Throughout our journey as parents, we are faced with several decisions to make along the way. One of the earliest decisions we make is the choice of whether or not to sleep train our babies. Now in this space we frequently speak out against the process of sleep training, but we know that many in our community, ourselves included, have attempted or used sleep training in the past. Today we want to take a moment to address those who used sleep training, whether you bought fully into the process or tried it for one night, and have regrets about having done so. If you sleep trained and it worked for you, this isn’t for you. If you did and do have regrets, you’re in good company so here we go.
First, we absolutely want you to know you’re not alone in these feelings. We have both had regrets over the choices we made surrounding sleep in the past. We know that you did the best you could with the information you had at the time, and your best is amazing. It’s so easy to beat ourselves up over those decisions that we made, but we live in a culture where sleep training has become the default. If you searched out support for your baby’s sleep (especially if it was a few years ago), you were probably met with the same feedback everywhere you looked, that is summarized as “you caused your baby’s sleep problem, the only way to fix it is to teach independent sleep and you do that by sleep training”. We’re so sorry that our culture and the people you trusted for support failed you in this vulnerable time in your life. You did the best with what you knew at the time and that is all any of us can do.
We want you to acknowledge the feelings of guilt or regret you have over having sleep trained. Let yourself feel them in your body. Sit in those feelings for a little bit so you can process them. Then we want you to start to forgive yourself and focus those feelings on what you can change moving forward to help you further grow into the parent you want to be. Maybe these feelings help you to challenge the status quo when it comes to parenting. This can be the jumping-off point for your more positive relationship with your child, you can use this experience to really learn from and re-engage your instincts moving forward.
We also want to encourage you and remind you that your relationship with your child is lifelong and it’s dynamic. Just like we don’t get it right during the day every single time, sometimes we get it wrong at night time. You can absolutely repair the relationship you have with your child if you feel like there was rupture to it. First, apologize to your little one. Not to relieve guilt, but because you truly don’t feel like that’s something that should have happened in their lives.
Then reduce the separation at night that sleep training instilled. Stay with your child at bedtime. Hold him, rock her, cuddle him, whatever you want to do, do it! You want to exceed their need for comfort, closeness and connection, and do it before they ask for it. Increase the responsiveness to your little one throughout the night if they do wake. Don’t wait to see if they settle on their own, just be there right away. We want to re-establish the pattern that if they need us at any point, we’re right there.
Finally, work to reduce any separation you may be using during the day. Unfortunately, sleep training is just the start of how mainstream parenting encourages us to use separation to control behaviour. Time outs, ignoring behaviour you don’t want to see, removal of something they love, and even rewards all use separation or the threat of separation to modify our children's behaviours. If we’re working to repair any rupture done as a result of separation-based sleep training, we want to reduce the separation used to control behaviour during the day as well.
We want you to rest assured that your relationship with your child is fluid, dynamic and repairable. If you feel any regrets over past choices, remember that you can increase the closeness and connection moving forward and that every time you do you can work to repair any rupture that may have occurred. We know that you’re doing an amazing job at this mom gig and you’ll continue to grow more and more with your child.