As far as parenting conversations go, the most memorable one I’ve had with my mum is when I was complaining about my son’s ability to sleep (or lack thereof).
I kept saying I didn’t know what to do anymore when she casually dropped into conversation that when we lived in the Philippines I slept in the same room with her and my dad until I was five. The statement floored me. I couldn’t imagine my husband and I keeping our son in the bedroom past six months let alone till he was school age. But it worked for my parents. Meanwhile here I was with an 18-month-old son who had the luxury of his own room but was no closer to sleeping through the night.
When you’re not getting much-needed sleep, trying to get it becomes almost an obsession. I had read extensively about sleep training methods (of which there are many, and often with conflicting points of view); called family care centre Tresillian for help, looked to the local early childhood nurse for assistance; and asked around to all the mothers I knew for advice. Nothing seemed to work, and I kept hoping it was a phase. But the phase didn’t pass and as I became increasingly sleep deprived, frustrated and exhausted, my husband and I decided to hire a sleep coach.
To them, a non-sleeping baby was just part of those early parenting years.
When I announced that we were getting some help from a professional, my parents were a little dubious. Why do you need to pay someone to help get your baby to sleep? To them, a non-sleeping baby was just part of those early parenting years and nothing that required intervention. Sleep training was a non-existent concept for them in the Philippines, and having your child sleep in another room, let alone expect them to fall asleep and settle themselves on their own was totally foreign to them.
Sleep training is a process that’s often fraught with worry and guilt about whether you’re doing the right thing. When I asked my mum why in the Philippines children would co-sleep for an extended period of time, she said it was partly for safety and security reasons — you could more easily see that your kids were fine and also that it seemed a little cruel to leave them on their own in a separate room. This statement, although not directed at me, sent me into a spiral of doubt. Was I being a terrible mother for doing this?
It was already difficult to go through sleep training, but it was admittedly made even harder when faced with worried looks from my parents whenever they were around. They would want to swoop in the moment my son whimpered or cried out, and would look at me with a concerned look when I would assure them that it was all part of the process and to give him some time to settle. Though always respectful of my wishes, I could see that they were struggling to understand. The look in their eyes that said ‘please don’t let him cry like that’ made me question myself and what I was doing.
As the sleep training kicked in, I was able to put my son down in his cot, kiss him and walk out the door and not hear from him till after his nap or till the morning.
My parents didn’t have a sleep routine with my sister and me so the fact I did was initially met with a little confusion about why it was necessary. They would tell me my son looked sleepy and would wonder why I would insist that they stick to his schedule and wait until his designated nap time to put him down. To them, if a baby looked tired, you put them to bed and to do otherwise seemed a little pointless.
Gradually as the sleep training kicked in, I was able to put my son down in his cot, kiss him and walk out the door and not hear from him till after his nap or till the morning. His demeanour changed. He was well rested, energetic and would be ready to tackle his meals, whereas before he would sometimes seem tired and irritable during the day.
As my parents could start to see the results coming to fruition, they were delighted at “how easy it was” to put my son to sleep. No rocking, no patting, no singing. When conversation amongst their friends turned to how our son slept, it became a source of pride for them to say that he was a fantastic sleeper and would fall asleep on his own and sleep through the night.
When I had my second child, I knew what to do when it came to teaching him to self-settle and fall asleep on his own. This time around, while there are times when sometimes my parents will still ask if they should go in and pick up my son up when he cries out, they have generally been on board with my methods. I think they’ve grown to appreciate what I was trying to achieve the first time, and why I’m doing it again.
While our approaches were vastly different when it came to sleep, I think we ultimately agreed on the fact that all we ever wanted was a child who wakes smiling —and we both had that, albeit we just had our own ways of getting there.
Tania Gomez is a freelance writer.