About two weeks before I gave birth to my first child, a friend gave me a popular book by a certain parenting/sleep guru. Over the next two weeks, I became obsessed with the author’s manual on how to ‘parent’ a newborn. I read it and then read parts of it to my sceptical partner, John. Our baby girl Kalani came along and I quickly worked the author’s routine into her life. And it worked. Kalani was, or should I say Kalani became, a perfect sleeper. She began to sleep through the night at six weeks of age and would sleep during the day as long as I let her. Oh, life was great! I had swooned into motherhood. And I, yes I, was a GREAT mother! I had mastered sleep. I was like the baby whisperer. Kalani was a ‘good’ baby. I therefore was a ‘good’ mother. Right? Wrong.
Three years on and I still feel sick in the stomach when I think about this. I don’t think I quite gloated (well perhaps I did). I definitely wasn’t shy in telling other new mothers of my achievement and how ‘simple’ it was to achieve this baby goddess. Oh and the judgment. I am mother, hear me judge. I judged other mothers on their child’s inability to sleep, how much they cried, how many milk feeds they had, what they ate, their goos, their gahs. I still don’t know why I was so quick to judge or why I took so much of the credit for Kalani’s sleeping. I honestly valued her ability to sleep as a direct reflection of my ability as a mother. It was so small minded, judgmental and utter rubbish.
When Kalani was 23 months old, I gave birth to my second child, Xavi. For every moment of pride I felt with Kalani, for every gloat and every peaceful night- life’s big circle came back around and smacked me in the face. I had a child who would cat nap at most during the day and wake two to three hourly at night. Oh and the crying. I couldn’t get him close to a routine. My popular “sleep book” did not work for Xavi! He wanted to feed constantly. For months! Similarly with Kalani, I began to judge my own ability as a mother on Xavi’s inability to sleep. I lost all my confidence and instead of sticking to one routine, I tried many. The mother in the park said I should call Tresillian, my neighbour swore by another baby sleep author. My sister said, don’t do a routine, just go with what the baby wants. “Let him cry for a while”. “Don’t ever let a baby cry”. “Wake him up.”. “Never wake a sleeping baby”. Aghhhh!!
I felt judging eyes on me everywhere. My in-laws. The neighbours. Other mothers. Everywhere. Maybe I was over-sensitive but I just assumed they were judging me like I had judged others.
Every afternoon I would load both kids into the car and drive them around in a desperate attempt to get Xavi to sleep. Was I crazy? Yes, a little. Twelve months of broken sleep, as well as looking after a two-year-old, had taken its toll. I couldn’t think clearly. Some nights I would feed Xavi when he woke, other nights I would try and settle him without milk and then others, I would try and feed him water from a bottle! My confidence was at an all time low. Xavi was NOT a ‘good’ baby. I therefore was NOT a ‘good’ mother. Right? Wrong. Again.
Finally I waved a white flag and sought help. The advice came back: “Be consistent. Put him to bed and for the next 12 hours, you are off limits to him. He will work it out”. And he did. Three nights later (at 12 months of age), my little boy finally slept through the night. I had become consistent with him and he responded consistently. He has continued to do so. I don’t know why I didn’t ask for help earlier. All of the anguish, self torture and sleepless nights! Yet, in truth, I had not been ready to make the change any earlier. Perhaps I subconsciously knew I was in the middle of a very big lesson.
Children have a way of leveling the playing field. Of bringing the most inflated egos back down to earth. It’s hard not to feel pride (and take credit), when your child does something well. It’s also hard not to feel a sense of failure and feel like you have done something wrong when your child does not shine so brightly. Children are products of their environment. But they are also so very different. Complete individuals from so early.
I have learnt a LOT since reading that sleeping baby book. Being a mother is the hardest damn thing I have ever done. I now know that I can’t learn to be a parent from a book. There are many days when I do more wrong than right. And I am certainly not a great mother. But I am not a bad one either. I tend to think of myself on a journey, learning every day. So, please don’t judge me in the middle of my lesson. Judge me at the end. I promise to do the same to you.
Kate has been a police officer in the AFP for 12 years. She is currently on maternity leave. She has 2 children and lives in NSW.
What’s the biggest parenting lesson you’ve learnt?