Photo Credit: StockSnap onPixabay.
It may seem like an unlikely source for inspiration about parenting, but I am writing this article after listening to Seth Godin, a Canadian business marketer, talk about the importance of stories. Although he was not talking at all about parenting, he did talk about how stories are often ingrained and we are unaware that we are telling them.
This resonated with me and got me thinking: what stories do we tell ourselves about infant sleep? And do these stories support our parenting? Or do they undermine it?
If we think of a story as a script that we tell ourselves, we may notice that we tell ourselves stories all the time that may not be true, particularly around infant sleep. The following stories may sound familiar to you:
I need to nip this problem in the bud or my child will never sleep well;
If my baby breastfeeds to sleep she will never learn self-soothing skills;
My baby is manipulating me and I need to “take charge” of the situation;
If we allow our toddler to sleep in our bed, they will never leave.
Perhaps reading this list has you nodding your head vigorously. Perhaps seeing them laid out like this surprises you. Perhaps, as a busy parent you may just be trying to manage the day and you haven’t had time to even consider how many “stories” we tell ourselves and how many “scripts” we recite to ourselves without thought!
Regardless of your awareness of these stories, many of them are deeply ingrained in the way we approach parenting. It is what makes them so challenging to change. By acknowledging and paying attention to these stories, we are able to reflect on whether they are serving us well and whether they are stories we can rewrite.
What if we rewrote the stories we tell?
What if instead of assuming our babies are manipulating us, or that they are developing bad habits, or that doing one thing that supports sleep now will lead to years of regret, we rewrote the script? Perhaps it would sound something like this:
My baby has needs that require my help to meet;
My baby will develop skills over time as her nervous system matures;
My baby is communicating to me in the only way he can;
If what we are doing is not working for us, we can change it when we are ready;
Meeting my baby’s needs allows my baby to feel safe and “right” in the world;
As my baby develops, his needs will change. I can respond to these changes;
I will make decisions that don’t work or feel right. But I can learn from this;
My baby is learning all the time. And so am I;
My responsiveness to my baby is not a slippery slope. I can change our routines and our approaches if what we are doing no longer fits our family;
Babies don’t have habits. They have needs;
My needs are important, too. It does not have to be “either or”.
As you reflect on the stories you tell yourself, what comes up for you? What stories fit the way you want to parent? And which ones are worth re-writing?