I admit it. I totally have a Guru (well, other than my child guru). Her name is Byron Katie and her message is all about radical acceptance. With regard to some of my daunting health challenges, one of her messages recently hit home and right in the gut:
“How do you live when you believe that your health problems shouldn’t be there? You can’t even tell us the truth. You can’t even cough or blow your nose honestly, or let us know you’re not feeling well. Who would you be without the story “I should feel better”? You’d be free.”- Byron Katie
But I remember when sleep was turmoil at my house and I asked myself the question:
“How do you live when you believe that your child should not wake up often at night.”
On all of the moms pages and blogs out there, I have been hearing moms come out about how often their little ones are waking up. For instance, you can “like” Evolutionary Parenting on Facebook and find this link with moms chiming in on how many times their young toddlers still wake up to nurse. Nursing and especially co-sleeping babies sleep less deeply. Period.
We can choose that there is something inherently wrong with our particular child, or we can choose to think there is something inherently wrong with human design thus far (I remember repeating to myself that my daughter’s sleep problems were “biologically mal-adaptive” because everyone needs sleep!) Or, you can choose to see your child as perfect even though you are dead tired.
Byron Katie’s 4 Questions get me back in touch with reality so that I can stop fighting it and start being grateful:
Step 1 Is it true?
Step 2 Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
Step 3 How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
Who would you be without the thought?
Then, turn the words around. (Mine was: firstly, My child doesn’t constantly wake up. It could be more frequent. Another was “I (not my child) constantly wake up.” And that was more true because I could have slept through many stirrings if I hadn’t already been a light sleeper to begin with. I could also change “my child is a bad sleeper” to “my child is a good sleeper” and actually believe that because she seemed to be getting enough sleep for herself.
We went through awful medical tests until I got a diagnosis of a sleep disorder, but there was nothing doctors would to help and I had to wait it out. If I had been able to see my daughter as normal, I wouldn’t have put her through tests. If I had been able to see my daughter as normal, I would have started earlier on the gentle sleep learning methods which eventually helped us and which I now teach other parents. But I didn’t begin to use my brains and intuition to teach her how to sleep better because I was so caught up in believing there was something wrong with her that had to be found out.
There is nothing wrong with saying “My child wakes constantly at night to nurse and that’s normal. AND I am losing my mind and I need to try to teach her how to sleep better with a little less help from me, gradually and where I am still present to her.”
There’s also nothing wrong with saying, “My child wakes constantly but it is normal and so I’m going to tough it out and pray things get a lot better around 2years.” Doing something to change the way things are and doing nothing should both start with getting educated about what is natural and what is possible and then, as Byron Katie says in the title of a book, LOVING WHAT IS.
I hate to say it, but I would have truly loved my child even more if I had accepted the stopped thinking that she shouldn’t wake up. That was less than two years ago but in that amount of time, there is so much more information discussed about the evolutionary biology of infant sleep and so many more parents admitting it is happening to them. My friend’s two month breastfed, co-sleeping baby sleeps through the night. Bless them, but that is very unusual.
Accept that child exactly as he is. Accept that parenting almost always means sleep deprivation. (Or resolve to accept whatever is challenging about your child (my friend just had this breakthrough about her high-energy toddler). Give in. Give yourself over to your child. Find lots of other parents online and join groups around you to talk about how little sleep you are getting. Spend some days wallowing in it without using your mind to try to fix it.
Develop a phrase you can believe in when people ask you if your child sleeps through the night Like, “It really drives me crazy but it is just her normal so I’m going with it until it gets better” or “It seems to be totally normal for her, but I would like to get some more sleep and so we are working on teaching her some new things about sleep.” Maintain a sense of humor. Cuss into your pillow. But don’t wish it different.
If you are breastfeeding and co-sleeping, accept that breastfeeding and co-sleeping might mean you might get less sleep than some other parents, and own your choice to do it anyway. Accept attending to a woken child is a gift you give to the child- you literally give away your sleep. You can even tell people “I am willingly giving away my sleep for a while in order to protect our attachment for her emotional health. That’s why we don’t do Cry It Out.”
What I want parents to do is “Like” the Facebook page, “the Work of Byron Katie” Because the words of wisdom on that page will change your life. If they change your life, read her books and start doing her simple 4 steps on all of your life’s challenges. More from Katie on parenting:
“Here’s how a child listens: you tell him something, and he puts his own interpretation on what you said. That’s what he hears. No one has ever heard you.” – Byron Katie
“You can’t have your daughter as long as you have a concept of her. When you get rid of the concept, you meet your daughter for the first time. That’s the way this works.” -Byron Katie
And if you are thinking about sleep, I’ll give you another tidbit from Katie:
“Sleep just gives the ego a little time out. It has to stay strong in order to be something that it isn’t. “
Lets just say lack of sleep in the first 18 months definitely broke down my ego, and more. Mostly because I came closer to a spiritual understanding that I cannot control everything. She was my baby and I was skilled with babies but it seemed that nothing I did could make her stop waking up. My experience is that motherhood’s sleep deprivation broke me. My daughter is also my Guru. Sometimes I call her my Other God. How grateful I am, because I learned that I could do anything and survive anything.
Do you have a Guru? Have the teachings helped you with parenting? If not, how has your child been your Guru?
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Oh my goodness, I feel like I’m reading my own experience (except maybe for the fantastic guru quotes and wisdom)… My daughter is 4 and still rarely sleeps through the night. I basically haven’t slept “normally” in over 4 years… I DO feel rather crazy and frayed much of the time – I also have a 9 month old, so I’m on night duty for his many wakings now – but for months, no, years I struggled (still sometimes struggle) with just accepting, embracing, who she IS, and for whatever it’s worth she’s just a kid who doesn’t sleep well, but for her that’s her normal. But WOW, is that hard to accept some days.
I night weaned her out of sheer desperation and fear at nearly 3 yrs. I was pregnant and I’m sad to say that my first thoughts when I saw those double lines on that stick were fraught with fear mainly bc I didn’t know how I could have another child when I was
so so run down. We nightweaned but it was so hard, though I do feel necessary for me and my mental and physical health especially, and even after she still woke up a lot…
I think many people hear my story and search for reasons, answers, of *why* my kid doesn’t sleep (extended nursing, cosleeping, permissive parenting, blah blah) and the less I think about their judgments the better off I am.
I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to crawl in a hole, or pummel the person, who asked me if my daughter was sleeping througj the night – now they ask about my son!! – your advice about “find an answer you can live with” is GREAT and I wish I had read this wonderful post a few years ago, but since my son isn’t sleeping through yet I am still happy to have stumbled across it.
Dana, response like this is why I write! thank you for sharing your story and your kind words. I can’t imagine having a second one while the first still isn’t sleeping. Strength be with you! -Moorea
Interesting. This is very similar to the understanding I’ve reached after 26 months of nighttime parenting. I have a kid who slept through the night at 2 months… and then started waking again at 6 months. Every time his sleep pattern changes, I go through a rough patch where I lament how it used to be and how I wish it was… and then my experience improves as soon as I’m able to accept the fact that this is how it is now. And that it’s okay.
By the way, I found this article about “the myth of the 8-hour sleep” very affirming: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16964783
Such a good post. I am pretty much to the point where I am OK with sleep deprivation. Yeah OK, I’d like more sleep. Some days I want to change things but lately I am just OK with where we are. Yeah we wake up a lot. But she is healthy and happy and goodness knows we’ve gone through much more heartache than this with her. Thanks for reinforcing this. I totally should have reached out to the sleep deprived mamas out there.
Interesting you called it ‘heartache’, Leah. It certainly was that for you. You have huge perspective on sleep. What a a thriving, smart and gorgeous girl you have. Each kiddo so different and so perfect in her own way!!