Many of you have asked me what type of sleep methods we use for our girls, and more specifically whether or not we co-sleep and have a family bed, or if we do things like crying-it-out or sleep training.
The fact that I get asked these questions so commonly tells me two things:
- Firstly, that many (I’d even say most) babies or toddlers go through a bad sleeping stage at some point. Yes, I do agree that some children are better sleepers than others, but I have a hard time believing that even those “good” sleepers make it to age 3, let’s say, without going through some sleep troubles sometime.
- Secondly, there is definitely an emotional stigma around sleep methods, enough so that mamas struggle over what is right, what they should do, how to do it, and especially, what others will think or say about their choices.
If these two points are correct, then we basically have tired, emotionally-insecure mamas trying to make decisions on what the best thing is for their babies.
This dillema brings me to the first parenting value that our family holds regarding sleep:
We value being whole, functional people that are well rested and recharged, so that we can love, laugh, learn, communicate, and grow effectively during our waking hours together.”
So, do we co-sleep? Well, technically yes, and no, well – it depends, sometimes but not always. And do we sleep train? Well, not really but I guess in a way, a little bit, gently.
Confused by my answer? Great! Because I want to show you that being responsible and loving does not always mean being die-hard, and I really do believe that parents can be responsible and loving regardless of which side of the fence they are on for these issues.
Before we go on, I quickly want to address something. It is my opinion that…
Sleep Training is no more damaging to a child than being an exhausted, impatient, resentful parent is.
I don’t really want to get into debating the effects and specifics of different sleep training methods in this post, but I do want to make it clear that the emotional guilt I sometimes hear thrown on families who choose some form of sleep training (gentle or not) has no room on my blog. I personally don’t believe that cry-it-out methods are necessarily psychologically damaging to a child (especially when implemented with “mature” babies, say over a year of age who are already learning to become more dependent beings naturally and being raised in a nurturing environment).
Now, that being said, CIO is pretty much my worst nightmare and I will avoid it at all costs. It goes against every maternal instinct that I have, and I think that for most parents it is very difficult to just listen to your child cry indefinitely. It is completely uncomfortable, irritating, depressing… totally hard. No one likes to do it. But, I don’t believe it permanently scars the child.
Many times the parents I talk to who have decided to sleep train choose it because sleep is going so badly for all involved that they feel at a loss.
They are no longer enjoying parenthood, and those vibes totally affect their children. Again, in my opinion, sleep training is no more damaging to a child than being an exhausted, impatient, resentful parent is.
In my own personal life, the times where I have had to wake up every 30 minutes throughout the night to nurse one of my girls or attend to them in some way (thank you growth spurts, sleep regressions, whatever you want to call them, etc!), and I got no sleep for days (sometimes weeks) on end, I watched myself turn into a mean mom. I was frustrated, defeated, tired, and unreasonable. My tone was harsh and ongoing, which I don’t stand for either.
So, whether you choose to implement some form of sleep training system or not, you can be loving and responsible, and similarly you may see yourself turn into the parent you never thought you would be on both, too.
I’d also Like to point out that Co-sleeping Doesn’t Have to Be Full time.
I have heard several mamas say to me that they wish they could co-sleep but that it just doesn’t work practically for various reasons. I get that! But I also want to encourage parents to still get those cuddles in somewhere, and that co-sleeping doesn’t have to be implemented full time to glean emotional benefits from it.
In theory, we are a co-sleeping family and are influenced by Attachment Parenting. We would love to have a very cuddly, close family all of the time, but truthfully our relationship with co-sleeping has fluctuated based on different stages our kids were in (though we always end up reverting back).
But, sleep evolution is good. And we gotta be able to roll with it!
Back in our Parenting Values and Why you Need Them post, I shared how determining our own family’s values and using them as a filter in how we looked at different methods really helped us not to feel guilty or bogged down. We’ve been able, instead, to continuously reassess and to feel good about our decisions because we know what are end goals are.
You’ll NEED to Reassess and Rethink your strategy on sleep every so often! Here’s why:
- Baby/Toddler sleep habits are constantly changing. This might be because they need night feeds or are growing out of them, or they are teething, experiencing night-terrors, separation anxiety, wired from something they ate, overstimulated, overtired… There are so many reasons that their habits are changing, but I would say that from ages 0-3, my kids’ sleep patterns have consistently evolved. As soon as we thought we were into a routine or had things figured out, somebody changed something on us!
- Our circumstances change.
- The number of kids we have. The way we slept our first baby was totally different because she had no noise or competition for my attention; she had it good! Darla on the other hand, rarely gets to nap in total peace.
- The amount of space we have. Until one month ago, the 4 of us were living in a one-bed, 500 sq foot apartment. We now have two bedrooms and actually have room to have our own rooms.
There is going to be constant change and we have to be able to adapt. We have to be able to relook at the situations and maybe not be so die-hard about sleep training every single time there’s a change up (because let me tell you, folks, you are going to have to do it more than once)! Or, you cant even be so die-hard about being a co-sleeping family. There have been times where our kids wanted to co-sleep and times when they didn’t. There were seasons when everyone slept well together and it was bliss, and other times where it was a night-long boxing match and hell wrapped into bed sheets.
I should also mention the second parenting value that Papa Bear and I have established regarding sleep:
We value cultivating a whole, functional, and intimate marriage that will provide stability, security, and intimacy for our family”
For us, this means having the ability, yes, to have sex often, but also to talk much, to laugh together, to enjoy each other emotionally. We need space for that in our marriage! I would definitely argue that if our marriage is not healthy, it will impact our children and the attitudes that we have towards them and life in general.
These truths and these values that we established helped us to come up with our co-sleeping compromise. So, here we go…
Our Co-sleeping Compromise
In short, we decided that our kids need to spend their first nightly sleep segment outside of our bed, so that Papa Bear and I could cultivate our own relationship, practically get chores and work done without interruption, and recharge.
Here is how that compromise has practically looked in our family (but, again, remember, we weren’t die-hard on a plan, it took reevaluating every now and again and this is more a summary of what ended up happening and working for us.)
They got full reign of Mama & Papa Bear’s bed and cuddles, nursing, chest-sleeping, co-sleeping at any point that they wanted it.
They still slept in our room, but we intentionally would put them in a cot or swing next to our bed for their first sleep segment. This way our own bed was available to ourselves for “alone time,” or we had the ability to have our hands free to do the dishes, to blog, whatever. This segment normally lasted about 2-3 hours. Then I’d nurse them and we would go to bed together for the rest of the night.
If it was dark and quiet, the girls were actually such good sleepers at this point that they’d often sleep all night long. We decided to move them to their own rooms because keeping them in our area was actually breaking up their sleep. So, they’d start the night in their own room, and if they woke up at all, they were more then welcome to come nurse and sleep with us.
They started waking for night feeds again. They’d start in their crib, and come nurse/sleep with us after their first wake (just like the old days!). This continued for a while, and I would night nurse once or twice a night, pretty much in my sleep. Life was good.
Things started to get a little bit crazy and co-sleeping went down hill. The girls would be wide awake for hours (usually 1-4 am) wanting to play, or they wanted to nurse all night, they’d throw punches in their sleep, etc, and nobody was getting any sleep. We started to implement a 4:30 am rule, which basically meant they had to be in their own bed for the majority of the night but were welcome to come in and be with us in the early morning hours (4:30 on).
2 Years +:
Clementine has pretty much sleep in her own bed all night, every night since she turned 2 last year, but she does tend to come in at 6 am for morning snuggles! Every so often she’ll come in during the night, and thankfully, has developed into the sweetest, most affectionate cuddler when she does!
The tough times:
When it comes to the difficult stages (night weaning, dealing with those karate-kickers that don’t want to leave our bed but just really can’t be there, etc) there is some crying involved (albeit mostly while we were rocking or holding them). We try to be gentle, compassionate, and generous in how we handle those times, but it becomes vital for us to help our children sleep so that we can sleep, so that we can all be whole and love together.
To some people it may sound like we have lots of rules and shouldn’t push our children out like that. Others may think we are far too lenient, and that we even enable bad sleep habits.
I don’t care.
And I’d encourage you to identify your own parenting values and hold fast, not worrying when others freely disagree with what you are trying to do. (PS there is a free printable worksheet, as well as THIS post, to help you do that!)
Responsible parenting says, “I’m going to do what is truly best for my kids.”
Loving parenting says the same thing. Those statements do not involve other people. They involve your family and they involve truth. What is truly best? Well, that will take some honest evaluation of where your family is at.
Some of my favorite moments in parenthood (and life at large) have been those in which I was snuggled up next to my sleeping child, or waking to the cozy snuggles of us all together, or even opening my eyes to see my two darling daughters embraced together. But you know what? Some of my other favorite moments have been when we are home all day together, not just surviving or bored trying to fill it up with activities, but when we are actually spending quality time together because we are all well rested, functional, and whole.