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Excerpt from “Nurturing the New Family”  http://nurturingfamily.homestead.com/index.html

With the constant change and the many surprises of motherhood, establishing a rhythm around self care is essential since we can’t live by the clock. In order to do this, we have to select some self care activities to weave into our day and do them at the same interval. For example, we have our bath before bed. The time that we get to bed might be different, but the ritual of for example, bath before bed, stays the same. Or we might make breakfast and then make tea and sit down to read something inspiring while nursing our baby. We might go for walks after supper.

Sounds good doesn’t it, but do we trust ourselves to follow through on it? Upon reading this, a dear friend expressed to me as somebody who has often struggled with this concept “Great plan. But who really does that? And how do I actually achieve this?” Her response brings to mind some distinctions that are begging to be made on the topic of establishing a rhythm. And just so it be known, I am often very successful at failing miserably at rhythms myself! Remember how I compared motherhood earlier on as a spiritual path of practice?

The concept for establishing rhythms as a way of being with children and homemaking comes from Waldorf early childhood education. Upon discovering it, for many it seems like a beautiful and conscious way of being with the tasks of homemaking. But in reality, it is not so easy to keep a rhythm on our own. While our ancestors naturally fell into rhythms, they had a group consciousness around this and accountability to each other about how an individuals’ time was spent. Mother’s don’t have these things of which I speak. This is both a curse and a blessing. The work of homemaking is much harder than living in a community or tribe because there is little joy in work that has no social element, yet it is nice not to have to answer to other people if you don’t feel like doing your dishes!

Rhythms are difficult to keep because in modern motherhood, you don’t have a boss breathing down your shoulder insisting that you look busy! As a product of our culture, you are programmed to be externally, not internally motivated. Think back to your days at work. How did you pass the time, make the day go by at a tolerable pace? You had rhythms!

This brings me to another spiritual comparison of motherhood. Establishing rhythms is also a path of self actualization. You are learning after many years of being programmed to submit to the will of authority (in both the educational system and the workforce) how to now assume authority as the boss of your own life. In a sense the chaos we can feel amidst the harried life of busyness coupled with the social alienation of being at home all day by ourselves with young children is kind of like the breakdown before the break though into our own freedom. You eventually discover the discipline within that allows you to follow your own will, instead of giving into your whims.

So while cultivating order and rhythms could be part of transforming the “frenzy of homemaking with children in tow”, it could also be taken on as yet another expectation of ourselves or high ideal to live up to.  Yet the point about having a rhythm is that, it is a practice, we keep coming back to it. We don’t ever arrive…. but giving up “getting there”, gets us closer to our goal!

We give up by acknowledging that we are never going to get it right, get it perfect. We just need keep coming back to rhythm as we would in meditation, come back to our thoughts.

We may follow our whims for weeks or months at a time and then suddenly wake up to our unsettled feelings, depression or lack of satisfaction with our life and remember oh ya, I need a rhythm.

Upon first glance, many people assume that to have a rhythm is to make restrictions in one’s life. But it isn’t so. Rhythms help us do the stuff that we need to do for our health and well-being and thus enabling us to be truly spontaneous without guilt or should be’s creeping up on us when adventure calls us elsewhere. Rhythms allow us to do things on autopilot so that we don’t waste precious energy thinking about when to do things that should require little thought. Do we plan and think about, or dread brushing our teeth? Or do we just do it every night before we go to bed (giving it little thought). Our self care rhythms, from journaling to housework, can become as easy as brushing our teeth when we lose our resistance to them!

The following excerpt illustrates beautifully how rhythm can conserve our energy, an essential self care practice for motherhood!

“In the rhythmic system also we find organically expressed that quality of movement which has already been alluded to in connection with the power of feeling. The rhythmic system never tires. The limbs will go no further at the end of a mere days walk; the brain becomes exhausted with a few hours concentrated thinking; but the heart and lungs must pulse and stir without rest by day or night from the first intake of mortal air to the last out breathing of the breath of life.  It is due to this tirelessness of the rhythmic system that all work is less fatiguing in proportion as it is done rhythmically and, being so done, rests on the rhythmic system of the body. The old customs of singing and chanting at work were based on this knowledge and students of fatigue in modern times have only rediscovered the importance of making movements rhythmical if they are not to tire. But because the connection of the rhythmic system with the power of feeling is not understood, people have not begun to study the effect of feeling on the nature of fatigue.” p.18 “The Way of a Child” A.C. Hardwood

Rhythms should not be set in stone either, but rather fluid and changing with the particular needs that we have in our life. I find that it helps to sit down with a piece of paper and write them down so that we can keep coming back to it and revising it as we see what works and what doesn’t for us.

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“Love itself has the power to heal. To really appreciate and enjoy motherhood a woman must be loved. Unloved, she will invariably abuse or neglect her children in some way. The pain, effort and work of motherhood is rendered beautiful through her lover.” Lee Maracle from I A Woman-A Native Perspective On Sociology and Feminism

How else could a woman yield fully to her femininity without a strong masculine counterbalance? In case anyone is getting excited, I am not referring to gender, but referring to “essence”. The Yin and Yang as it were.

This quote resonates fully with me ….when I am fully in my feminine essence, I find motherhood and homemaking much easier…but if the bills aren’t getting paid or my partner is distant or pursuing me sexually without first connecting and loving me….I get aggressive and bitchy and I don’t feel like doing those damn dishes again for the 5th time today or getting someone another glass of water…I want to walk out that door and start manifesting something else…..this takes my presence away from the home and gives me the feeling of being trapped inside of it….

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?

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