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Is it time for us to start trusting our parenting instincts?

Walk into any bookshop, have a browse around Amazon or a quick search on the internet and you’ll find a long queue of people ready and willing to tell you the correct way to raise your child.  They can solve any ‘problem’ in a week and each has their own set of rules and regulations to make sure it happens.



The trouble is that quite a few of them aren’t parents, yes Super Nanny I’m looking at you.  A fair few don’t have quite a good credentials as they would like you to believe, yes Clare Byam-Cook that’ll be you.  And an awful lot of them seem to think that the Holy Grail of parenting is to ensure that the child is totally independent as quickly post partum as possible.



To hell with thousands of years of evolution, our modern parenting gurus have decided that a child needs to be alone and independent and so it shall be.



You have only to read the sleep threads on various parenting websites to see what strategies are supposed to work and to deliver 12 hours of sleep uninterrupted by small children. 



I’ve not made a secret of the fact that we have had issues with sleep Chez Muddling – in fact there have been times where I have arrived at work more zombie than superwoman and have got through the day only through an intensive diet of caffeine and sugar. 



Tell anyone that you are having sleep issues and they are not backwards in coming forward.



The issue we had was that Bigger was not terribly happy to sleep in her own bed, preferring to sleep in ours and that if she did sleep in hers initially invariably she would come in and cuddle up later in the night.  I’d stopped lighting a fire in my room (well who wouldn’t want to sleep by a nice warm fire?) and had even closed my bedroom door, only to go up to bed to find the door closed and a small, warm person in my bed.



We had started to have battles over going to bed, over staying in bed – things were getting worse not better.  We were all not getting enough sleep. 



And then suddenly it struck me, I wasn’t stopping her sleeping with us because I felt that us sleeping together was wrong but instead because of the cacophony of views that suggested that we HAD to make her sleep in her own bed.  Instead of listening to my instincts I was creating trouble by trying to do something that didn’t work for us.



Now Bigger either goes to sleep in her own bed and knows she can come into us later or, especially when Mr is away, will curl up in my bed and I’ll join her later – she sleeps soundly from 7 until 7 and we are all rested.  Interestingly Littler, who I co-slept with from the morning she was born until about 18 months when she weaned from the boob sleeps all night in her cot snuggled up under her two (yes two, she likes to be warm…) duvets.



A recent question about how to get a 7 month old to sleep on the Pampers Facebook page was full of stories of methods to force your child to sleep.  Almost all of them had a mother mentioning how hard she had found the process and how she had been reduced to tears listening to her baby cry.

Why are we fighting our instincts to cuddle and comfort our babies instead of listening to them?



Why do we think it is acceptable to leave a small child to cry alone for night after night?  Would we treat an adult like this – can you imagine standing outside the door letting your partner cry and not going to comfort them?



I believe that Bigger sleeps with me because she needs to know that I’m there – she needs the certainty that Mummy isn’t going anywhere.  I’m not there in the day so being there at night is what it takes.  And finding peace with that has been like a magic sleep inducing wand in our household.  Both my girls sleep better, I get more rest and we all have the cuddles that we need.



So do you believe that comforting your baby creates a rod for your own back?



Do you listen to your parenting instincts or what the gurus say? 



Is there one right way or just the right way for you and your baby?


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41 comments to Is it time for us to start trusting our parenting instincts?

  • Angela

    You are so right. I think as with all aspects of parenting there are many ideals but we have to realise that our children are individuals and so are we mums and dads and there is no single right way to do anything. I have two sets of twins and we have co-slept with them all out of necessity for them and us. The one thing I have never been able to do is listen to any one of my baby’s cry without going to soothe them but that’s just me.

  • Hurrah! My goodness, you talk a lot of sense. I love sleeping with my little ones and we co-sleep whenever we need to. Like you, I tried to force Bigger to sleep on his own and we both broke our hearts. Then I ‘gave in’ as it were and it was suddenly no longer an issue. It only becomes an issue for us when the children take up more space in the bed than husband and i combined, but we plan to buy a kingsize bed to solve that problem 😉

    • We have a big bed that can fit all 4 of us in and a double in the spare room – only issue has been teaching them good bed manners but after a couple of times of being returned to their own beds for excessive wriggling and kicking they are very good at sleeping now. And nice and warm to snuggle up to!

  • without wishing to sound like an extra from the cast of Last of the Summer Wine, they managed just fine without books when I was born….I rather wish I had not read any. But I do like having the online support of people who say things like “Do what’s right for you” and “Trust your instinct”. More of that please.

    • Exactly! There is such a thing as too much information isn’t there

      Finding the right support is the key isn’t it – just wish you could tell before you had the baby who the good ones for you would be

  • I’m a firm believer in having one right way for you and your child which probably won’t be the right way for anyone else.

    We had sleep problems with our middle child for years. He would often come and sleep with us. The only problem being that he was a very disruptive sleeper. To share with him meant no sleep for either Dave or I, and funnily enough him as he would often wake to check that we were still there. We eventually persuaded him that he would get a lot more sleep in his own bed, and his sleeping has been much better since (as has ours!).

    So, co-sleeping (at 3) didn’t work for us, but hurrah for it working for you! And bring on long, restful nights for us all.

    • Exactly – co-sleeping works for us but it won’t for everyone. In fact Littler is better if you cuddle her and return her to her duvet nest because she likes to be so warm – co-sleeping with her can make things worse

      Each to their own and what works for them!

  • Claire

    Totally agree. It’s time these so-called experts reined in their heads and let mothers get on with doing what they do best – mothering. It is difficult, it is a learning experience, and there is no perfect text book baby, but it’s a ‘natural thing’ and if we were left to rely on our own instincts instead of being harried and made to feel like the worst mother in the world because we don’t employ the latest craze, then the world would be a happier place.
    I have slept with my wee one since the day he was born (so sue me!) because he didn’t like the Moses basket, and when he moved to a cot, he would wake up every time I put him down, so it was easier.
    I have never left him to cry, despite after 18 months of being woken every 1½ hours, and friends saying it’s the only way, you must leave him to cry. Why? so he gets more distressed, thinks that I’m not there, etc.

    Since the dawn of the human race mothers have relied on their instincts without the need of books.

    So thank you, but I’d rather be cave-mummy!

    • I think cave mummy is a great way to go – baby’s cry for a reason I believe so if they are crying it is because they need something not just to irritate (and yes they cry so you can’t ignore them because they have to in order to survive)

  • I switch off the minute I hear “rod for your own back”. We’re finding co-sleeping more difficult now as small one is like a demented spider and can take up most of a kingsize on her own, but I won’t let her cry. I don’t particularly like sleeping alone so why anyone believes a child should want to is beyond me.

    The early years go so quickly and we’ll be wishing for the cuddles when they’re teenagers, so if it works for your family, it doesn’t matter how they get to sleep or where they wake up.

    • We had to go through a phase of teaching good bed manners (no kicking, no fiddling with my boobs, no sleeping across the bed) but now we’ve done that we can all get along fine – and it means I don’t have to sleep in the bottom bunk bed so I’m a lot more comfortable

  • For a while, I was so completely obsessed that our sleep problems were due to my son’s inability to ‘self-settle’, and I read far too much advice and sleep training jargon, that I neglected to see him as an individual. An individual who needs quite a bit of reassurance, especially at night time. As he gets older and his personailty comes out more, this fact becomes all the more obvious too me.

    My opinion is that doing the best by my son is being there for him when he needs me, and knowing that one day, when he’s ready and confident enough, he will no longer need me to come in and reassure him/nurse him multiple times per night. I am so ready for ‘one day’ to be next week, though!

    Like you said, I would never dream of ignoring my partner, or a friend, if they were crying. Our children aren’t trying to manipulate us, they all have their own particular reasons for why they are seeking our reassurance.

    • It’s the way that you start doubting what your gut feeling is that I find hardest – I’m not there in the day so if they need me close at night so be it because actually if they are happy then I’m happy

      And yes, giving them the confidence that they are loved and nurtured has to have a benefit longer term surely?

  • I totally agree and especially with the point that if you have a baby that takes a while to get their head around the whole sleep thing then everyone is very keen to tell you what to do and most of the time, with our experience, it didn’t involve anything we were doing.

    When my first was about 4 months old I was so desperate I went to the library and got various sleep books. The first page I read had a timetable of how long I was to bf my baby for during the night and how long I was to stand next to their cot listening to them cry. I took it back to the library and continued out journey alone.

    I was shocked actually how soon people would ask me if he was sleeping through and I think if we managed new parents expectations a bit better, there wouldn’t be the demand for sleep training (hate that phrase) advice. However, there’s no money in that so it’s not likely to happen.

    • It still makes me cross that the red books have a box to tick for when ‘baby usually sleeps through the night’ – to be honest mine did and then sometimes regressed, it wasn’t as simple as them sleeping 12 hours at x weeks

      The point you make about expectation management is so key – turns out sleeping through is supposed to be 6 hours not 12…

  • Morag

    Do you think the reason so many parents seem to have trouble with this is they have so little experience caring for children before they actually become parents? The advantage of learning first on other peoples’ kids is that you have fewer emotions invested and can figure out what works in practical terms. It used to only be an occasional child who had more than occasional problems with sleeping through the night on their own. And as one who cared for many different children from different kinds of families as a teenaged babysitter and twentysomething nanny, it never was that big a deal for me to get a kid settled in. There are a few methods/tricks to use. Some work with some kids and some work with others. You have to get a feel for the kid. Same as for potty-training. But it does seem to have become a major problem for young parents and, honestly, it wasn’t particularly twenty or thirty years ago.

    • It probably goes to family support as well not least in having someone to come in and parent you when you are learning to parent, the isolation can easily make you start doubting yourself

      Our nanny reckons that the lack of emotional connection makes it easier to work out what to do, also knowing that you can go home and sleep is quite helpful!

  • Information gather from friends, gurus, whoever if you like but in the end it has to be what works for you and your family. We all get so hung up on what we “should” be doing – when I imagine the weight that would be lifted if I never did this it is compelling!

  • I will admit after 14 years of parenting I’m totally clueless. And the maddening thing is: just when you think you’ve got a handle on babies, they turn into toddlers, then tweens, then teens and I’m clueless again. I’ve done it both ways with the sleeping while we lived in London and The Contented Little Baby Book (sleep training) saved our life. Now we’re in Bay area, California, noone does it.

  • hear hear.
    We set out determined not to co-sleep and I’m a total convert. I’ve only had a few sleep deprived nights with no. 2 because we co-slept right from the start. The older one was quite happy moving from co-sleeping to own bed, but after younger one was born, she felt lonely and I so understand her. She does always settle back in her own bed but when hubby is away, I’m more than happy to have her come through and share bed with me and little sister. It just makes sense and feels totally normal. We all enjoy it and I’ve long stopped listening to how other people think I should parent my kids (same goes for breastfeeding beyond a year by the way, every comment on that one just gets ignored second time around). There’s plenty of research that shows that not responding to a crying child, especially in the first year, can have a negative impact for life. I wouldn’t chance it, but above all, I just couldn’t let my child cry for the sake of my sleep.
    And actually, I prefer to be close to my kids, and notice if something’s up, or simply because I know they won’t be small and cuddly forever. I appreciate though that for many, co-sleeping isn’t the answer or really doesn’t work and that’s obviously just fine and dandy.

    • I do wish I’d been confident enough to co-sleep with Bigger from the start, would have made life so much easier. And even though Littler fed every hour for weeks because we co-slept I was in far better shape than most people would have been

      Being able to tune out comments would be really very helpful

  • Yep I worried incessantly about not setting up bad habits with the first and made my life a whole lot tougher in the process. with the second i just rode the waves – and guess what – he sleeps fine. I also hate the sheer number of (quite rubbish) parentnig books for kids and parents that have no problems, that try to solve solutions to problems that are not there.
    However, i have recently bought a book for techniques on how to handle a strong willed child. But i reckon those problems are real!


  • I totally agree that everybody’s parenting and children are totally different! i have three parenting books, none of which i have actually read since my 4 month old was born. i’m not sure how i feel about ‘leaving babies to cry’ as it really depends on what is meant by it. i would NEVER leave my son to scream, day or night. however having realised that he a) hated the moses basket with a passion and b) was constantly disturbed by sleeping in the same room as us, these days he always goes down in his own room and sleeps 6pm-7am without a fuss but that’s not to say there wasn’t a lot of whinging (not screaming!) when we used to leave the room at first! but then i would just go back in, cuddle him, put him back down, then rinse and repeat this until he went to sleep without so much as a whimper. Does this count as leaving him to cry? i hope not!

    anyway it worked perfectly for us but probably wouldn’t for most! sorry for the ramble 🙂 it’s a very interesting topic, i’m always interested to hear what works for people!

  • Have just stumbled across this after another night of nearly three year old wedged firmly on my side of the bed and hubby and I clinging on for dear life as we teetered precariously on the edge of his side. My back is sore and my eyes are heavy with sleep, but do you know what, I’m not fighting it. It’s not going to be forever, I love that he feels safe and warm and comfortable enough to come join us. He certainly won’t want to have a sleepover with us when he’s 13, so for now. I’ll teeter on the edge and be cool with that.

    • Time to get a bigger bed! It’s the best thing that I can sleep more or less comfortably with both of the girls when I need to, especially when Mr Muddling is off travelling and I’m on my own, can’t do solo parenting without sleep!

  • Three children in, I completely believe that all babies are different, what works for one will not for another. I just think that there are enough babies that do respond to a strict routine to keep those books being written and sold!

    I was so sure that a technique I used (involving putting baby in a sling at bedtime) with my first and seemingly perfected with my second was going to be my route to child-free evenings with no problems at all. How wrong I was – No 3 just did not respond well to the sling or being put down in the evenings, despite, so far, being my easiest and sunniest baby.

    I do think children like routine, but I don’t you need to ‘train’ them or follow a rigid timebound schedule. All three of my babies have gone into their own beds quite young, but I have never left them to cry and I always went in when they woke for a feed or just for comfort. It did take well over a year for the first two to start sleeping through with any kind of regularlity (and was total hell with my second who would scream for hours in the night, even though we would sit with him or bring him into our bed) and my third is up 1 or 2 times for feeds. But I honestly believe that one of the reasons my older two sleep well now and go to bed so easily is because they were never left to feel afraid and abandoned in their beds. They consider their beds to be safe and cozy.

    And as for feeding schedules, I have yet to work out how anyone can get a newborn baby to follow a 3 hour feeding schedule….!!

    • Mine are like chalk and cheese, what works for one just doesn’t work for the other

      We instigated routine around bedtime at 8 weeks, we all needed a framework to live in and bedtime goes smoother if we don’t change anything – that said we co-sleep and feed on demand

      The whole 3 hourly thing I believe is linked to the Victorians thinking that the feeding routine of calves was appropriate for children… obviously

  • Great post, Muddling. I say do what works for you and your tribe and don’t feel you have to apologise for it if it doesn’t fit some ‘ideal parenting’ model. Happy mother, happy kids, I reckon.

  • I’ve stopped admitting when sleep is difficult simply because I’m fed up of being Gina-Ford-ed to death. And when I simply say that cry it out is not for me I get responses to the effect of “you’re such a softie” as if my unwillingness to ignore my own instincts is somehow a weakness. We made the decision as parents to do what feels right. At the moment co-sleeping works for us. Maybe next week it won’t. We’re just taking it as it comes and responding as makes sense to us.

    • Exactly – doing what is right for you all – be so much nicer if sleep wasn’t such a sign of ‘good’ parenting really, mine are good in other ways just not consistent sleepers in their own beds yet

  • michelle twin mum

    Listening to your own instinct is definately the right way to go. Fab post.

    mich x

  • Completely agree with you. I think you should take the advice you want to, but trust your Mothers instinct…who knows your child better than you? Glad to have found your Blog 🙂

  • […] and making choices is a long way from feeling a failure – surely if we can find the confidence to trust our parenting instincts then we be happy that the choices we make are the best we can do at that point in time and stop […]

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