When I was pregnant, I remember being thrust a variety of information leaflets, all of which I read studiously before putting to one side. Some leaflets told me about breastfeeding, others told me about sleeping and yet more told me about weaning.
They all claimed to be the “right” and “only” method that any sane parent should follow.
Of course, when my baby arrived in the world I realised that no leaflet had the answer to every question – and it was very likely the leaflet in the GP surgery wouldn’t match the leaflet at the baby massage class or the leaflet at the breastfeeding support group or the leaflet at the baby sensory session.
They all disagreed, because they were all written by people with a different background and approach to the role of being a parent.
It was about the time of this realisation that I chucked all the leaflets in the bin and followed my wise mother’s advice, to “follow my instincts”. Because, really, as a parent those instincts are all you have. If going against them makes you upset or feel a strange knot in your stomach, then the approach you’ve taken isn’t working, so take another one.
I’ve battled against any attempts to “label” my methods when it comes to bringing up my daughter. I even shy away from the word “parenting” because, to me, it makes it seem like being a mother to my child is some sort of activity that I’m following, rather than just living life.
This time last year I wrote an article for a magazine about Baby-led Weaning, the route we took with our daughter. For my bio, I was asked to describe my “parenting approach”. I replied that I didn’t have an approach – or not one that could be easily labelled anyway. If anything, it was the “make it up as you go along” approach. That is still true today.
When my baby was but a mere slip of a thing, we packed her off to her own room, to sleep in the snore-free peace of her cot. Her long limbs meant she woke herself up kicking the sides of her moses basket, and her father’s blocked nose meant she was often woken mid milky slumber. This went against the “rules” in the leaflet, that you should sleep with your baby in your room until they were six months old.
I fretted a bit, sleeping with both doors to the rooms wide open and a baby monitor taped to the side of my head. Eventually the buzzing of the monitor and my softly sleeping baby told me to relax, and I accepted that moving her a bit further away, into a bigger bed, was the right decision – for us.
I sometimes felt a pang of guilt when other mums told me of their night-time cuddles with their babies in their own beds, often complaining with sleep deprived eyes that their baby “won’t sleep on his own”. I liked the idea of cuddling next to my baby, in my bed, falling asleep next to each other. But the reality – that my baby was a lanky little thing that kicked and squirmed and didn’t appreciate cuddles while drifting off to the land of nod – meant this thing called “co-sleeping” was never on the cards.
As Frog grew older, there were times when she would allow me to lie next to her, needing me close to her to help fall asleep. These times were rare and never ended with her in our bed at night. Often they’d see me lying on the floor of the cot next to her, holding her hand. Or lying next to her on my bed in the afternoon, trying to encourage her to give in to the exhaustion she fought.
And now, here we are.
Frog still likes her space. At 2 years and 2 months, she sleeps in a “big girl’s bed” and will often go from 13 to 14 to 15 hours a night. But there have been times recently – new times – where we’ve dabbled in a bit of co-sleeping action.
On holiday, for example. As fine as our glamping tent was, as sturdy and cosy and luxurious as the canvas walls were, they didn’t hide the noise of the seagulls at 4am. Or the wind flapping against the ropes outside.
So, for that week, my toddler fell asleep in her own bed and woke at around 3am, calling for me. Instead of battling with her to keep her in her own bed, scared of “making a rod for my own back” etc etc, I plonked her down beside me and drifted off with her curled against me like a cuddly little cat.
(Her dad, obviously, found himself relegated to the other bed. Being 6ft 5″ doesn’t suit co-sleeping, apparently.)
Fast-forward a few weeks later, to the last few days, and we’ve found ourselves in a similar situation.
Frog has woken up itchy and grumpy with chicken pox in the middle of the night, calling, “MUUUUUUMMY!” On these rare occasions, a flask of milk and a cuddle is usually enough to settle her and see her spend the rest of the night in her own bed. But the other night was different. The other night she got out of her bed and pushed open her door, before toddling into our bedroom and getting into bed with us at 4am.
It was rather nice actually.
And the following night when she woke up, I didn’t even try and get her to sleep in her own bed. I simply plonked her into bed next to me and we both drifted off to a contented sleep until proper morning.
But now I’m back to work. And proper morning for me IS 4am. So the co-sleeping has to be put on hold. As much as I like the odd nightly cuddle and the way my two year old reaches for my hand in the night, the thought of her getting up at 4am to face a day of grumpiness is not an option.
Luckily, she’s slept through the last couple of nights. It seems the chicken pox has done its worse and is leaving her be, for now at least.
So yet again, I find myself with a label I can’t stick to. I’m a fake co-sleeper. A fairweather co-sleeper.
But you know what? That suits me just fine.