According to a recent survey, parents lie about how much sleep they are getting (or, more precisely, not getting). A Netmums survey claims that only 25% of babies are sleeping through by 12 weeks and 63% by the time they are one, which is comforting for people whose baby still doesn’t sleep brilliantly. What is surprising, though, is that according to the survey, 62% of parents said that they have, at some point, lied about the lack of sleep they are getting and their baby’s sleep habits.
So why do parents feel under pressure to have a perfect sleeper so much that they are willing to lie about it? It could be that sleep is one of the earliest elements of a baby’s life and achievements; if you want to call it that, so it is the earliest thing parents have to be proud of. Maybe some of those parents will also tell little fibs in 10 years’ time and say their child flew through all his SATs, or speaks fluent French?
Maybe, on some level, parents think that having a baby that doesn’t sleep implies that they are failing as a parent. Or perhaps parents would feel disloyal to their baby by admitting how exhausting it all is, and that their baby STILL doesn’t sleep at 18 months.
This leads us to ask; where do these expectations come from? What makes us think that our 8 week old baby should be waking only once in the night, or our 6 month old should be sleeping through? Some of the blame has gone to parenting gurus and parenting books. They set such high expectations of what a baby ‘should’ be doing at a certain age that we all expect this perfect, eating-feeding-sleeping baby, so more of us feel that we are failing and more women are turning to sleep consultants to help them out – at the cost of £1,000 a week!
Undeniably, sleep is a science and there are certain things that you can guarantee, such as if your baby doesn’t self-settle he is very unlikely to sleep through, and teaching him to self-settle could well result in a baby that does sleep through; or a baby who is too tired or not tired enough is unlikely to sleep well. That is how we can offer help and advice; because sometimes there is something that we are doing, or not doing, that only someone from the outside can see and say “try changing that, give her more sleep in the day, teach him to self-settle”. And it does work. But babies are humans, just like you and me. So even if you know that ‘they should be able to sleep through when they weigh over 10lbs’ or ‘most babies sleep through at 6 months’ that doesn’t mean that they will sleep through, because they are individuals and we should be proud of that.
My two children are a great example. From 8 weeks old Alice woke once in the night and, other than the occasional blip (a big one when she was 2) she has always settled well and slept through. Freddie started off pretty much the same but, at just 3, waking in the night appears to have become normal for him, somehow. I’m not sure if it was going on holiday and us rushing to settle him, or if he just likes a middle-of-the-night cuddle but, yes, I admit it, he is three and he still wakes 5 nights out of 7.
At three it’s harder to deal with; he shares a room with his sister and sleeps in a bed so I can’t leave him to cry because 1) he’d probably follow me and 2) he’d wake his sister. So one of us usually ends up snuggling him in before returning to bed with fervent promises that it will never happen again. Ever. Until tomorrow!
I suppose I do feel a bit ashamed that my 3 year old is still not a brilliant sleeper. I don’t think I lie about it but I probably do underplay his sleep habits and, maybe, tell people that Freddie wakes one or two nights out of 7. I think that’s because I’m his Mum and I want to protect him and I don’t want people to judge him or think ‘poor you’ because, actually, I’m the luckiest woman in the world; he is gorgeous! And maybe I’m a tiny bit ashamed that my son (did I mention he’s 3?!) isn’t the best sleeper. Maybe it is a bit like admitting failure, so I balance it by telling myself and others, if it comes up, that he goes to sleep brilliantly every night without a peep and it’s not that bad really……
Maybe we should all just accept our children for who they are, what they eat, how clever they are (geniuses, of course, all of them), instead of trying to measure up to some unattainable benchmark invented by experts (who, don’t forget, are making loads of money out of us) and urban myth. Maybe we should all stand up and shout to the world “I am sleep deprived and proud!”