Before you start thinking ‘three in a bed, what’s not to love?…’, let me make it clear I am talking babies here.
Before you have them, other parents joke about ‘sleepless nights’, but until you become a parent yourself you just don’t appreciate the hell of being kept awake all night by the horrendous squawky crying and irritating writhing that babies combine so well.
Anyway, regular readers will have gathered by now that my parenting style is fairly ‘instinctive’, (a euphemism my critics may say for lazy or ill-informed), and the books I read and the friendships I form are chosen very carefully, designed to support rather than inform the choices I make.
We all know that you can find a study (or friend) to back up any argument, and I always manage to justify the decisions I make. It’s a bit like shopping – “But these shoes were in the sale, so technically I have saved money, and they go with everything, so represent excellent cost per wear value..”
I’d be the first to admit that my parenting isn’t always selfless, but honestly, TV can be terribly educational you know. There are some choices I make though that, although they have not made my life easy for me at the time, I feel confident were absolutely the right thing to do for us.
One of these is sleep. Bee slept through the night from six weeks old. I don’t say this in a gloating way, it’s just a fact. Although at the time I smugly put it down to my ‘laid back parenting style’ (oh what a young foolish woman I was), on reflection I realise it was just luck. She did however sleep in the same room as me, and at times in a bed pushed right up against mine, until she was at least 18 months old. If I’m honest this was less a philosophical standpoint and more a matter of logistics, living as we were then with my mum in one bedroom. It felt right though, and I never had the urge to push her out into her own room.
And then I had Belle.
It would be fair to say that Belle didn’t sleep quite as well as her sister. In fact, she woke up regularly at hourly intervals throughout the night until she was about two, and it was only when she started school that she began to sleep right through.
Many of these nights were spent with her in our bed, often with her Dad relegated to a mattress on the floor. When she got older she moved into her own room, but this just meant I had further to stumble in the night when she woke crying, and that I slept even less. If you’ve ever done that teenage thing of sharing a single bed with another person, it’s like that, only worse, as you can’t really shove a toddler against the wall in protest of them stealing all the covers. Well you can, but I believe it is frowned upon in parenting circles.
My point is…what is my point?…ah yes, my point is that I never resorted to controlled crying. Babies only really have one way of telling us something is wrong, and although it’s a shame that the one way is so loud and piercing, it has a purpose. Whatever the parenting gurus like to have us believe, babies don’t cry as some kind of elaborate mind game, to test us, or to prove a point. They cry because they are upset and need comforting. So when my babies cried, I comforted them. Sounds obvious doesn’t it, but there are plenty of parents who don’t do it.
I was delighted therefore to have my choices validated this weekend in The Guardian by psychologist Oliver James. James’ examination of the evidence shows that ‘unresponsiveness’, i.e. ignoring your baby when it cries, has been shown to have serious long-term consequences. Having your cries go unheard as a child can make you insecure as an adult and lead to emotional vulnerability in your future relationships. James also highlights how unique we are in this country in believing babies should be sleeping alone – 79% of societies around the world normally have their infants in the same room, 44% in the same bed.
So why are co-sleepers so often made to feel like freaks? When ever anyone tells me their baby shares their bed, it tends to be in a conspiratorial whisper – ‘I know I shouldn’t, but…’. We feel guilty, weak maybe, despite the evidence showing we’re actually setting our kids up for a healthier adult life.
I thorny subject maybe, but I’m happy at least that one of my parenting choices has turned out to be a good one. Now all I need is a study showing Oreos make a wholesome breakfast and I’m set.