I'm a relatively new mom; my son is 14 months old. I'm also a working mom, and as any new, and especially working, mom will tell you, the mom guilt can be over-everything: overpowering, overwhelming, overbearing -- every over-adjective you can think of. But most of all, the mom guilt weighs on your heart with such heaviness that sometimes you can't breathe.
Moms feel guilt over many things -- taking time for themselves, working, having a life, having hobbies and interests outside of being a mom. And what moms with experience tell me is that the guilt lessons over time, and eventually you learn to balance your individuality with your identity as a mother. It definitely took me a good year to stop feeling the guilt of leaving my son at daycare for work, or even taking time to attend a friend's wedding or go out with my husband and enjoy a date night. And the reason I overcame the guilt was in large part due to supportive mom friends, my husband and the mom community who insisted that there is nothing to feel guilty about, that your child loves you no matter what, so you need to love yourself back and enjoy some quality "me" time (and quality time with your husband and friends).
That's why this post on Alternative Mama struck me so hard. It's a letter from a sleep-training baby. Yes, you read that right. (Man, I wish my infant could write letters, because it would certainly give me a lot of insight into what is going on in his mischievous little mind when he's flinging food and banging cabinet doors open and shut.)
Reading this article -- if you can call it that -- was like a slap in the face from the sisterhood of moms. The post is from 2011 and I read it when another mom posted it this week on one of the mom groups on Facebook that I am a part of.
In part, the post says ...
I am used to falling asleep in your soft, warm arms. Each night, I lay snuggled close to you; close enough to hear your heartbeat, close enough to smell your sweet fragrance. I gaze at your beautiful face as I gently drift off to sleep, safe and secure in your loving embrace. When I awaken with a growling stomach, cold feet or because I need a cuddle, you attend to me quickly and before long I am sound asleep once again.
But this last week has been different.
Each night this week has gone like this. You tucked me up into my cot and kissed me goodnight, turned out the light and left. At first I was confused, wondering where you'd gone. Soon I became scared, and called for you. I called and called for you mummy, but you wouldn't come! I was so sad, mummy. I wanted you so badly. I've never felt feelings that strong before. Where did you go?
It goes on to say:
This happened again, over and over. I screamed for you and after a while, longer each time, you would return but you wouldn't hold me.
After I had screamed a while, I had to stop. My throat hurt so badly. My head was pounding and my tiny tummy was growling. My heart hurt the most, though. I just couldn't understand why you wouldn't come.
After what felt like a lifetime of nights like this, I gave up. You don't come when I scream, and when you do finally come you won't even look me in the eye, let alone hold my shaking, sobbing little body. The screaming hurt too much to carry on for very long.
I just don't understand, mummy... Now, at night time, I am quiet. But I still miss you.
Now, sleep training is a very heated, emotional debate. With many opinions, arguments and methods. But in the vast array of topics when it comes to infant parenting, from breastfeeding, to starting solids, to co-sleeping, very few decisions are black-and-white. Obviously there are also definitive right-and-wrong lines in parenting, especially when it comes to discipline, and a good parent knows the difference.
My son woke up for two hours every night during months three through five-and-a-half. We were zombies, somehow making it to work and sounding coherent throughout the day. It was at the almost six month mark that we tried a "no cry" sleep training method (FYI, there's crying in all sleep training) and thankfully, within three days, he learned to sleep through the night. That moment was life-altering for us, as individuals and as a family. Getting a full night's rest made us better parents, because we were able to actually enjoy the days with our son without the cloud of exhaustion following us around.
Sure, over the course of the last year there have been disruptions and ups and downs. But the bottom line is choosing to sleep train is a personal choice -- to be made without being judged or criticized. Each family is different and each family has their own philosophies and beliefs. But whatever those philosophies, no mom should be made to feel guilty for trying to sleep train her child, even if you disagree with the philosophy. Motherhood is an evolving journey and moms should embrace the diversity, not demean it.