be a really beautiful part of who he is…These are the thoughts that brought me encouragement when my baby boy was struggling with sleep.
Thoughts that were provoked by the observations of a wonderful tressilian nurse a few years ago, when we hit a huge wall with my son’s sleep—that is, we were having NO sleep. It was just after his first birthday and he had been unwell in hospital. He had been out for a few months, but we were still no closer to getting even a good hour of sleep. I needed to function, so I sought some help with Tressilian—I am SO pleased I did. I was booked in for a day stay, where I met with a child and family health nurse to talk about his sleep, or lack thereof. She spent some time observing his behavior and what she saw really transformed my thinking. So, I thought I would share some of these in this blog in the hope that it encourages someone else who may be having a similar experience.
During our consultation with the nurse she noted the following:
He has a good circle of security. In other words, he can move away from me but continually checks back as he plays; he is confident to explore, and the circle of security is wide, which is healthy; and he is also very reassured by my physical embrace. It is not that he is anxious about being apart from me (which I was worried might have been the issue), he simply enjoys my company and likes physical affirmation of my presence.
He is an affectionate boy. This is really part of his personality, I see it often at nights when he needs my physical touch to comfort him. She went on to say, “I can see he is probably going to be one of those boys who leaves home, maybe travels and sees the world, but always checks back in with mum because of his affection for you.”
I remember thinking, Wow! That is really beautiful! What is expressing itself as a difficulty—him not sleeping properly—could actually be a really beautiful part of who he is. It occurred to me that this is something I really want to nurture, not change. I also remember thinking, So, it’s him, not me!It hadn’t dawned on me just how personal I was making this, assuming that if I were a better mother he would be a better sleeper. Long story short, we went on to create a realistic plan that would help me support his sleep based on my growing appreciation and understanding of who he is; to achieve goals that would allow everyone some sleep.
He is still not a perfect sleeper, he still comes to our bed often; he can and does sleep through the night, just not always in his own bed. But I am far less upset by his ‘checking in’ with me during the night (or the day for that matter); in fact, I have come to appreciate what it expresses about him as a little individual person, not as a reflection of me and my flawed parenting. All these years later, I realise that nurse was right. He still is a very affectionate sensitive boy who just loves my embrace.
So often we see how our babies sleep as a measure of how successful we are as parents. Part of the reason for this is that there is no quantifiable measure to calculate if we are doing a good job. In the absence of these measures, we look to things like sleep, weight gain, meeting milestones as personal checkpoints, or measurable goals. But this can set us up for a fail. We really don’t have full control over these things; we are constantly working with another human being, who has their own personality and temperament. In every instance we have to work with them. So, we really shouldn’t take it personally if our child isn’t sleeping as wonderfully as another child, for many reasons:
It could be a developmental leap
It could be teething pain or growing pain
It could be overstimulation from the day
It could be sensitivity to clothes, bedding, lights, sounds, etc
And a hundred other things besides
At the most elementary level, he is who he is, and what is expressing itself today as an obstacle to sleep might just be what you love most about him in a few years. But in the midst of all of it, we always need to remember: it is not personal, it is not my fault, it is not a reflection of my success or failure as a parent.
Somehow along the way to becoming a parent we begin to think that every single little thing that our child does or does not do is because of who we are or who we are not.
Sometimes it pays to consider who they are and who they are not. With babies it is tricky and only in retrospect will some things make sense. As I look at all 3 of my children, I can see how their personalities all expressed themselves in their sleep as infants.
So I just felt to encourage some of you might be beating yourselves up because you are taking it personal.
Please here me right: I am notsaying we need to just accept whatever behavior our children throw at us. We are parents. Of course, we need to regulate them, teach them, and train them in many ways of life. We need to pursue behaviors and patterns that promote good sleep. We need to be intentional about supporting every aspect of their health and development. What’s more, there are wonderful resources to assist you with these; like, for example, Tressilian. We need to be diligent in all of these areas. But, sometimes, kids are just kids, and every kid is different.
It is not personal if your child struggles with sleep more than others. If you have a child who sleeps like an angel, lucky you—seriously! You may have worked hard to achieve that, maybe you didn’t, either way. But maybe you have a child that just resists sleep—please hear me: this does not mean you are failing. There are certainly things we can do that can help to support sleep and things we can implement (because, hello, mumma needs sleep to function, too!), but you also can’t change who they are.
Remember: The part of your beautiful child that is an obstacle to sleep today, may just be the thing you appreciate most about them later. Maybe this might encourage someone today.
But mama does need sleep!
For those looking for advise on supporting your child’s sleep some helpful local resources are:
Child & Family Health Services Blue Mountains (Our local child and family health nurses who can advise and refer)
47510100 to book at Springwood
47822133 to book at Katoomba
YAWN- while not a service to help with infant sleep, it is a wonderful local service to help support YOU when things are feeling difficult. Information Here.