Guilted and Shamed in Motherhood

Mommy guilt.  It’ll drive you crazy if you let it.  We all feel it and it eats at us in the deep depths of our souls.

And how can you escape it? It’s only natural to question whether you’re ‘doing the right thing’ when you’re making decisions on behalf of another human being.  I mean, what wildly immense power to have!

What makes mommy guilt so sooo much worse is when it’s coupled with a sense of shame.  And it’s the shame, I believe, that mommy’s should and could do without.  That sense of shame most often comes from the outside in – from family, friends, or worse yet – strangers – who cause mothers to feel vilanized for making tough decisions that they hope are right for their family.

Moms can and are shamed for just about anything, but in this case, Im talking about sleep training.  We all know that there are two distinct camps – those who consider cry-it-out a viable form of sleep training and those that consider CIO to be downright child abuse.  I’m not here to argue who is right and who is wrong.  Based on the endless hours, days, weeks of my own research, I’ve come to the conclusion that no one really knows. There is research that can be held up to strongly and fervently support both views and I am yet to see a randomized-controlled study that looks directly at the effects of CIO on an otherwise healthy child who is showered with unconditional love for every other waking moment of their day.

So, again, I am not writing to partake in the debate itself.  What I am here to say is that whatever people so strongly believe – please stop writing articles and blogs with the sole intention of shaming other mothers.  I see there being only one way to do that – write every article or post with the intention of helping another mother.  That requires the following:

  • Start the piece with a supportive tone, acknowledging right away that motherhood is hard as hell, the being sleep deprived makes it that much harder and that we are all in search of just one thing- a gentle and effective way to get ourselves and our overtired babies the sleep we both so desperately need to be healthy.  Show me you’re an ally, not my enemy.
  • Share your views, the research you have collected, etc. and be direct about your convictions, but try to refrain from using hateful terms like ‘abandonment’ and ‘abuse.’ Do you really think that a desperate mother who leaves her baby to cry should be considered an a child abuser or one who’s goal is to abandon her child?  Even if you feel that leaving a baby to cry for any amount of time is abandonment, think about how that word stings a whole in the heart of a desperate mother and ask yourself if you can get your point across without it.
  • Approach your argument from an objective place – don’t base it on your sweet sleeper who learned early and easily to self-soothe, or your child who is still comfortably co-sleeping with you at the age of three.  Don’t even base it on your sister’s kid who she committed months of the pick up/put down method to who finally, at 18 months, learned to sleep on his/her own.  Every baby is different.  Don’t make your own judgements based on the few babies or situations you know.
  • Provide some viable alternatives.  This is a huge one.  I can’t tell you how many of these articles filled with pages of ‘you should nevers’ end abruptly in the absence of meaningful solutions.  Ask yourself why you’re writing the article in the first place?  If it’s to genuinely help moms look to alternative ways to sleep train, perhaps offering that poor, exhausted mom a few ideas of how to help their overtired child sleep who hasn’t responded to the seven other methods she could think of – then offer some help!  If that’s not the purpose of the article, well, then I beg you to explain to me what is.
  • Acknowldge that your solutions may require me to continue to spend hours each evening in my child’s room where he will lose valuable sleep he needs for optimal health, where I will silently grow crazy and frustrated while I look for other solutions, where I’ll miss week, months, or years of precious and already very limited one-on-one time with my husband and to focus on our marriage.
  • End your piece by reminding me that while you adamantly oppose CIO, that if I choose to do so, you understand that I am not a terrible mother who doesn’t have my child’s best interest at heart.

My little man is a challenging sleeper to say the least.  At 19 months old, we find ourselves where we’ve been 7, 8, maybe 9 times over the past year and a half – he has lost his will to self-soothe and has regressed back to a place where he requires our attention for hours on end, pushing his bedtime more than 1-1.5hrs back each night.  We should be so lucky to have a baby that would willingly be nursed or rocked to sleep.  He also has no interest in co-sleeping, although that’s a relief given that it’s not something I’m eager to engage in in my house.  We have done CIO before and it has worked well.  But, a regression inevitably comes.  And this time, I’m struggling to bring myself to do it again.  I’ve read so many of these terribly negative, unhelpful anti-CIO articles and blog posts recently that I’ve been mommy-shamed into a place where I can’t do the only thing that I’ve found works for Toby to learn to fall asleep on his own and for me to regain my sanity, my sleep, and time for my marriage.

I feel alone.  I’ve been shamed, but offered no support or advice.  I’ve allowed myself to be shamed even though my search continues for a study looking specifically at the effects of CIO. I’ve allowed myself to be shamed even in the absence of such research because, frankly, it’s not that hard to shame a mother.  We’re filled with mommy-guilt and self-doubt even in the absence of these articles.

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19 thoughts on “Guilted and Shamed in Motherhood

  1. Yes yes yes. Especially about giving alternatives. I see that on both sides honestly. I’m in a CIO-friendly Facebook group and I see poor moms with plenty of alternatives being told to CIO and poor moms who have tried everything else but refuse to CIO. It shouldn’t be a first resort but neither should mommies feel shamed for making a choice they think is necessary. It really kills me how downright nasty some people can be about this difficult, difficult job.

  2. I love this and I agree! What works differs not only from family to family but also child to child. CIO worked great with Tru but unfortunately so far, Levi will cry until he’s sick and not stop. So, I guess it won’t work with him even though it went great with Tru… ultimately, we have to do what works for our baby and ourselves and trust ourselves that we are doing our best. 🙂

  3. Sleeping. Why is it so hard for them? I’m doing everything and nothing seems to work. My hubby has it down to a science, so I’ve resorted to watching what my hubby does and I need to try harder to do what is working for him. Sometimes he goes to sleep so easily and other times, ugh.

      • Lol! I know, right? So, I have successfully gotten J to sleep twice now and his crib is open on one end (no screaming, no million trips back into his bed, no nursing/rocking/singing to sleep). Here’s what we do: Bedtime routine ending with books, snuggles/prayers/songs while we shut drapes and lights off, lay him down, we sit in the room and whisper “go to sleep” “lay down” “please” “thank you” “good job” etc. We have to catch him before he is all the way out of his crib or he thinks it is a game. If he doesn’t respond to the verbal cues, we lean toward him and repeat them (sometimes we have to help him lay back down or scoot further in to his crib if he is hanging arms/legs/head out).
        It’s worth a try, right? I figure this routine will work for a month, maybe two then we’ll have something new to challenge his sleep again 🙂

      • Wow – crib is open already!? Why? That would never work with us – I dont want to give Toby an inch of freedom until I absolutely have to! Im goping crib til he’s 3! 🙂 As for the sitting in there – that’s what we’ve been doing for the past 7-8wks. After I was shamed into not doing CIO, I decided to try the ‘chair’ method. And, it’s worked in terms of him not crying his head off BUT, we then sit in his room for 1hr+ after the bedtime routine while he rolls around babbling in bed, walking over to the corner where we’re sitting and laughing while he throws all his stuffed animals out, etc. So, at this point, a typical is bedtime routine begins around 645, he’s down by 730 and we leave the room once he’s finally asleep arounf 845. And the night is gone… UGH.

  4. Thank you for this post! I think most of us have been in this boat before I know that I for one feel “mommy shame”. I also suffer from “I shouldn’t complain because I worked so hard to have babies” syndrome. You know, I feel I should suck up all the hard times and not complain because I purposefully went through a lot to get pregnant so I should never, ever complain about how hard it is to have a baby. LOL

  5. I’m a little late to this post, but AMEN! CIO in particular seems to drive a lot of shame, despite the fact that, as you say, the research only shows negative effects on truly abandoned and neglected babies, not those who were sleep trained by loving parents. I don’t see why we can’t all support other parents in doing what works for them.

  6. Oh yes, the shame! We resorted to CIO a few times over DDs younger years, after trying all the “gentler” methods, and it worked despite it being totally heartbreaking. It doesn’t seem to work when they’re older in the same way though. Perhaps he needs to nap a bit less so he’s more tired at bedtime? I know DD is in the awful stage now (she is 35 mo old) of still getting tired and wanting a nap by late afternoon (when it’s way too late to nap) but we’ve been for a week now pushing zero naps and bedtime is enjoyable again. We’ve still had to be in the room with her to fall asleep but I think that has more to do with her separation anxiety she’s had lately…one battle at a time! Know you’re doing an excellent job, and nobody can ever understand your child and your relationship with him /her the way you do. I get mad at my mom when she shakes her head at me in disapproval of something parenting that she observes because she assumes she sees enough to know the entire story. I tell her that she can think what she wants but I don’t want her opinions unless they’re constructive rather than only judgemental. It’s our kid, and we are doing our best for US. xx

    • Oh jeez, so you’re saying we’re still going to have to be dealing with sleep issues at 3!? haha. It’s never ending…! We did end up doing CIO shortly after I wrote this and it worked wonders and our lives have changed so significantly by not spending 1-1.5hrs in Toby’s room every night AFTER a 45-min bedtime routine! I bet that last nap transition from 1-0 is a tough one. I feel for you. Is she on the early side for that? What’s up with the separation anxiety? – is that just a typical 3yo thing, an awareness there is a new baby on the way, something else? That’s so hard… How long do you spend in her room while she goes to sleep? Do you plan to just phase it out eventually? There is surely no science to parenting. Each kid and family are so different, we all just have to figured it out as we go…How exhausting it can be sometimes, though! 🙂

      • Lol we had a pretty good run from about 18 months when she dropped to 1 nap. She was always sleeping 2-3 hours (and having to be woken up almost every time) until a couple months ago, plus going to bed by 8 or 830pm. Then both nap time & bedtime started to be a battle… Pretty soon it was several hours per day wasted trying to get her to sleep. We’d often win, but it was awful. The separation anxiety started with too many losses of educators DD loved at daycare over a few months. Zero stability (and her age where she now understands that people might not come back) meant she started becoming very fearful that we wouldn’t come back. She’d scream in the mornings when having to go to daycare “no! No daycare! Don’t go to work!” and would have huge melt downs, not just a little whining. She started being happy to see DW at the end of the day rather than wanting to stay & play there. So… We’ve now switched to a new daycare (she starts on Monday) and we’ve dropped most naps – if we have a busy day, like today, she can sleep as long as it’s at a reasonable time. Today was in the car on the way home from the zoo & water park, from 3pm-4pm. We’ll see how tonight goes! Hang in there, it gets easier. I’m glad to hear you could get things back in order again. The good thing about CIO (at least when they’re still in cribs) is that it only lasts a couple minutes compared to the initial 45+. :s lately, since the separation anxiety started, we’ve had to fall asleep in her room. Now, since dropped naps, this only takes 30 mins or so. Before, it was a couple hour battle. We will slowly phase it out after things settle with the new daycare & routines.

      • It’s always something, huh!? Glad to hear bedtime isnt taking too too long. Spending your entire night sitting in their room is pretty brutal. Looking forward to hearing how the transition to the new daycare is and how she ends up liking it. It’s so hard to find everything you’re looking for – cause, hey, who in the world can take care of your baby as well as you can!? No one! 🙂

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