‘You’re going to stop sitting with her whilst she falls asleep, right?’ ‘It’s a bit ridiculous to stay in the room with her, when I have kids I’m going to put them down in bed and then just leave them.’ ‘It’s fine for just now, but you’ll want to stop that pretty soon won’t you?’
‘You’re putting them to bed too early.’ ‘Wow, they’re going to bed far too early, they’ll be up at the crack of dawn.’ ‘You need a later bedtime, they won’t sleep.’
‘Leave him to cry, he’ll settle.’ ‘You shouldn’t jump us as soon as they cry, they need to learn to self-settle.’ ‘It’s not good to be always responding when they cry, you’re being a helicopter mum’.
These are just three of the (apparently many!) areas of parenting that I am ‘doing wrong’. I get well-meaning advice from friends, relatives, random mums at parenting groups… everyone seems to have an opinion on how my husband and I are raising our kids. Sometimes it’s positive and people build us up for our choices, but sometimes it’s just people telling us where we’re going wrong.
Here’s the thing though – we’re happy with our kids.
We have a nearly-four-year-old, L, and a just-turned-one-year-old, J, and they usually sleep for twelve hours a night. They’re happy, affectionate, confident kids. I am exceptionally proud of them.
So you might think this article is going to be about all the things I’m doing right (and other people are doing wrong) in raising happy children, but it’s not.
I have absolutely no idea what the ‘right way’ to raise kids is. My husband, G, and I have made the choices we feel are right for our kids and our family. I’ll share them with you in case they might also work for you, but they may be totally wrong for your family, your children or your parenting style.
That doesn’t mean one of us is right and the other is ‘doing it wrong’, it’s just ‘different strokes for different folks’.
So I’m going to share three of the things that I get most criticised for, and why I ignore the criticism and keep doing them anyway!
I sit in my kids’ rooms until they fall asleep
Each night after stories, I turn the light off and then I sit quietly in L’s room and cuddle J until he starts closing his eyes, then I go and pop him in his cot. Most of the time L is asleep by that point, but if not then I go back and sit in her room and read my Kindle for a few minutes until she falls asleep.
On an average night it probably takes 5-10 minutes for both kids to fall asleep once the light goes off, on a bad night it might take 20 minutes. If my husband, G, is home in time for bedtime then we each sit in one child’s room. G usually naps and I read.
We get a lot of negative comments about this habit, as there seems to be a belief that our kids should be left on their own to fall asleep.
I find it hard to explain to people that this is one of my favourite parts of each day. J is a very active baby so it’s one of the few times I get uninterrupted baby cuddles. L sometimes uses this time to tell me something about her day – a boy who was mean to her or a mistake she made, something she’s been worrying about.
Most nights it’s just a few minutes of peace in an otherwise hectic day.
I like this time. I like seeing them fall asleep, I like knowing that they feel safe with me there, I like it when my daughter mutters a sleepy ‘I love you mummy’ as she drifts off. I really like when she uses this time to open up to me about something that has bothered her. This habit works for us and we’re all happy with it, so I really don’t see the issue.
I am all too aware that one day my daughter won’t want me to sit in her room as she falls asleep. One day she will be too grown up, too independent, and when that day comes I’ll be both proud of her and just a little bit sad, because I have treasured these moments (apart from the rare occasions when she goes in to nightmare mode – no-one treasures that!).
My kids fall asleep between 5.30-6pm
Yip, that’s right – my kids are asleep each night by 6pm at the latest. My daughter, L, sleeps until anywhere between 5-6am and my son, J, sleeps until 6-7am.
Do I wish that L would sleep later? Yes. Although since we’ve just accepted that she gets up early and let her play her kindle-fire for kids for an hour whilst we sleep, it bothers us less.
Any mention of L’s wake-up time is almost universally met with the advice to put her to bed later. We have tried this on numerous occasions and it never works – one weekend away we discovered that a 10pm bedtime would usually (but not always) guarantee that she slept until 6am (never later, sadly) but it wasn’t worth the hours of grumpy, overtired toddler in the evening.
However, this insistence that putting her to bed later would make her sleep later eventually wore us down, culminating in what is still referred to in our household as ‘bedtime-gate’.
We spent 19 days (the goal was three weeks but we couldn’t make it) putting L and J to bed between 6.30-7pm instead of their usual 5.30-6pm. We reasoned that ‘everyone’ couldn’t be wrong and we thought that maybe we weren’t giving it long enough for the new bedtime to work. It would also have been quite nice to move bedtime an hour as G would then be home to help.
What followed was 19 days of misery.
L and J went to bed later, but our evenings were now dominated by grumpy, overtired kids – on one night L actually started crying and said she was too tired and needed to go to bed. L was often so tired by 6.30pm that she couldn’t settle – our usual 5 minutes of me sitting in the room sometimes morphed in to an hour or more, as she tossed and turned and complained.
She also moved her wake-up time to anywhere between 4-6am (on one morning she slept until 6.10am and we were over the moon but sadly it didn’t last), usually still around the 5am mark. J continued to get up at his usual time.
Both kids were functioning on less sleep and we really knew about it. They’re not angels, but overall I’d say they’re pretty well-behaved. During bedtime-gate J became really clingy and would cry or scream most of the afternoon, evening and even some mornings. L started acting out – throwing tantrums, crying, misbehaving… it was exhausting.
On day 19 G and I admitted defeat and decided that we had conclusively proven that a later bedtime doesn’t work for our kids. We reverted to a 5.30-6pm bedtime.
There is actually a physiological explanation for this – the problem we were having was that even that extra hour meant that our kids were over-tired. When this happens their cortisol levels are higher when falling asleep, so the melatonin-cortisol crossover point occurs earlier, triggering an earlier wake-up time, even when the child has had less sleep than normal.
Lots of people tell me that their kids sleep better with a later bedtime and that’s great for you, but mine clearly favour an early bedtime and wake-up time. This tendency also means G and I get our evenings to ourselves!
I always go to my kids when they cry
I have no issue with people who choose to use cry-it-out, controlled crying or any other variation, but it just wasn’t for me. G and I just didn’t think it felt right for us and our family.
I would never criticise a fellow parent’s sleep training choices, so it has come as a bit of a surprise to me that people seem to feel it’s OK to critcise me for not using cry-it-out methods.
L was a terrible sleeper as a baby and J had his moments during teething or the 4-month sleep regression (*shudders at the memory*) and whenever one of them wasn’t sleeping I encountered a barrage of advice, most of it along the lines of ‘you need to let her/him cry or (s)he’ll never learn to sleep on her/his own’.
I was also called a ‘helicopter parent’ for not wanting to leave them crying.
Except for pausing a few seconds to make sure J was really awake and not sleep-crying (something I didn’t understand and so didn’t do with L), I’ve never left either of them crying. I choose to believe that they’re crying because they need something from me, even if that’s just a cuddle, so I try to meet that need and stop them crying.
This is the approach that has felt right for me and G and I’m pretty sure it’s been the right approach for L.
Just after her third birthday she was ill and I asked her if she wanted to sleep in our bed. She looked at me and said ‘no, it’s OK mummy, I don’t need to, you always come when I call. I’m happy in my bed’. G and I looked at each other and I felt so happy that L has that security and that faith in us.
Other families will have different needs, letting kids cry a little might work well for them and lead to better sleep and happier kids and parents. There’s no right or wrong and, let’s face it, no-one actually knows whether leaving kids to cry or not is the best way – that’s why there’s so much debate!
The secret to raising happy children is that there is no secret
These three things that G and I are ‘doing wrong’ work for our family and our kids. We are doing what we think best for raising happy, confident children and, so far, it’s working for us.
But that’s just us.
There are so many different families out there, all with their own unique needs and priorities and characters. There is absolutely no way to come up with ‘parenting rules’ that will apply to everyone, other than the obvious ‘don’t abuse or neglect your kids’ rule.
So if you read this and you think ‘I’d like to try that with my kids’ then great, and equally if you read it and think ‘this is utter madness, why would you do that with your kids’ then fair play to you – you may well be right!
We all need to make the decisions that are right for our family, but please (please!) can we stop telling other parents that they’re ‘doing it wrong’ (especially if you don’t have children yet – I can almost guarantee that your ‘I’ll never’ ‘I’ll always’ parenting predictions will haunt you in the future)!
We’ve got to stop pretending that anyone has all the answers in parenting or that anyone has unlocked the ‘one secret’ to raising happy children. We’re all just doing the best we can!
I’d love to hear what works for your family and what aspects of your parenting you’ve been criticised for but have kept doing anyway – leave me a comment below!
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