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It has been 4 months since my last musings on bedtime. I was pondering the idea of “unschooling” at bedtime which to me, meant not imposing sleep manipulation on my children at all. Rather, I thought that if I gave them the space to follow their own rhythms, that they would find their own natural bedtime rhythm too.

So, for the last 4 months, we tried pseudo “unbedtiming” our kids. Did they find their own natural rhythm around bedtime? NO! Only a handful of times did they actually go to bed completely on their own! Most days, we’d eventually (around 10-11:00pm) insist that they go to bed because we just couldn’t take it anymore! Something  just feels wrong about kids going to bed after 11:00pm, and truth be told, they were driving us crazy!!

So why would I be experimenting like this? Well, firstly and foremostly I will be the first to admit that I am a very “lazy” mother when it comes to bedtime. I just don’t feel like doing it. I hate that my kids resist it. Their calls for water, food and all the other excuses that I have to “do something about” are just plain annoying.  I just hit a certain point, and I’m done. Now I quote “lazy” because on one level, I think that I am just a normal human being who just happens to be honest about how I really feel, and I am more than willing to question my resistance. Unlike the rest of the working world, we mothers, mother all day without 2, 15 minute breaks and a lunch hour. And we never get to go home after work…..the serving just doesn’t end.  Maybe other parents are just more stoic than I am. They probably don’t make an issue of it. They just put their kids to bed every night at the same time in the same way, and then go about their evening.  Shouldn’t I just suck it up, add a formal bedtime to my daily rhythm and forget about it? Yeah, I could, but that wouldn’t be authentic for me. I truly feel there is a higher way and I am on a mission to find it.

Secondly, I question bedtime, because I don’t think imposing one on someone else is natural. The whole scenario creates resistance in everyone involved, because that is just the nature of it. 

Creating a nurturing bedtime takes a lot of presence and effort. I think it is natural for parents (or maybe it is just me?) to resist bedtime in the context of these little lonely boxes that we live in (or at least, I find them lonely). The whole way that mothers live alienated and 24/7 with the same little people and rarely get a break from spending time with them…..to me, it just seems human to resist giving more, especially when we never stop giving in the first place.  I think it just gets tiring and is unrealistic to be the sole “meeter” of every one of someone else’s needs. Yet I value my children’s need to have a healthy relationship to sleeping and I feel a sense of responsibility to sort out our bedtime misgivings. I am still holding on to the perspective that somehow I will come up with a way that meets that need without imposing on a very personal natural body function of theirs.  I am looking for a way that feels authentic for our family. 

Thirdly, I am experimenting with other “ways of being” around “bedtime” because I don’t want it to be forced on my children like a jail sentence. I value my personal freedom and I want to enable my children to flower into their natural brilliance. I don’t know how I can do that, if I am enforcing them to conform to my preferences, needs, beliefs etc. Now, I know we could go down the rabbit hole with that statement, because we can turn it over and come up with many examples of why it is completely logical that as parents we have to enforce things for our children`s well-being and safety….. but I am looking not for the “right” bedtime method or the middle road of compromise, but rather I am seeking another path here altogether. I keep asking the question in all of my parenting dilemmas (of which there are many), “is consensus possible between parent and child?”

The way I see it, we either have the choice to keep rollin’ with the way things are or change the way that we live with children. I don’t think that it is fair to “sleep manipulate” our children for our convenience. Yet realistically we have to find some way meet their needs and ours in the modern construct, or at least turn our seeing of it, right side up and inside out until another way of living becomes possible. I am still contemplating…..

The truth is, the reason that I feel that the approach that I’m referring to as  “unbedtime” didn’t work for my children, is that it pretty much became “unattachment parenting”  on our part, as we tried to go about our evening hoping that our kids would “do their own thing” until they got tired.

I can see the “unbedtime” approach working for the parent who is exceptionally patient and not truly invested in trying to accomplish something concrete with their time at night. I can see that if both my husband and I were to focus on making the evening about family and leisure time, then we could be patient and attentive until 11pm, but  that is not the case! We are both creative types and want to use our time to “work” on our passions. We crave uninterrupted sequences of time.  

And these are the reasons I feel that they didn’t settle into a natural sleeping rhythm:

1) They were not feeling connected to us. Remember, we were “unattaching”. Because we wanted them to go to sleep, they therefore  felt us trying to disconnect from them causing them to feel too insecure to just “give in” to the sleeping urge.

2) Because they didn`t want to miss out on anything (this is natural, we do this as adults….imagine you are at a party and everyone is having a great time and you are really tired, you try to stay awake and engaged for as long as you can, right?)

3) Because they didn`t want to be alone. They are social creatures. As much as we want to snuggle in bed with our partners, they want to snuggle in bed with us!

In hindsight, I really don`t see a problem here with our kids resisting bedtime.  They are just doing what normal, healthy humans do. So, then why are we trying to manipulate them to “behave” any differently?

Seriously, I need to sit with this. Clearly, the “unbedtime” approach doesn`t meet their needs, as much as the conventional bedtime approach is an imposition on their physiology and freedom.

Being that consensus is a co creation, right now the only truth in this moment that is coming up for me is that I need to ask my children how they would like their evenings to culminate into slumber …. I know that I need to really feel into what my children really need  to truly be peacefully asleep and at peace with sleep.

Sigh…..

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No matter what approach we take with bedtime (even if you want to, ahem, teach your child learned helplessness with the “cry it out” approach : ) …… the time leading up to it, can be nurturing. Ah yes the humanistic approach: “You don’t really have a choice, but we’ll tell you that in a kind, yet subtly dismissing tone, so that you don’t know what hit you.”

Back to the Sleep Frame and the Waldorf tradition.  Consistently do the exact same “activities”  in a row before bed (the actual time of bed is secondary to the importance of the rhythm).

The pattern allows the child to receive unspoken cues  that bedtime is on its way. In time, the body associates the rhythm with “slowing down” and resting. As well, the rhythm itself is nurturing and gives the child a sense of security of expecting the “slowing down” and knowing what is next.

The sleep frame can be used to soften “sleep manipulation” and to create nurturing time  with our children before they FREESLEEP?  Did I just coin a new term?

Will you join me in freeing our children from the “shackles” of “sleep manipulation”?

Tell me about your evening rhythm or “Sleep Frame”  or lack of it (please tell me I’m not the only one!) and the quality it brings to your evening and relationship to your children?

Keep me accountable and inspire me, K? Seriously if I can dig myself out of the “sleep hole dramas” that I have created in my life, anyone can!

Can’t we parents just accept it as the nature of babies and children to resist sleep and wake up in the middle of the night… and adjust our life around it.

This is possible if  we do not resist (hey, we are asking them not to resist! Do as I say, not as I do!) If we choose to accept it, the inspiration for how to “be” with it will come! But not with resistance in the way!

I don’t say this smugly, I can certainly attest to the difficulty of this. I have always resisted it, but I can see that it is possible.

Regardless of the difficulty of it, we must acknowledge that bedtime in the modern world is “artificial” and that we are imposing “bedtime” on our children.

The issue is not a problem of our children, but rather a problem of our modern culture and societal expectations. What will they think if I DON”T sleep manipulate, and will my child never “self sleep regulate” if I don’t make them?

Before the invention of the light bulb, do you think getting kids to sleep was a huge issue? I would like to know if there is any written documentation of this struggle in “the old days”. Anyone?

And let’s acknowledge that we would not ourselves like to be treated the way children are treated at bedtime. Someone else telling us when our day is done?  Hah! Wouldn’t that bring up a nasty dose of internal counter will? Remember the scripture “Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself.”

Do the Sacred Laws not apply to children?

What about trusting our children to find their own bedtime rhythm?

Does mindful parenting end at bedtime?

I am by no means a master of  bedtime (I keep mentioning this to make sure that everyone understands that I am not offering “wise” advice, but rather a manic inquisition that will hopefully inspire more insights and questions…maybe even some answers with your help!).

I have tried both nursing my babies to sleep, walking them in a sling to sleep, being with them while they cry themselves to sleep…… and then as toddlers, I slept with them…I’ve let them cry themselves to sleep and yelled and stomped and had temper tantrums of my own, while trying to “sleep manipulate” them.

What I can say is that none of these methods worked, regardless of whether I tried them for days, months or years. No approach can guarantee that our children will sleep at our whim… and I tried opposite approaches with each of my children. Either sleep manipulating doesn’t work anyway, or I just suck at it!

Where Did I go Wrong?

Honestly, I think the basic missing pieces in my experience of  “sleep manipulation” was a nurturing bedtime experience:
1) not keeping a rhythm around sleep (not about time, but about what leads into bedtime aka: Sleep Frame “Waldorfian speak”)
2) being really frustrated and impatient “on the inside” and sometimes “on the outside” too,  thus causing my children to feel insecure
3) not fulfilling my children’s sense of trust that all is well in the world -following my own whims and impulses as they arise, instead of  modeling  a rhythm and embracing sleep myself (what am I doing right now writing at 12:12 am?) Is that healthy and should God jump in and force (sleep manipulate) me to bed?

Honestly, who cares if they slept easily? Looking back on my life, I would rather be able to say that we connected and shared our love with one another at the end of each day. Period.

What would happen if we as parents nurtured bedtime and trusted our children to adopt their own sleeping rhythm? Would all hell break loose?

This is the approach that I have been envisioning  for a long time but have been afraid to give into…how long will it take until they settle in…..how many late night binges (rebellions?) will they feel they need to have, to trust that I am handing them back their “sleep power”?

Also I have to come back  to the question of the nature of our society and what we do with our night time. In times past, did we live in little nuclear “boxes”, alone with just one other adult and computers and TV’s to entertain us? NO, so then what?

I assume that we just went to bed at the same time as our offspring because it was DARK! And did we not live with others? Was not our entertainment and leisure time about community? Come on Anthropologists enlighten me!

If you were sitting round a fire or kitchen hearth with other family members or members of your tribe or community, wouldn’t your kids just fall asleep on your lap or at your breast while you continued your conversation uninterrupted. Or maybe they just fell asleep where they landed? Aren’t beds just a modern construct too?

I have to say that I was a very happy child to fall asleep on a pile of “parkas” (uh, is that a Canadian term? I mean Jackets, eh! ) on nights out and about, with my parents at family gatherings or “nights out” at their friends.

Oh and pajamas…..I gave that one up months ago! At first I started with, “Ok fine, if you don’t want to wear your pajamas, then you have to at least wear tomorrow’s clean clothes to bed”. AND then I let that go too. Who says beds have to be clean? Seriously, don’t tell my mom.

Why is it such a challenge to get babies and children to sleep? Let’s look at this question first from the baby’s point of view. It will be a stream of consciousness kind of inquiry…..

This is what I think:
Babies can feel their parents attachment to having them go to sleep, which of course breeds insecurity and resistance to sleep, because of fear and confusion…..Baby questions “Why do they want me to go away” or “why do they want to leave me alone?”……Sleep is a funny place for a baby…….she/he asks: “Do I get to come back after I go there”and “Will my mom still be here?”

And now for the parents point of view:
We want time alone, we have things to do…….we want them to sleep so that we can sleep.

We are all just trying to get our needs met, are we not!?

In this culture (more on this in PART 2), parents have to “teach” baby to fall asleep because we want “adult time”. The reason it is so challenging  to make our kids go to sleep, is because we are “making them“.

While we can essentially manipulate the child to sleep, can sleeping really be taught?

Should we impose sleeping on another being?

Is it possible to find consensus between their needs and ours?

How can we reason with a baby or child who lives in the realm of emotion and knows us primarily in the context of meeting their needs?

How to Sleep Manipulate without Inducing Fear in Our Babies (or so I have read): (I am sure this “sleep manipulate” talk will trigger some, I didn’t coin the term so don’t blame me! I am only the messenger… yet this language resonates as truth for me…even though I know that most parents do not think or intend to manipulate..said for the sensitive types).

Oh and by the way, while your baby might not be scared, they will still be emotional!

AKA: MAD AS HELL!

So what if we are attached (no judgment intended, I have and still have much lingering attachment in this area!) to having our baby or our child sleep at a specific time, but we do not want them to feel abandonment, loneliness or fear?

Here’s an idea:

We go into bed with the baby and just be there…. we hold our hand on the baby, but we don’t move it or sing or soothe Soothing in any way, will likely cause baby to “need you”!  Newsflash! Our baby’s feel that they need us, when they do, feelings can’t be argued with, they (feelings) just are, whether rational or not, good luck!

Anyways, the point is that if you soothe you will likely continue to be an essential and needed part of your own manipulation and that is not what you want. Remember you are “sleep manipulating”  so that you don’t have to be the pacifier. Isn’t that the point?

So what is it exactly that I am trying to say? Whose side is this lady on anyway? I don’t know….I don’t believe in the cry it out approach…I do understand parents yearning for bedtime to simple and uncomplicated….I am just thinking out loud.

So just be there and don’t leave until baby is truly asleep, EVER (baby needs to trust that you will not leave in order to feel relaxed enough to let go to the sleeping urge). Baby will cry, because baby is mad (but remember, baby may also have a tummy ache because of poor digestion so please address that)!

Now if you end up trying this  “lesser of evils”  approach to the ” full-out abandonment cry it out approach”  DON’T ever say that I said to let your baby cry in pain! Digestive upsets are handled best by supporting digestive health, relief of stress, and nervous system alignment through homeopathy, chiropractic, craniosacral therapy etc. Babies that cry inconsolably or raise their legs to their chest or stiffen their bodies can also be in pain! Now that I think about it, even if your baby is not in pain, these methods of calming the nervous system could help your baby relax and sleep easier!

So back to my bright idea (sarcasm):

If you are sure that your baby is not in pain, just be with baby, until he learns to sleep. Assist baby to fall asleep at the appropriate time (when baby is obviously tired, not according to your whims….follow your baby).

Hopefully your baby will slowly figure out how to fall asleep. Remember, your baby need not feel abandoned or afraid that you will leave, because you never do (until they are asleep). They know you are there, because they can see your loving eyes and feel your presence. Let it be emphasized, do not gaze with impatient  or even worse ANGRY eyes (been there, done that). Nobody will win that battle. You’ll  be the one to give in, because now you’ll feel compelled to console your scared child and you will ultimately be left feeling guilty.

Parents who choose to take this more gentle approach instead of letting baby’s cry it out, must be very confident and not display any guilt or confusion about not  “doing something”, other wise baby will feel the insecurity and will then himself be insecure (insecurity breeds insecurity) and therefore continue to resist sleeping. As long as baby isn’t in pain and his/her crying is only resistance to change, that might be ok….I don’t know, YOU ARE  this child’s mother/father. If both mother and father feel this choice is right for their family without inner conflict, then I suspect that baby will come to accept it and feel safe.

Has this approached worked for anyone? While I don’t think that this situation is ideal either, it seems like the best compromise that I can come up with from what I’ve heard and read. Haven’t got to the consensus part quite yet.

I will never know if it would have worked for us when our kids were babies….I just nursed my babies down and “stole” away once they fell asleep…at about the age of  1 “ish” my husband began helping…lying down with Isaiah and walking Jasmine down in the sling….which she protested every night for an hour until she was at least 1 and 1/2, maybe older, I think I’ve done near blocked that out (said with a southern drawl). She’s a Taurus!

OK, so I have “nattered” quite a bit…made some statements and asked some questions. …probably imposed some judgment, BUT don’t worry, it says more about me than it does about you, then again, if you are triggered, it says something about you too! Gosh I doth be love new age philosophy!

What are your thoughts?

Do we have a choice other than to “sleep manipulate” if we want an uninterrupted night life? Or are we shitty selfish parents for imposing this on our sweet innocent little babies?

What is the alternative?

http://www.naturalparenting.com.au/flex/articles/7892/the-zen-bedtime-the-stress-free-end-to-the-day.cfm

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