I generally write for the mamas of the world, but for this particular article, I need to reach out to the other essential person in the parenting equation- the dad.
Being a dad can be amazing. Being a dad can be special. Being a dad can be a monumental and life-changing shift.
Being a dad can also be frustrating, exhausting and confusing.
Having a baby puts all kinds of pressure and strain on even the strongest of relationships, and for many of us, it can be the first time we find that our points of difference with our significant other REALLY matter.
All new skills need to come into play in the relationship, and this can be hard when everyone is tired, uncertain and finding their feet in this new world with a baby. It can be even messier for the mother; it is not only the baby she is learning about and getting to know but also her post-partum body. The hormones, the recovery, the breastmilk and so many other things that come and go and evolve and take over in those immediate days, weeks and months post-partum.
If you and your partner are finding this time challenging, please know you aren’t alone! We all feel this, and it is HARD! Undeniably hard. This is, however, not the time to throw in the towel and it’s certainly not the time to go in on yourself. Your little family needs you and the way to make it through this is to dig deep. You will need to find your stores of empathy, patience and love and if you don’t have any of these things, well, it’s time for you to go out and FIND them. If you need help doing this, then seek help, this is important.
One of the very first and by far one of the most challenging points of difference you may have to overcome is the very real mismatch between how society and so many ‘experts’ including family and friends paint infant sleep and the reality of how it looks and feels for a mother following her baby and her instincts.
Society likes to sell the sleepy ideal of the ‘good baby’.
It’s all about your baby sleeping in a cot and limiting contact and comfort.
It’s about timelines for when nursing is ‘necessary‘.
It’s all about good sleep habits and bad sleep habits (the bad ones, being all the things a mother instinctually goes to).
It’s all about convenience, ease and limiting any disruption to an adult’s preferred lifestyle and sleep choices.
It’s all about forcing independence on your baby from as early an age as you can stomach.
It’s about giving you reasons why it is okay to let your baby cry and dictating if or when it is ‘right’ and necessary to comfort them.
It’s all about cheering mothers on as they train their baby to give up on them, reassuring her that this thing that makes her feel sick to her stomach NEEDs to be done for own and her baby’s benefit.
It’s all about making her doubt herself and why HER baby still wakes at night while everyone else’s baby at mother’s group ‘sleeps through‘.
When I say society, I mean everywhere … from virtually every angle in a mother’s life she will face pressure, advice and instruction on how to raise her baby and how to rid her life of these unnecessary ‘sleep problems’ that she has brought on herself because she has continued to meet her baby at their point of need and not withdrawn her comfort.
Nursing, cuddling, rocking, letting a baby sleep on your chest, in a carrier, in your bed– all natural methods to settle a baby that a mother instinctively goes to … society says are BAD. All are negative sleep associations, sleep crutches and things you must break the ‘habit’ of if you ever want your child to sleep. Ever. Forever. That’s right, if you comfort your baby while they are helpless infants, you are screwing them up for life. They’ll NEVER learn to ‘self-soothe‘, they’ll be needing boobie til they’re 50 and your bed? Oh, well they may leave that one day when their spouse moves in.
The scaremongering is intense, and honestly, it is utterly ridiculous and yet the relentlessness of it, the fact that it is EVERYWHERE and coming from every angle … well, it starts to seep in.
The mother who has the strength, the knowledge, the bravery and belief to stick with her instincts and her infant are in fact an incredibly rare breed. I am not one. I come to this no sleep training path after going through a living hell trying and failing to sleep train, my first baby.
If the mother of your baby is unwilling to sleep train, I can guarantee you, she has not made this decision lightly, and it has to be one of the most unselfish decisions of her life. I didn’t sleep train because I was selfish. Wanting to sleep train is a complicated choice for many and for me, it was borne of genuine concern for my baby’s development and the wellbeing of my family BUT above all, the decision to move beyond sleep training with my first and to not sleep train my second child has required a tremendous amount of strength, stamina, faith and belief. It has been character building and challenging and worth every moment and every sacrifice.
Once I had learned more about what normal infant sleep looked like, once I knew about the concept of breastsleeping, once I knew why it felt so very right to answer my baby’s every cry and to respond with nurturing comfort, once I knew that our babies and toddlers really do only need us this intensely for such a short while in the grand scheme of life. Once I knew there were so many benefits to my child as they grow and develop by simply meeting them right where they were at with no need for ‘tough love’ or to shove them towards independence (which doesn’t require any force), well this mothering business just FELT so much more natural to me. So much stress, strain and anxiety I had felt trying to do it all ‘right’ just disappeared. It freed me to be the mother I needed to be for my unique baby.
I no longer felt like I was fighting against my heart or my child. Suddenly, we were on the same side. There was no ‘us and them’ and no battle to be had or to win.
There are good reasons why a baby’s cry brings physical and mental anguish. A baby has no other way to communicate their needs. I’m very sure that if you ever found yourself in a state that rendered you completely helpless to the whim of your caregiver, you’d hope to have your limited ability to express your needs honoured promptly and each and every time. I’m sure it would make no sense to you that your cries be ignored in favour of what some textbook or relative had to say about when, how and why your cries are worthy of answering, and the same applies to your infant.
A baby and even toddlers lack the brain development to manipulate so if this is another fear you have thanks to old Aunt Gladys sharing her pearls of wisdom, then you can alleviate it right now. It’s impossible. If your baby is crying, they need you or their mum. Every time.
I know you are probably exhausted and worried about your family, but after all, is said and done, the mother of your baby does not need yet another voice telling her she is wrong, her instincts are wrong and that she cannot trust her (your) baby. She just doesn’t.
She DOES need your support.
This may not be how you pictured this parenting gig. Newsflash, it’s probably not how she pictured it either. But this is it for now. Please know that there is no harm in surrendering to now with your child. NOTHING lasts forever with babies. Things will evolve and change many times in the next few years, and it will all be so much more enjoyable if it happens as a team. Indeed, even while this feels so right for this mother on the inside, she will be battling through so much doubt, frustration and exhaustion at times, that she will need you there to see her through. Appreciate the stamina, passion and belief she puts in day in night out. It’s no mean feat when society loves to tell you you’ve got it all wrong.
This is a marathon worth running.
Once you commit to this alongside the mother of your child, you can then think as a team to make it work in your situation. She cannot and should not be doing this on her own. Talk it through, work it through. Be the adults together.
Thank you for caring enough, to have read this far. I have linked articles throughout this piece to help you gain a deeper understanding of this time from your baby’s perspective and also the mother’s.
Your child deserves this, and so does the mother of that child.
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