Hey Mamas, it’s not about you

I don’t mean to brag, but my three month old slept through the night three nights in a row.

I promise you I’m not bragging, because my three year old did not. No, he crawled into our bed, slept their for an indeterminate number of hours before being discovered and returned to his own room. He then returned at an ungodly hour, repeatedly yelling, “Guys! It’s morning! Wake up, guys!”

It was, according to the sun, decidedly not morning.

Our middle child simply does not like to sleep, unless it is in his car seat at a decidedly inconvenient hour. Or on the couch right before dinner. Or in the middle of the hallway, mid-temper tantrum. When he was a baby, and well into his toddler years, I read every article on sleep possible. I soaked up every bit of advice I could. Nothing worked. When he was about eighteen months old, our sleep schedule looked like this:

* Put him to bed at 8pm.

* Comfort him when he woke up several times over the next two hours.

* Rock him in rocking chair from 11pm to 1 am.

* Put him down in his crib from 1am to whenever he woke up, 2 am, 3am, 4am.

* Switch with husband who would sleep with him in the recliner from then until about 5:30 when he would be awake for the day.

It was not ideal.

He has gradually gotten better, but I still wouldn’t say he sleeps through the night on any consistent basis. We tried everything to help him do so, from cry-it-out (fail) to co-sleeping (also fail). All he wanted to do was sleep in our arms, while we stayed awake.

When this baby was born, we braced ourselves for the onslaught of fatigue that was sure to hit. We went to bed each night, fully expecting to wake up never having slept. But it never came, and not because we have tried some new fantastic method (unless you can count giving up all hope).

Because it has nothing to do with us. Mamas, if you are exhausted, overwhelmed, and wondering what the hell you are doing wrong, let me tell you: Nothing. It’s got nothing to do with you.

We like to think it does. All day long, all of the parenting advice I’ve read from leading child psychologists and experts swims in my head. “Acknowledge emotions without condoning bad behaviors.” “Tell your child when you need them to do something, don’t ask.” “High iron foods are best absorbed in conjunction with Vitamin C.” “Children need at least 1 hour of active time a day, but 15 minute spurts are best.” “Calling girls beautiful hurts their self esteem.” “Overexposure to branding limits creativity.” All these tidbits of advice and rules I’m supposed to follow are harder to remember than formulas I was supposed to memorize during that semester of organic chemistry in high school.

Do you memorize formulas in organic chemistry? I don’t even remember.

We start to think that we can craft our children, making them exactly who we want to be if we just follow all the rules correctly. It’s a lie modern parents are sold (often by writers just like me, who want to share with you the latest research or interesting study). But we can’t craft them, because in reality, parenting has so little to do with the parents. We only get to guide our children down the path that nature has chosen for them. We don’t get to choose it ourselves.

Because I know you might not have chosen for your kid to be the biter in the preschool class, or to refuse to eat anything other than crackers (but the RIGHT crackers), or to scream uncontrollably every time it’s time to get in the car seat. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen for my kid to wake up approximately 37 times every night.

That’s not all to say all that research or advice is useless. For instance, I absolutely believe that early exposure to vegetables, not exclusively serving “kids food,” and only making one meal for dinner does make your kid less likely to be a picky eater. It just doesn’t guarantee it. Otherwise, my kids wouldn’t fuss every time I served a meal that doesn’t include ketchup as one of the sides. And I’m sure there are a good number of babies that can fall asleep if laid down “drowsy but awake.” And there are a good number who will scream bloody murder if you come within three feet of a crib before they are comatose.

But we don’t get to choose. We get to nurture, guide, influence, and hope. We just don’t get to choose.

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