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In Which I Am Not the Boss of My Kid

by Kathleen Quiring on February 6, 2012

(This post is a part of Emerging Mummy’s Practices of Mothering Carnival. Hence the title, which is modeled after her way of entitling blog posts, A. A. Milne-style. Tomorrow I’ll return to my series about stay-at-home moms).

EmergingMummy.comI’ve stumbled upon a secret to making mothering easier on me.

The secret is quite simple: I’ve assigned some of the responsibility to my five-month-old baby. And I’ve been doing it since she was born.

* * *

We place so much responsibility on parents these days. Parents think it’s up to them to make their babies sleep and eat. They think they’re responsible for making them poop and pee in the right places and behave and dress appropriately. Which is really quite silly, if you think about it, because no human being can really make another person sleep or eat or poop or pee or anything.

So I’ve decided to let my baby make some of these decisions herself.

Like sleeping, for example. Some parents drive themselves crazy trying to get their kids to sleep. They lose their minds, trying to coax babies to sleep through the night and to take the right number of naps every day for the right amount of time.  These parents lose all kinds of sleep, worrying and fretting about how their kids aren’t getting enough sleep. It sounds oh-so-hard.

I thought that sounded like way too much effort, so I decided to let my baby decide for herself when to sleep.  I encouraged her to do most of it at night, though, by keeping her warm and cozy and safe right next to my body when it got dark, and by feeding her as soon she woke up, and by keeping the room quiet and dark until morning. It didn’t take too long before she was doing most of her sleeping at night. She still wakes up a couple of times each night, but I don’t let that bother me too much.

Ultimately, she makes the decision about when and how long to sleep.  I just offer her guidance. Like, when she’s rubbing her eyes and acting grumpy, I don’t just leave her to do her own thing. I’ll make suggestions — “Are you sleepy? You look sleepy. Should we try a nap?” — and I’ll help her get comfortable, maybe offer her some milk to calm her down. If she falls asleep, awesome. If not — well, that’s not really my responsibility. I’ll keep holding her or rocking her or letting her play. Hopefully she’ll listen to her body sooner or later.

And if she’s not sleepy, I also won’t just put her in her crib and leave her there, just because I or some expert have decided it’s the appropriate time for her to sleep. Because really, what do we know?

It feels good to be released from the responsibility of being the expert on When Lydia Should Sleep (and Eat). That seems like too big a job for me (or anyone) to have to take on.

I let her be the expert.

baby four monthsSee, I think that the best authority on what my daughter needs (at least at this point in her life) is my daughter herself. She knows best whether her stomach feels empty or full, whether she feels tired or alert. I don’t know those things, though I can make guesses based on her behaviour and kind of help her see it for herself if she seems confused or overwhelmed. And if she refuses to listen to her own body? Well, there’s not really much I can do about it. What makes me think she’ll listen to me if she won’t even listen to her own body?

It’s liberating, not having to be the boss of everything.

It has worked out so well that I plan to keep extending the realm of her decision-making as she gets older. Like what to eat (within a certain range of options, of course), and what to wear (even if it’s a dinosaur costume and we’re going to the store).

Not only does this help make my life easier, but I think it has benefits for her, too. It teaches her that her needs, her wants, and her preferences matter. It teaches her that she has agency — she can make decisions for herself. And it teaches her to listen to her body and intuition, which most of us have lost the ability to do.

So if, one day, she ever points to me in a fit of frustration and yells, “You’re not the boss of me!” I can pause, sigh, and say, “You’re right. I’m not. What a relief.” And we can work on a solution together.

It’s nice having someone else to share the load with, even if she’s only five months old.

What are some of your practices of mothering or fathering?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Laura February 6, 2012 at 8:21 am

I love this! :) I posted something very similar on my blog with my “practice”. Sleeping is especially a hard thing to learn on this matter. “Just trust your baby” doesn’t sell sleep books, you know? So I had to learn to stop reading those sleep books, and just do what Ellie told me to do. Very liberating!


2 Grace February 6, 2012 at 8:32 am

I do agree with you largely; I think it’s so important to follow your child’s cues and trust that they know when they need something.

But I think you are maybe misunderstanding the reason most parents are obsessed with their kids’ sleep; it’s because the parents are tired. I was really focused on my daughter’s sleeping for the first few months, not because I was worried about her (she would sleep if tired), but because I was exhausted. Sleep training is almost entirely for parents’ benefit (which is my opinion is entirely valid).

It does get more important to say no as kids get older: they start fighting sleep even when tired, because playing is more fun. Then they feel horrible. By enforcing rest periods (if not sleep, which is not up to you as the parent), you help them develop their own self-control.

I’m sure you will figure out what works for you and Lydia though; you seem like such a sensitive and attuned mother.


3 Kathleen Quiring February 6, 2012 at 9:40 am

You make a good point, Grace, about parents obsessing over kids’ sleep mostly for their own benefit. But I have run across parenting books that warn you that if you don’t sleep-train your baby, you’re dooming her to be a horrible sleeper for the rest of her life. I personally believe that to be arrant nonsense. I think there are a lot more factors involved and puts unnecessary stress on parents.

I think you’re right about needing to enforce rest times as she gets older. I hope to continue to take my cues about what she needs from her, though. Thanks for your thoughts!


4 Hope February 6, 2012 at 9:22 am

Loved this! I wish i would have had this encouragement 20 years ago! You have found freedom and your little sweet pea will be blessed by it as well!


5 Jennifer Hoffman February 6, 2012 at 5:17 pm

I so love that you let her communicate and understand her own needs. I also practice this with my daughter. I’ve discovered that as she has become a toddler, she sometimes needs help with “brainstorming” ideas for meeting her needs, but it’s so important she understands how to communicate her needs – and that I will listen. Thanks for sharing!


6 Katherine February 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm

What an encouraging post. I struggle with the voice of judgment, telling me my daughter will never learn to sleep if we don’t do this, that, and the other. But my heart and my daughter testify that she needs to be right next to me. Thank you. :)


7 jamie February 6, 2012 at 8:48 pm

liberating, yes. :) listening to our babies/kids is one of the greatest gifts we can give them, i think! well on your way in sensitive mothering, your kiddo is blessed.


8 Heather G February 6, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Awww…. Hooray!! Lydia looks great in the larger version of the fave grey sweater. Thanks for posting that particular picture – I’m flattered, although I don’t have very much reason to be. :)


9 MamaPsalmist February 7, 2012 at 2:11 am

Love this! “You’re right. I’m not. What a relief.” I can’t wait for my daughters to try the “You’re not the boss of me” line!


10 Kath February 7, 2012 at 5:28 am

Hey, this is a great way to frame this way of parenting as enlisting your child’s expertise early. I love it. This is a really helpful post. Thanks.


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