By Philip Hoad (Originally posted on The Beyond Sleep Training Project group page)
A first-time posting dad writes (long-windedly)…
This post is not a request for support, more a sharing of philosophy; it might be repetitious but hopefully not against the grain for the group. It’s really my attempt to work out why the hell it is that so many people seem to get sucked into the sleep training vortex…
Brief backstory: my amazing, gentle, tenacious, selfless, sleep-starved, bloody-minded, boob machine wife and I are 12 months into the journey with our second son. Our first was a wakeful infant and was around 10-12 months before he slept through without needing some comfort. He seemed to take longer to ‘get it’ than other babies but we just blundered along as first time parents do, sending my wife into a really tough place along the way. Our second is a whole other level of difficult… 12 months in and the longest single sleep he’s had must be 3.5 hours, with an average night including about 5/6 awakenings, punctuating stretches that are usually 1-2 hours long. Some nights are much worse.
We have read a lot. We have learned much about infant sleep, developmental milestones, the wondrous wonders of breastfeeding, and the remarkable human body. We now know there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with our little sleep-thief, which makes it all the harder to just keep going until he doesn’t need us quite so much. But we do and we will, because we love the little bugger and can’t bear the thought of not helping him when he needs us most.
We have agonised over what to do. We have spent many nights in different beds so at least one of us (me, the one without milky boobs) gets some sleep, so as to be useful to the other.
And all the while, we have had the same first questions every parent seems to get: “is he a good baby?”, “is he sleeping through yet?”, followed swiftly by “have you tried sleep school?”.
We never, ever liked the idea of letting babies cry; it was intuitively wrong to us, right from day 1. But it was everywhere and we couldn’t understand why. And so, to my point:
We have come to feel that the sleep training movement is closely analogous to fundamentalist religious zealotry. The fervour with which its supporters espouse its virtues, the vehemence with which they defend their stance, their attacks on those who believe (or experience) differently, and the willingness to surrender reason and sensitivity in favour of someone else’s persuasive words, all sound far too familiar.
I am not saying that religious belief and gentle parenting are incompatible, far from it. I do however see parallels between the sleep training / gentle parenting divide and the fundamentalist religious doctrine / secular humanist standoff. Being an atheist, data-driven, science-loving type, I’ve had the odd debate with people who value belief above all else, and who are willing to accept as true, things which I tend to react to with “that doesn’t sound right, where can I see some published, peer-reviewed, controlled experiment based research to back it up?”. I have very similar conversations with people who advocate sleep training, and I almost always end up backing away from the discussion mumbling something about it “not being right for us”, rather than attacking it head on as something that I see as selfish, dangerous, and cruel. I do so because I know I’m likely to end up in a dead end debate where I bang my head against a brick wall. I have seen numerous examples of others being lambasted by sleep training advocates, conjuring up images of a Monty Python-esque stoning of a blasphemer.
I think there is something deeply engrained in the human psyche for many people which allows them to take on a belief if it supports their existing worldview, and which defends those beliefs in the face of reason, (alternative!) facts, or their own instinct. Sadly, the propaganda machine for sleep training advocates has wormed its way into our collective psyche to the point where many accept its legitimacy without question. This makes the journey for those of us who would ordinarily trust ourselves much harder.
But there is hope!
I think the hope comes from groups such as this, where like-minded folks can share their thoughts, doubts, experiences, wins, and setbacks; it comes from talking about what we see and feel and it comes from trusting our own eyes, ears, guts, and boobs. It comes from gaining the courage to question the accepted wisdom. It won’t happen overnight, but I think the movement is gaining ground and I’m proud to stand alongside all the other bleary-eyed parents who advocate listening to their babies and themselves.
Rambling over, I’m going to get back to trying to support my hero-wife through the toughest (but finite!) months of our lives.
Power to you, mums and dads. We’ll get there!
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