Quarter to 11 on a Saturday night, and I’m wondering (as usual) whether my child is going to have to collapse with exhaustion before he allows himself to get to sleep.
Sleep is this monster topic with parents. Are you getting any, are you getting enough, is your child sleeping through the night – it’s enough to make you wish for self-induced narcolepsy that activates automatically when other parents (OPs) are around.
Eyebrows tend to shoot up when OPs hear that K goes to bed sometime between 9.30pm and 11pm. (I don’t like freaking them out completely and therefore hold off saying that sometimes it’s closer to midnight.) And I must admit, there are times – usually after 9pm any given night – when the sheer Duracell-bunny neverendingness of it makes me want to cry or scream.
For those OPs about to rush to the comments box with suggestions: yes, I’ve tried rearranging his daytime naps so that he doesn’t have one in the late afternoon. And yes, I’ve tried whittling them down to one a day. (In fact, I’ve even tried seeing if he could go a whole day without napping… that went fine til about 3.30 when he crashed for 2 hours and emerged both energised and in a horribly fretful overstretched-and-overslept sort of mood.) And if one more person tries to persuade me of the Power of Routine, I think I might throw something. Routine and me are simply not buddies. We rub each other up the wrong way, and then someone leaves the room. Routine fills me with dread and unease, and the word itself makes me think of the dehumanising legacy of the Industrial Revolution. I don’t mean to diss routine for those who find it fruitful. I just don’t.
But, whilst I will not judge the advocates of routine, I must admit that I do cringe when I listen to the parents that allow themselves to go the route of The Sleep Trainer. It came up today when I chatted briefly to some OPs at the park. When you hear parents talking about The Sleep Trainer, it always goes something like this: “He was a really bad sleeper… and eventually we got in a sleep trainer. And it’s amazing, the power of a really strict routine. It doesn’t work the first night, or the second, or even the fourth or the fifth, but after a week, that’s it. You put him down for the night, and he just goes to sleep. It works.”
I can see why it would be desirable to parents to have kids that go to sleep, like clockwork, at bedtime as designated by mummy and daddy. And I’m sure it does work. The way solitary confinement works for prison warders. The way Pavlovian training works on dogs. Show them who’s boss. Show them that if they don’t do what we want, when we want it, according to our rules and times, they will get No Response, so they might as well learn the rules and play by them.The short-term result is that they will do what the more powerful people in the dynamic dictate. But what is the deeper message that we are training into our children? I believe there is a severe message being wired in with sleep training: your needs come second to the demands of those in authority. And: if you choose to privilege your needs over the demands of the authorities, you will be abandoned or punished.
Am I being extreme here? Perhaps. Too harsh? I don’t think so. What I notice around me is an epidemic of people who are entirely out of touch with their own needs. The norm seems to be: get on with your life, meet the expectations of your parents, your boss, your friends, and whatever other institutions and systems that create the treadmill of your life. Let others dictate what you do and why. Sublimate your frustrations, your sense of feeling invisible, ignored, overlooked, untended, uncared for. Entire lives can be muddled through in this way. Or – and I see this all around me – eventually the dissonance becomes too great, and something cracks. Relationships split open; affairs, obsessions and addictions seep in to fill the cracks. Or we just live with a constant baseline degree of pain and disconnection.
There are many explanations, of course. There are the pressures of modern life. There are the anomalies of personal change, shifting needs, the vagaries of the human heart. But somewhere in there, I feel that notions of “training” children, “disciplining” them and steering them with strictness into routines for our own convenience, all constitute part of a frighteningly dehumanising discourse whose effects may be further-reaching than we know.
In the meantime, it looks like K’s late nights aren’t going to change anytime soon. The payoff is that he does sleep fairly late in the mornings. And sometimes, when the OPs hear that, they admit that they might trade the quiet evenings for a long, lazy lie-in. Yet another reason I won’t be asking for the Sleep Trainer’s number.