Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tough Love - the parenting oxymoron

           I do not believe in tough love. I do not believe that controlled crying has any place in the parenting vocabulary. So, I take with a fist full of salt the works by baby experts such as Gina Ford and Tizzie Hall who advocate harsh approaches to parenting (and I include sleep training in this). So, it is with a great deal of alarm that I read about mums on this forum worried about their 2, 3, 6 or even 12 month old babies not sleeping through the night.

Here’s an interesting statistic for you – 80% of children do not sleep through the night until they are toddlers.

                Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t start out planning on being an attachment parent. To be honest, when we decided to become parents, I didn’t think much beyond the pregnancy and delivery. So, when I brought home a child who appeared to be a reincarnated banshee, screaming from  the early part of a evening to midnight or even the next morning, rarely settling for more than twenty minutes at a time – I threw my door open to all and any advice on settling my child.

                I got the ‘ignore him’, ‘he’s just trying to control you’ to  ‘show him who is boss and leave him outside in a pram’. By the time he was three months old, I was so exhausted from sleepless nights, we booked ourselves into a sleep school masquerading as a mother-baby unit.

                The first inkling that ‘mother baby unit’ experience was going to go horribly wrong was when they told me that they were going to take my 12 week old baby to sleep in another room. I should have listened to my instincts and walked out then. The second night we were there, my darling son cried so much that he threw up in his cot and they left him in there in his vomit. I should have slapped the head nurse and walked out. By the time we left the stupid place, my son started breast refusal because he was so traumatised by the experience.

                He was back sleeping in out room in his hammock three days after we got out of sleep school jail.

                Anecdotally, most children who visit mother baby units  lose weight and show signs of psychological distress. And sleep schools, which advocate the tough love approach to parenting, rarely look at the root cause of the problem.

                It took another six months of persistence on my part (and the firing of two paediatricians) for us to get to the bottom of why our son was so unsettled. He had chronic reflux exacerbated by multiple food intolerances. He was not crying to control me, he was crying because he was in pain. And leaving him that stupid cot while he cried was tantamount to me (the person who is supposed to love him the most in this universe) ignoring him in direst moment of need. And yes, I still feel so guilty about this.

                Don’t get me wrong, children cry, misbehave and carry on like pork chops – but it is for a finite time. They can’t control you if you don’t let them. Sure, we went through a period when our little boy insisted on wearing the same yellow skivvy for six months straight. I used to have to take if off him when he slept, washed it and dried it and had it ready for him the next morning – but it’s stopped now. Like all thing, it too passed.

                I am all for cuddling my child, co-sleeping and allowing them to play games. Don’t get me wrong, he has boundaries and we reinforce them firmly but gently. I am enjoying our mid-night cuddles and nose rubs now because I know in a few short years, he’ll be embarrassed to be seen with his mum and will not like to remember when cuddling up with his mummy in the nuddie was the best thing.

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