After that last novella of a post, I thought I'd keep it a tad more brief today. I'd like to start putting up some posts that get us all contributing a bit more in the comments section. I would love to hear from you about some suggestions about how we could facilitate that better. All ideas are welcome!
In the meantime, how about I ask you a few questions about yourself over the next few months? First off, I'm just deeply curious about who our readers are. But also, I'd like to generate questions that might help with brainstorming ideas for future posts and, equally important, questions that may just help us know each other better (you know, in that totally anonymous, confidential, woo-woo disembodied world of the interwebs sort of way). I'll answer whatever I ask, so it's a more even playing field. (And feel free to ask your own questions in the comments section). So… here it goes:
What do you feel guilty about? (Yes, I know, I KNOW, my upcoming business trip away from my kids has me focused on some pretty OBVIOUS issues I have). For better or worst, so much of what we do or don't do as parents is tainted with feelings of guilt. Here's my (incredibly SHORTENED) list of things that I feel guilty about:
- leaving my kids (duh)
- sleeping in on the weekend and letting my husband make the kids' breakfast
- HATING, HATING, HATING to read Thomas books, so much so that I finally bought CDs that go along with the damn books and I plonk my kids down on the couch to listen to them when they ask ME, their one and only mother, to read it to them
- skipping brushing my kids' teach in the morning about 2 times/week (when we're late for preschool… we're ALWAYS late for preschool)
- being late for preschool
- not cooking dinner for my kids 3 times/week
- yelling at my kids (but tell me… why WHY, WHY can't they JUST. PUT. ON. THEIR. SHOES?!)
- Not making eye contact with my husband until I've been home from work for 30 min. or more.
- Exercising when I should be playing with the kids.
- Not exercising.
And I could go on and on and on. But it's your turn…
Let’s start with the necessary caveat: What follows is based mostly on my own experience, the experience of my trusted and often brilliant friends and colleagues and a whole lot of reading about related and unrelated topics. I have found very little trust-worthy science on evidence-based techniques that help ease or prevent children’s separation anxiety related to longish (a few days or weeks) separations from parent(s). Of course, there’s a whole lot on children’s separation issues, but in terms of an actual “how to” manual, program, or list of stuff that’s been “proven” effective? Not so much… But if you’re a mom like me who is always looking for ways to help my kids cope with (or even delight in) my trips away from them, I hope you find some ideas here useful.
So, first and foremost, I think that the sorts of things that will help our kids through these separation periods will vary wildly from one child to another. I talked mostly about age or stage of development in the last post, but there are a whole host of other considerations to keep in mind. For one, there’s the child’s temperament. Some kids are so mellow and easy-going that separations aren’t that big of a deal in the most dramatic of cases. These kids may need very little in the way of preparation and thoughtful strategies. Other kids are very sensitive/emotional/fragile/spirited in general and separations, even one night out on the town, may be highly problematic. We’ve talked a little about temperaments before here and here and, as usual, you know your child best and you’ll have a sense of what’s most appropriate for him or her.
Another source of variation comes from the other side of the equation: parents. Your parenting style, beliefs, the cultural norms you were brought up with, your own history of separations from your own parents and your own personality/temperament will determine in large part the sorts of strategies you chose to implement or stay away from. My parents, for example, went away on vacations without my brother and me over the course of my childhood. I now understand how fun that must have been for them, but for us, the kids, we LOVED staying with our grandparents — they were WAY more permissive, gave into our every whim, and showed us and taught us whacky things we would never have been exposed to otherwise.
Then there’s the support system available to you when you do consider leaving for extended periods. Some parents may have a large family of close relatives living close by that would be thrilled to take their children for an extended visit: grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and so on. Others have nannies or babysitters that have been close to their children for years. Still other parents may have a spouse or romantic partner that is ready, willing and eager to FINALLY have the kids all to him/herself. And then there’s always neighbors and close friends that may have fabulously close relationships with our children and who may be happy to take our kids for a weekend. These multiple attachment figures may be crucial for how children adjust to our departures. BUT… other parents don’t have the luxury of these support systems; or they may have them, but they don’t live nearby. Having to leave our children with people who don’t adore our kids and who our kids don’t likewise love can be so, so difficult and make long-term separations almost unbearable or simply impossible.
Finally, there’s the context of the separation that matters. Leaving because you “have to” for work or some stressful, distressing event (visiting a sick loved one, funeral, etc.) compared to leaving because you “want to” have an adult holiday which is child-free can feel very different both for the child and the parent. All these conditions will make a difference in terms of what sorts of strategies you feel comfortable using and which ones will be effective.
Here are some ideas that I’ve used or I’ve heard has worked for other parents (there’s nothing particularly original about them, so please add your own in the comments):
PHEW! Is this the longest post I’ve EVER written? I had no idea I was embarking on a tome on this subject. Hmmm… do you think all this writing about separations may be a way for me to cope with my own impending trip away from my BABIES?!?! My sweet, helpless, mother-less babies!!! Ahem. Well, there you go (Whispers to herself: They will be fine. They will be fine. They will be fine).
What are some of the other ways that you’ve prepared your children for a separation of some length? What’s worked best? What doesn’t work for your children?
I've been noticing a rather sad pattern to the emails I've received lately. A whole lot of them, before getting into the actual sleep problem to be discussed, start off with something to the effect of: "Maybe I'm just a wimp, but…" or "I realize most moms can cope with 4 hours of sleep but…" or "I know it could be a lot worst but I'm just not the type of person who can go on [enter pitiful small number of hours of sleep]…" Basically, a lot of you are feeling like you SHOULD be able to go on being seriously sleep deprived for months on end without complaining, feeling exhausted, or wanting to just check out of this mothering gig. Many of you are also feeling like everyone ELSE is coping so much better with the exhaustion than you are. I've already posted my perspective on how important it is for parents to consider their own health and well-being in general, and sleep needs in particular. I thought I'd bolster my argument with a few links that might drive the point home for those of you who are still struggling with the idea that sleep is for the weak.
This article is one of hundreds out there summarizing the poor outcomes related to sleep deprivation: "Poor sleep can weaken the immune system and affect concentration,
functioning and judgment. It causes changes in appetite and sexual
interest. Studies have found that people who sleep six hours or less a
night have an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks and
stroke… poor sleep may actually [cause] depression, mood and anxiety disorders"
While we're on the topic of guilt… I'd like to ask you all: How do you feel about starting to sleep train, if you haven't yet? If you have sleep-trained, were you confident about that choice before you made it? Were you anxious, confused, did you feel guilty about it? Or were you simply at your wit's end when you came to the decision to sleep train your child?
From my experience, many parents feel awful about finally coming to the decision that they MUST sleep train their kid because they can no longer function as one of the walking dead. But putting your own sleeping needs (desperate as they may be) before your baby’s sense of emotional security seems like the epitome of poor parenting. Mothers in particular are often given the message by the media, friends and family (including fellow mothers, unfortunately) that their first and only priority should be their child’s happiness. Parents’ own health and well-being should be considered secondary, if at all.
We started off our book trying to dispel this dangerous myth right away. From our perspective, parents who are considering sleep-training their babies for reasons beyond just the well-being of their child (gasp!) are not only perfectly normal, but are doing the right thing. A seriously sleep-deprived family can become an unhappy, unhealthy one. And this unhealthy state of affairs has massive implications for parenting and the child’s long-term well-being. Here are some of the facts we compiled about the necessity of sleep.
So, from my perspective, your sleep is as important as your baby’s. Again, that's because sleep affects the kind of parent you are which, in turn, has an impact on your child's development. You just can’t be the parent you want to be if you’re exhausted, crabby, irritable, and irrational. And when parents don’t get enough sleep at night, the household starts to fall apart. Quite literally, your parenting, your work, and oftentimes the quality of your marriage will start to unravel if you don’t get enough sleep to feel and function normally.
My husband is constantly amazed about how torn and guilty parents
feel about considering sleep training their children. He doesn't
understand it because to him it's obvious: Parents need adequate sleep
to function well as parents. Babies need us to help them figure out what's safe, predictable and good for them. I, on the other hand, understand the mixed
feelings too well.
So, why do we feel so guilty when we consider sleep training our children? Is it a mom thing? Are we simply defenseless to the cries of our babies? Is it evolutionarily futile to try to crawl out of the swamp of hormones to recognize our own needs? Who is that voice in our heads saying "you are so selfish?" Is it more of a problem with societal expectations of super mom? And if you've never felt guilty about sleep training, how have you approached this challenge with confidence?