Nighttime parenting in our house is very different from most of the people that I know. We are cosleepers and not only that but we are now well into the phase of toddler nursing. In fact nighttime parenting and breastfeeding are so synonymous with each other that my two and a half year old son Owen, to whom this post is dedicated, has the code word “sleepies” for when he wants to breastfeed. These two parenting techniques which seem simple to me are really foreign to a lot of modern American families.
The other night I was lying down with Owen to help him fall asleep. I reflected on our years of cosleeping and had one of those moments of parenting when you actually know that what you’re doing is right for your family. How wonderful and sporadic those moments are! Of course Owen didn’t notice. He was just trying to find any kind of distraction to get out of having to go to bed. Oh, how I miss those days of simply nursing him down to sleep every night. It was so easy!! But now that he doesn’t often nurse to sleep we have the opportunity to talk to each other. That night we had a great conversation about weaning, growing up, and how important little Owen is to our growing family. I was able to share a lot of love and family values with him and I could tell how proud he was to be a loved member of our family. I love how breastfeeding and co-sleeping has impacted my family. I now believe that nighttime parenting is one of the most important tools we carry as mothers.
So many parents believe in the American traditions of early sleep training, early night weaning, and separated sleeping arrangements. They fear and dread the day that their child gets to sleep in a real bed as opposed to the crib. They think of their children as manipulative when they ask for a drink of water, another kiss, an extra story, and, simply, more of mommy and daddy. I can’t say that I haven’t felt that way myself at times. But, over the years of nursing a child to sleep, often nursing every one to two hours at night, and giving in to the extra kisses, songs, and stories that my children also want, I have learned that our children rely on us to give, give, give, and then give some more. More importantly I have learned that it is a great blessing to give as much as we are asked. I recently read the following quote from The Successful Child, a book by Dr. Sears,
“Investing in your parenting means being willing to devote a significant amount of time and energy to raising your children. Especially in the early years, parents are the givers and babies are the takers. You’re asked to give and give, even when you’re tired or running out of patience. This is a realistic picture of what it takes to raise happy, healthy kids. Although it’s important to take care of your own needs during these early, demanding years of parenthood, for the most part you’re called on to invest yourself highly in your children… You, the parents, grow and mature when you make this kind of investment in your family, and parenting becomes much easier as your investment pays off.”
I have certainly grown and matured as an individual, a mother, a wife, a friend, and so on as my children have taught me to be empathetic, flexible, patient, and kind. I never would have believed so strongly in cosleeping if my children hadn’t wanted to nurse all night. I never would have learned the value of nighttime parenting if my children hadn’t asked for me to stay with them until they fell asleep. And, in a way, I never would have gained the empathy that I have for my children had my parents been more open to my own childhood nighttime needs.
Cosleeping and breastfeeding on demand has been the catalyst to a whole new way of looking at my children and my own capabilities as a parent. It has taught me to respond to my children’s needs quicker and more often. I look forward to bedtime because it means my kids will go to sleep so I can have some time without them AND because it means I get to have that special extra interaction WITH them that I don’t make or have time for during the day.
Nighttime parenting, even without actually cosleeping, gives us as parents precious moments that we would miss out on if we were not open to giving our children a little more of us each night… the snuggles, the conversations as they get older, the quality time, the sweet sleeping faces, the gained confidence that the child receives from knowing that mommy and daddy are always there to provide and protect. Yes, of course if you choose to cosleep there are the kicks, noises, awkward sleep positions, and frequent waking which many parents are uncomfortable with. I understand that. Bedtime routines can include all of the extra love without the habit of cosleeping, but it just happened to be the easiest way for our family to enjoy the benefits of nighttime parenting and breastfeeding.
I believe that when nighttime parenting becomes a positive and integral part of our families we can learn and grow together and feel more united and capable. Nighttime parenting, including nursing on demand through the night, is one of the most stretching experiences I have had as a parent as well as one of the most fulfilling.