It happens almost as soon as you give birth—figuring out how to get your child to sleep for the maximum amount of hours possible. And more often than not, this involves a lot of parental support—and parental disruption. One person who knows this all too well is Arizona-based mom of 3 Kris Ann Valdez. Below, she shares her take on the sleep training vs. not sleep training debate—by creating a welcome middle-ground.
I stomp my calloused heels and sway my hips, pressing the baby to my chest. In a low voice that hums with vibration, I sing: you are/you are falling asleep/falling asleep.
The lyrics aren’t important—I’ve made them up on the spot—but the rhythm of the chant lulls my 5-month-old to sleep. At some point during the swaying and stomping, I feel an overwhelming connection to all mothers throughout time. I picture the tired cavewoman, barefooted like me, grunting the melody, and I know her, in some small part. Her desire to cuddle her offspring, but also to free her hands. The pull to watch her children’s breath steady into sleep, and the tug to have a few quiet moments to herself. The deep well of love for them, and the dryness of her own cup.
Yes, as I am stomping and chanting, I think of every mother forever and ever and the plight we share in bedtime.
At a baby shower this weekend, the conversation turned to nighttime routines, and I mused at the two camps presented at the table: one, the proud sleep trainers, and two, the softies.
I’ve always been a softie who often begrudgingly snuggled her children to sleep all the while wishing she had the gumption to be a hard-lined, no excuses sleep trainer. But hearing the mothers open up, I learned something I didn’t know. Sometimes sleep trainers wish they were softies too.
“I know it goes by fast,” one admitted, “but I’ve trained them to sleep independently to make it easy. Still, I feel I’m missing out on that sweet time of night when their hearts are open and most vulnerable.”
The truth is, I type this in my 10-year-old’s pitch-black room. I cannot see the keys, so it’s lucky I took that typewriting class in sixth grade. He’s feeling scared—thus I have assumed my post near the closet with the blue screen glow on my face, hoping it’ll scare away the zombies or yetis or whatever else he thinks lives there.
I shouldn’t have to do this, I’ve grumbled more than once to myself. Once upon a time, I trained him too because we had a new baby coming. Yes, I endured the long evenings of tears and fits until he learned that going to bed meant staying in his bed. And no, I would not rub his back until he finally fell asleep, thank you very much.
Then came the years my husband started working crazy hours. After a long day, he would slip into my son’s room to cuddle him and catch up, and all of my sleep training efforts evaporated. But I couldn’t stop those nightly pow wows. The father-son duo needed those moments to connect and who was I to draw a hard line?
So, here I am, helping my son find safe passage to the land of nod. Fifteen minutes ago, I was in my daughter’s room—never got around to training that one, which is why she ends up in our bed every wee morning around 2 a.m.
At least I have the baby sleeping in his bassinet for naps and half the night, I reassure myself.
The thing is—maybe there’s a third camp. And we all belong in it. Because it’s for the moms who are just doing their best. The ones who recognize that sleep training provides much needed sanity, but still have a kid who ends up in their bed (every night). That in other cultures that’s viewed as normal, and, in fact, a lot of people worldwide sleep in one big bed together. And yet, they find ways to keep producing offspring.
In this third camp, we crave alone time, but also really need to dig our noses into our child’s oily hair and hold their little fingers as they drift off.
To be their big spoon in a world that threatens to make them grow up too fast.
Maybe it’s okay just to survive bedtime any way you need to. And that’s what connects us as mothers. So, here’s to the mothers who scare away the closet zombies, and the ones who teach their children to be brave enough to do it on their own. You both are doing a great job.
Kris Ann Valdez is a desert-dwelling, adventure-loving Arizona native, wife, and mother to three children and a fluffy dog named Maple. Her work has appeared in For Women Who Roar, The Kindred Voice, and Mothers Always Write, among others. She is also a recipient of the Arizona Arts Commission’s 2023 Research and Development Grant.
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