The ‘good girl, people-pleaser’ who went down the sleep training path

I was talking with a dear friend this morning about how she isn’t sure why she never really felt compelled to follow the Sleep Training norm because quite simply, it felt wrong. I admire her for this so much and it really made me think, what was so different for me? Why didn’t I feel confident enough to simply go, ‘yeah, nah, that doesn’t feel right,’ end of story?!? 

I think I’ve found my answer in two parts …

1. I experienced Sleep or the lack thereof on a WHOLE other level to this friend. She had a baby who slept like a baby- a relatively cruisy, in the range of ‘normal’ baby. She did not face the same frequency or fervour or insistence to sleep train that I faced as the mother of an extremely wakeful baby who ended up suffering from PND. She was vulnerable to the pressure as any tired new mother is, but I was VULNERABLE and primed for the taking as the severely and chronically sleep deprived new mother.

2. The second part though, is worthy of consideration. I have to accept personal responsibility for the fact that I have always been what I refer to as a, ‘good girl, people-pleaser’. I have always sought and longed for approval. I hated to disappoint people. I hated being less than perfect in anyone’s eyes and as an over-achieving perfectionist, parenting has by far been my biggest lesson in the difference between doing things by the book and ‘right’ by standards set by others versus doing things ‘right’ by your baby and your family.

This Good Girl hated to be scolded. So scolding after scolding by those I trusted for advice on my baby’s sleep, slowly whittled me away. Whittled my confidence in myself and belief in my baby’s ability to communicate with me. This People Pleaser, no matter how hard she tried, simply COULDN’T get that baby of hers to sleep the way she was told he needed to sleep.

Each shake of the head, each ‘you really need to try harder’, ‘if you just try this and stick with it…’ ate away at me.

I wasn’t a ‘good’ mother in the eyes of these people. Not that they thought I was bad as such but certainly not the ‘good’ they aimed to train mothers to be. There was no pleasure in their eyes upon hearing I still fed my baby to sleep. There was no pleasure upon hearing how dedicated I was to meeting my baby’s night time needs.

These things were not seen as good nor pleasing.

This was uncharted territory and one I did not feel comfortable with at all.

By contrast, my dear friend is very self confident and no where near as susceptible to pressure that goes against her grain. Her traits have helped her find her feet as a parent in a much less complicated way and I admire her greatly for it.

I don’t regret where I’ve been though. Both of these key parts in the equation have completely changed my way of being and I’ll be forever grateful for that. My personal growth has seen a monumental shift in the way I see myself and the role I allow others to have in how I see myself.

I no longer crave approval.

I know who I am and what feels right for me and my family and I while I seek connection with others, I no longer feel the need to try to live up to anyone else’s expectations of me.

It feels good no longer seeking to please those around me while shrinking my true self to make sure no one else’s feathers are ruffled.

Mothering these sensational humans has been a privilege and the lessons I have learned have helped make me a stronger, truer and more confident person within myself.

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What ‘permission to let things slide’ looks like in reality

Motherhood hit me like a sledgehammer.  

A love filled, cute as a button, wouldn’t change it for the world kind of baptism of fire.

With our incredibly high needs baby on song from the moment he was born, we didn’t even have the grace of the ‘sleepy newborn’ phase to allow us to get our breath or momentarily lull us into a false sense of security, that yeah, we could rock this parenting caper without so much as a hair out of place.

Our baby needed us SOOOOO intensely; it was stifling.

We weren’t deluded (okay, maybe we were), we knew having a baby would be life changing. We knew a newborn required a hell of a lot of care. We knew we would need to deal with sleep deprivation BUT in our deluded pre-baby state, we also thought all babies slept. We thought all babies went down in their cots to sleep and once they were asleep, they’d stay that way unless they were hungry or no longer tired. We thought that as long as we responded promptly to our baby, he’d rarely cry …how wrong we were.

Initially, we surrendered quite well to it, thinking things would calm down. But when they didn’t, the doubts crept in and grew ever stronger as they were fuelled by advice that started seeping in from every angle. We began to fight against our baby and his intense needs. We could no longer simply accept that he just needed us so, now we had to battle our way through sleep associations, wants versus needs, manipulation and being too fussy, too demanding and too wakeful to get to OUR baby.

We were desperately unhappy, desperately unsatisfied and desperate to ‘fix’ our baby so we could resume life.

We were swimming against the tide.

Thankfully, after a six-month battle, our sweet surrender came, and it changed my whole way of being.

I had heard many times that it was okay just to let things slide when you have a new baby.

I think in my head though, I had placed conditions on when this would be okay and for how long. I think I accepted that I might need help with a newborn while I recovered from birth but I must have decided that after that I ‘should’ have been able to stay on top of things (with maybe the exception of when I had a sick baby).

This unrealistic expectation I had arbitrarily set for myself, severely affected my sense of self, my mood, my confidence and ultimately, my relationship with my baby (after all, if he weren’t so demanding, I would have finished the laundry …).

A part of finding my surrender was acknowledging that permission to let things slide extends to however long it takes for you to be getting through your day easily enough to let some of it back in.

For me, I had my second baby just 20 months after my first, and a high needs baby coupled with pregnancy, then combined with new baby has meant that it is literally only now … Three years on that I am letting some of it back in.

The fog started to lift a little while back and slowly, but surely I am feeling more ‘normal’, more on top of things and not as desperately in need of rest as I was.

I know not everything can slide, and I can guarantee you, not everything did … the actual essential things were always seen to, and we lived fulfilling days, BUT I knew I had permission to choose rest over chores and rest over outings whenever I needed, and I needed it a lot for a very long time.

I am not ashamed of this, and I do not feel guilty or lazy or any of the things society may expect that I feel.

While some things did slide, my core business was my A game.

Raising my babies, meeting them at their point of need both day and night, nurturing and savouring them, keeping me well, keeping me rested… I can confidently say, I have been getting THIS done.

I am raising whole humans. I am wiring tiny, new brains with my gentle, loving tenderness and time.

The chores won’t be missing my time, love or comfort; my energies are going to exactly the right place.

If you could but measure the value of simply ‘being there’ for our babies, I firmly believe we as a society would stop fighting so hard to get away. Some days it feels like you have been able to achieve the grand total of zero, but truly, being your baby’s whole world … that is more than enough work for one day.

Every minute spent holding, comforting, nursing, nurturing, soothing and being present with your child is of infinite value to that small being in your arms, your family, your community and the world. Time spent on our babies is never time wasted.

So, you have permission to let all those other sideline things slide for as long as it takes for you to feel they fit back in without you having to sacrifice your sanity, your rest or your baby’s needs.

You’ve got this mama x

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‘Just Words’ … Following your instincts, following your heart and finding your village in the modern cyber world of mothering

‘Just Words’ … Following your instincts, following your heart and finding your village in the modern cyber world of mothering

I am apart of an online mothering forum that I joined with my first baby while I was still pregnant. With these mothers, as a group we shared our hopes, dreams, fears, frustrations, uncertainty, small wins, big wins, doubts, highs and lows firstly with our pregnancies, then with our newborns, our babies and now our toddlers. We come from all walks of life with one commonality- we love our children and want what is best for them.
It felt only natural for me to then join the corresponding forum when I found I was expecting my second. This time around though, my role feels different in the group. A large portion of the forum are first time mums with a smaller group of experienced mummies too. The group is wonderful. Diverse, supportive and ever evolving. I have found myself taking more and more of a backseat in discussions of late as I can see the first time mums steadily finding their feet. Their mummy groove. There is a steady shift away from looking for help to more looking for support and validation. It is a beautiful thing to watch unfold as each mother finds her way of mothering. I remember my own shift along with the other mums on my first forum. It’s not one key moment but many where you find yourself feeling more and more confident and comfortable in your own shoes.

Becoming a mother is a huge shift. For many women including myself, it took me a long time to recognise ‘myself’ in this role. To start with, I almost felt like the old me was gone but she wasn’t. She’s still there but ‘she’ has grown and evolved in ways I could never have imagined.

One thing I felt was a turning point for me was reaching a point where I stopped needing validation because I KNEW that my way of mothering was right for me and my babies. I knew that because I followed my heart and my baby and listened to my instincts that I would be happy within myself and with my choices.

I no longer felt upset or got a bad case of the guilts reading about other mothers mothering in a way different to mine.

I also found my filter. I found my village. I was able to hone in on what was worth my time, effort and brain space both in person and online.

A mother in my current forum posted this wonderful post this morning and I found it an excellent reminder of how easily you can ‘drown’ in a world of so many words-

‘I never thought I would be one to get wrapped up in the world of reading blogs and seeing what other people think of current trends and how others generally go about their life. But here I am, a first time mum with a whole world of information at my fingertips. Even worse, I’m a first time mum with a whole lot of words at my fingertips. Information and words are very different. I have lots of words not information.

I am getting really really really tired of this constant struggle surrounding pregnancy, child birth, parenting of ‘easy’ and ‘hard babies, parenting of toddlers… That’s as far as I’ve gotten but I’m sure there is a whole world of teenager drama waiting for me to unlock through my keyboard.
I am so tired of the judgement! It is crippling!
Let your baby cry it out and you are the worst mother in the world but if you go to your child’s every sound then you are equally as bad and some will say a helicopter mum.
You no longer have the strength to hold your baby as they cry in your ear for the millionth time and seek help from professionals/sleep school/books? You clearly aren’t meeting your babies needs and aren’t strong enough or don’t know your babies exact cries or clearly missed something.

You put your baby down and they go straight to sleep? What a neglectful mother who must have left their baby alone in their time of need so that now the baby just goes to sleep because they haven’t had needs met or what a lucky mother who has an easy baby and can’t ever understand how hard everyone else has it.

Your baby sleeps in their own cot?! What a heartless mother! Your baby sleeps ON you? What a clingy mother!

You don’t have breathing pads in your babies bed? Do you want something bad to happen do your baby?!

You have your baby in the bed with you? Well now they will never sleep alone because they are too used to you.

You wake your baby during the day? What a crazy mother who is depriving their baby of their need for sleep! You let your baby sleep for 6 hours in the middle of the day? Well no wonder they don’t sleep at night you silly mother!

Feed your baby solids at 6 months or ruin your baby’s gut says WHO but any later than 4 months and you may as well sign up for an epipen! Hello allergies.

You feed your baby from premade pouches that clearly have zero nutrients in them and must be hiding fatal ingredients in them because they weren’t made by you and your ninja or Thermomix?

You use a dummy to help soothe your baby? What an awful mother who clearly wants their baby to develop a speech problem. You don’t use a dummy and you are the awful mother who would have a much better sleeper if you just gave them a dummy.

Don’t even get me started on home births, intervention before or during labour, elective or emergency c sections, elective bottle feeding (sorry no, artificial feeding as so many have corrected me), walkers, jolly jumpers, returning to work, day care, I could do this shit all day. There are two sides to every story and motherhood has helped me realise the real meaning of the old saying ‘you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t’. Our biggest problem is that none of us want to be damned therefore we do a lot of damning of others!

I think as mothers we think that the best way to support others is through our own opinion and what has worked for us personally. We try our best. Our best looks different every single day.

All of this ’empowering’ others through our words because we feel so strongly and passionately about it can actually reject those that don’t share our own views. It makes us feel better because we showed those stupid people that they shouldn’t do xyz. Meanwhile those stupid people are one of us! Those stupid people are doing the best they freaking can. Yes your all empowering words might touch one or two or even a hundred people but what about that one or two or even a hundred lost souls who are desperately reading your words looking for answers and validation in their time of need? Instead they find themselves feeling even worse than they started because they have committed what you deem to be the ultimate fail or worse what you deem to be a mother or father putting their needs before those of their babies.

Just while I’m on my high horse- I hate that all of this consumes women. My husband couldn’t give a hoot about any of it, we make a decision together and then I, as the mother, live with the judgement of others or guilt as I’m constantly reminded of others having success doing the opposite of us or public shaming of those with differing opinions.

I really hope that the oozing sarcasm was evident with every comment I made about choices including sleep/feeding/dummies/etc.

And yes I totally get the irony of my post… In saying STOP judging, I am judging those that judge. No, not really, I am trying to do the best I can. This is my way of showing support to those that are struggling with whatever WORDS the internet or news has thrown your way.’ 

Melissa BC User (used with permission)

Whether we like it or not, this is the world we live in now. With a distinct lack of support for new mothers in today’s society, it makes sense that one of the places we turn is social media and online. Unfortunately, in the vulnerable early days of motherhood, this environment can quite often provide more angst and uncertainty than feel good support. That’s not because the support isn’t there but with a developing filter coupled with feelings of uncertainty and doubt in our new role, it can be near impossible to block out what isn’t for you and your baby.

In a way though, this is part of the process of finding our feet. Through reading and listening to a range of stories, ideas, styles and research we find ourselves asking questions.

When we read something that elicits a strong response, we are being presented with a chance to ask ourselves why we reacted that way. It is a part of our in built and ever evolving moral code to judge people, experiences and practices in order to decide if this is a path we can see is right for us. Judgement is not automatically a bad thing. In fact, I think it is essential. It only becomes bad in my view if you don’t also couple it with empathy. I strongly disagree with a number of popular parenting practices. I do ‘judge’ them to be unacceptable for myself and my babies. But coupled with empathy, I can see the mothers who do use these practices can be every bit as loving as I am. Their moral code just finds different practices acceptable than mine.

The tricky bit here is when someone has made a choice or maybe followed a practice that they felt was right at the time but it doesn’t sit well with them in their heart. These people are often the ones who find themselves endlessly defending their choice, their decision. They may be the ones who feel the need to call out others for ‘judging’ them for not supporting a particular practice.

I have made some choices in my early days as a mother that I am not proud of but I do not shy away from them. I may not be proud of the choices but I know that I made them only with the very best of intentions. They do not make me a bad mother and they don’t make those who make these decisions today bad mums either. I am a very big believer in self reflection and learning from mistakes. I am not ashamed to admit when I am wrong. I am human. It is not a sign of weakness or failure to admit you wish you’d done something differently.

I wish that all mothers could feel safe to do this. None of us are perfect. None of us need to be.

So, I guess that would be my big tip to those who are still on the journey to finding their mummy feet. If there’s a particular something that keeps tripping you up, something that keeps you doubting, something you feel the need to keep defending, then give yourself the time, space and grace to ask yourself why.

• If it doesn’t feel right in your heart, if it goes against what your instincts are telling you, if your baby isn’t responding favourably … There’s a good chance that you are going to keep feeling insecure about your choice. Some soul searching may be required to regroup and try a new tack. This was the path I followed. It is doable and very worthwhile, you just need to take steps to break the cycle.

• If it does feel right in your heart, if your instincts are being honoured, if your baby is happy, healthy and thriving both day and night …there’s a good chance you can overcome your insecurity by finding yourself likeminded pages and people to surround yourself with that encourage you to keep going with what is clearly right for you.

Online blogs and forums with all their ‘words’ can be a curse in early motherhood, they were for me but they can become a true blessing and amazing support once you find your niche.

So, new mummies, here are my tips for surviving this unchartered online world- acknowledge the challenges, ask yourself questions, reflect, work on that filter, follow your heart, instincts and babies and keep on going until you feel good within yourself. Then you will have found yourself as a Mother and all these words you feel so overwhelmed with right now will come to clarity. They will sometimes be for you but other times they won’t be and you’ll be able to read them without so much as a chink on your mummy armour because you will have ownership of your mothering.