Handling the Sleep Training Guilt

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  • August 01, 2013

adviceAs parents, we are bombarded with well-intended advice. Nearly every parent has a friend, family member, or co-worker who is convinced that they have the answers. This seems to be especially true of anything to do with helping your baby sleep. When it comes to sleep (and sleep training), everyone with kids (and some without) has an opinion. And it happens to every mom. When my daughter was an infant, I was told to wake her during the night (every two hours!!) to feed her.

Perhaps you’ve heard one of these gems:

Feed her some cereal right before bed.” (Which, by the way, is extremely poor advice, especially since this is a choking risk and most of all it doesn’t work)

“Put a bottle of water in the crib, and just let him find it.”

“Just let her cry-she’ll stop eventually.”

“If you don’t let him cry-it-out, then he’s going to be a mama’s boy (or just plain spoiled).”

“Skip her naps and she will be really tired for bedtime.”

Although most advice is well intentioned, that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to hear. And sometimes, these pieces of advice can cause us to second-guess our parenting, even our choice to have a well-rested baby. Sometimes, I think that we wonder “what if they’re right?” These nagging thoughts can create feelings of insecurity, guilt, and frustration. And you know what? Those are perfectly natural reactions. After all, your child is one in a million, and what others think may work may not sit well with your parenting style, may be unsafe, or is simply poor advice when it’s all said and done.

Sleep coaching your baby is something that is very personal-both for you and your baby. Oftentimes, those who give advice don’t understand the desire to not have your baby sobbing himself to sleep, or the fact that feeding to sleep just doesn’t work for you or it’s stopped working and now you have an over-tired baby (not to mention that feeding to sleep creates a sleep crutch that you’ll have to resolve while you’re sleep training). With our children, good quality sleep is incredibly important. Well-rested babies are happier, and, frankly, a lot more fun. The beautiful thing about being a parent is that you are the decision maker in your baby’s life, which means that you have the final say.

So how can you deal with the well-meaning advice (and any accompanying guilt)?

Say Thank You

Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense. Smile, nod, and say thank you while you mentally take note of how you don’t want to raise your child. Sometimes those nuggets of poor advice are actually blessings in disguise. Use them to remind yourself that your way of doing things is working for your family.

Let it Slide

I’ll let you in on a little secret: there is no one out there who has all the answers. Not even me. There are moments when it’s best to just listen. You might be surprised by a nugget of wisdom amidst the mountain of advice, and you can choose whether or not to follow the advice later.

Remember, at the end of the day, you are in control of the decisions regarding your child’s sleep, and how you help her growth. This is your best defense. I think that most of the ‘parental guilt’ occurs when well-meaning family or friends offers advice (or even criticism) of your choice to sleep coach.

It can be difficult to hear your mom, aunt, sister, brother, or cousin question, correct, or outright give instruction about your child (especially if both you and baby are short on sleep and patience). During these times, it’s important to remember that you are an amazing, caring parent. You’ve made the choices you have for a reason.

If you find that your family is questioning your choice to sleep coach (especially if they are proponents of ‘cry-it-out’), don’t feel the need to explain your choice. You and your baby will be happier and better rested because you are coaching your baby to sleep, rather than forcing him to sleep. If you must explain why you are choosing to sleep coach, give your family member a copy of “Good Night, Sleep Tight”, or direct them here to The Sleep Lady Blog. That way they can digest the information from a source other than you.

Don’t forget to remind yourself that you know your baby best. If your toddler says she’s not tired, but she’s cranky, rubbing her eyes and can’t focus, you know that she needs sleep, and soon. Even if your mom is urging you to let her stay up “just a little bit longer”, you know that it’s best to go with your instincts and the lessons that you’ve learned while sleep coaching. Rather than ignore your instincts because of other parties’ advice, trust those gut reactions. You chose to sleep coach because you knew that it was best for both your baby and yourself.

If all else fails, blame it on The Sleep Lady! I’ve got your back. 😉

What was the strangest bit of advice you were given about how to help your baby sleep?

Was this article helpful to you? Please tell us by commenting below! For more baby, toddler, and family sleep tips and tricks, please subscribe to The Sleep Lady’s Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, and YouTube channel! If you are looking for more sleep content, please check out Get Sleep Now-an exclusive members-only area designed to provide in-depth help and support during your sleep coaching experience.

photo credit: TMAB2003 via photopin cc

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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4 Comments

  • Jessiekredting says:

    I never really got “strange” advice however, I have upset quite a few family members, including my husband, because I insist on a regular sleep routine for our daughter and I don’t let ANYTHING interfere with that routine. My husband refers to me as “the sleep Nazi”. My mom and sister-in-law get bent out of shape when we can’t make a family dinner or event because it is bedtime. My mother-in-law got upset when I would politely ask her not to rock my daughter to sleep when she was small. But honestly, I don’t care. I believe in sleep coaching and believe that I am developing good sleep habits for my daughter especially with the birth of our second child this November!!!
    We are in the midst of transitioning to one nap right now and I am worried because we have a wedding at the end of the month at 2pm, which is smack dab in the middle of my daughters’ nap. My husband doesn’t think it is a big deal but he isn’t the one who gets up with her all night long when she is overtired! Not to mention that we have a long drive home the following day in which a grumpy, confined child is worse than a grumpy but able to move child. Hopefully my sleep coach can help me out!! 😉 she has been the best baby purchase ever!!!

    • breefawn says:

      Jessiekredting I completely understand! We still don’t go out to dinner because of my son’s bedtime 🙂 Good sleep is so important. I would post your question about the wedding on The Sleep Lady’s Facebook Page (http://www.facebook.com/TheSleepLady). We have a certified Sleep Coach who can help you make a plan. Good luck!

  • Jessiekredting says:

    I never really got “strange” advice however, I have upset quite a few family members, including my husband, because I insist on a regular sleep routine for our daughter and I don’t let ANYTHING interfere with that routine. My husband refers to me as “the sleep Nazi”. My mom and sister-in-law get bent out of shape when we can’t make a family dinner or event because it is bedtime. My mother-in-law got upset when I would politely ask her not to rock my daughter to sleep when she was small. But honestly, I don’t care. I believe in sleep coaching and believe that I am developing good sleep habits for my daughter especially with the birth of our second child this November!!!
    We are in the midst of transitioning to one nap right now and I am worried because we have a wedding at the end of the month at 2pm, which is smack dab in the middle of my daughters’ nap. My husband doesn’t think it is a big deal but he isn’t the one who gets up with her all night long when she is overtired! Not to mention that we have a long drive home the following day in which a grumpy, confined child is worse than a grumpy but able to move child. Hopefully my sleep coach can help me out!! 😉 she has been the best baby purchase ever!!!

    • breefawn says:

      Jessiekredting I completely understand! We still don’t go out to dinner because of my son’s bedtime 🙂 Good sleep is so important. I would post your question about the wedding on The Sleep Lady’s Facebook Page (http://www.facebook.com/TheSleepLady). We have a certified Sleep Coach who can help you make a plan. Good luck!