Last night, our daughter experienced her first real nightmare. She’s only 17 months so wasn’t quite able to articulate what it was about but the gulping sobs, clinging arms and gushing tears were enough to tell us that it wasn’t pleasant.
It was a scary experience, but upon reflection I feel very lucky. Within seconds she was in my arms with her head being gently stroked by her Daddy. This is because we co-sleep.
Co-sleeping is so commonly frowned upon that it’s almost shameful to admit in public. In fact, I regularly feel obliged to be self-deprecating about it ‘oh yes, we’re working on getting her to stay in her bed’, or to simply deflect any questions about our sleeping arrangements. Following all the advice about SIDS, we never intended to co-sleep, dutifully prepared her crib and spent the first month fighting against our instincts and hers by insisting that she remain in her own bed.
Now I can understand erring against co-sleeping if you smoke, are under the influence of alcohol or are taking sleeping medication as all of these pose hazards to the baby. But, for us, and I’m sure for countless others, co-sleeping has become a natural and beautiful part of our parenting philosophy.
Does it mean that my hair is regularly pulled, I’m often strangled by too tight cuddles and our king sized bed never quite seems big enough? You bet. Does it also mean that I’m able to instantly comfort our daughter if she happens to have a bad dream, she feels secure and loved, and happily breastfed until 14 months? Yes and for those trade-offs, I’ll happily deal with the hair pulling.
As we all know, in the Western world parenting is often seen as a competitive sport. Sleeping through the night, rolling, crawling, taking those tentative first steps, all of these are milestones for parents to compare themselves with. Why? Children develop in their own way, at their own pace!
Attachment parenting as a philosophy has attracted its fair share of controversy. For that reason, I try to err away from using the term, preferring to think of our approach as simply being relaxed. Co-sleeping, breastfeeding, baby wearing and being flexible during times of teething or rapid growth have helped us to absolutely cherish our first 17 months as parents.
Most importantly, it’s an approach that works for us. Since welcoming our daughter we’ve moved house, dealt with the Fly In, Fly Out lifestyle, travelled (quite a lot), driven extensive and isolated distances, I’ve returned to work(plus returned to university to do my Masters) and we’ve been through a serious head injury for my husband. Not exactly smooth sailing, yet all this and more has simply been taken in our collective stride with minimal fuss and bother. Whether this can be attributed to our parenting and lifestyle philosophy or our daughter’s personality is anyone’s guess.
Our next baby is due in 10 weeks and although I have no doubt that they will have their own unique personality, complete with quirks and idiosyncrasies, I am absolutely certain that by continuing our relaxed approach to parenting in infancy and early childhood we will offer them the best start that we can. Unfortunately, the bed may be even more crowded for a little while!
So, if you are a closet co-sleeper like me or simply struggle to reconcile your version of parenting with what society tells you is normal, don’t despair. Do what feels right for you and your family, without comparing yourself to others.
Do you avoid discussions on parenting to avoid comparison or controversy?