What Sleep Training Taught Me
They sit there on my nightstand, stacked eight high, their spines decorated with pastel flourishes and encouraging titles.
They are the Leaning Tower of Promise. A promise I never tapped into. Yeah, I’m kinda stupid like that.
The Baby Sleep Books are a genre all their own. Their covers, decorated with peacefully-sleeping infants and pink and blue modern fonts, lure you in as you scroll through your phone on Amazon at 2am, nursing baby in arm. And if you’re anything like me, you buy them. Alllll of them.
These books are the seductive idyll for the new mom, guaranteeing—if you follow their rules—the one thing that mothers of infants will do anything short of kill for.
I could open a veritable library with the number of how-to-make-your-baby-sleep books that I purchased with both of my pregnancies. And yet each time I actually cracked one open one of those books, I did precisely the same thing. I skimmed the first chapter, thinking, Wow, that sounds like really good idea, then promptly lay the book back on my nightstand and ignored every last bit of advice in it.
I just couldn’t do it. I wanted to, thought I might, gave it a whirl in some cases, even… but as it turns out, I am not a Sleep Training Mom.
My lack of follow through made me feel, intermittently, lazy, uncommitted, and weak. I just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t—and that’s the only word that aptly describes it—pull the trigger on the very precise directions those books gave me, no matter how giant and juicy the dangling carrot of Sleep was at the end.
I thought about it a lot, and came to the conclusion: No matter how much I wanted, needed, that precious sleep, the whole thing just didn’t feel instinctual to me. It was forced. And if you learn anything when you become a mom, it’s to listen to that instinct first, no matter how desperately you want to do otherwise.
To some moms, that means choosing to make the sleep training work no matter what. And let’s be honest, it’s important to have a well-rested mom to take care of a baby.
But me? I chose—in no particular order—repeated wakeups for months as the babies nursed, catering to their every whine, and a whole crap-ton of complaining to my (very patient) husband about how worn out I was. Let’s just say I didn’t make for the most pleasant companion.
I don’t say any of this because I consider what I did a badge of honor, or even because I necessarily think it was the right thing to do. On the contrary, I’m not sure what I did was right. But I say it because it took me a good long while to just be okay with the type of mom I was, whether my kids were “good sleepers” or not. And I think that’s a vital lesson for all moms.
It’s not a referendum on me, as a mother, that my kids took their jolly time learning to sleep through the night. It’s simply the result of the decision I made. And that’s okay.
As the kids got older, they naturally slept better on their own. But I kept those books for some reason. I look at them as a reminder to myself that I am the mom that I am, and that—and how I parent—is good enough for my kids.
As it turns out, the only thing I really learned after spending (read: wasting) all that money on those books is that no matter what they or other people tell you about motherhood, in the end, the only thing that works for you is what feels right to you.
So don’t feel bad if you don’t hit all the targets right away, or if you don’t do what you thought you’d do as a mom.
Motherhood is an exercise in patience, for both your kids and yourself. You are enough for your kids, just as you are. Exhausted or not, good sleepers or not, able to see through a Plan or not, at the end of the day it’s only the true You that they really need.
Sonni Abatta is a mom and writer living in Orlando. Keep up with her latest stories and adventures here.Family, Motherhood.