Friday, December 9, 2011

I'm a Better Mom Than You Are: Getting Your Kid to Go the Fuck to Sleep

I'd like to start a new series of posts called "I'm a Better Mom Than You Are". Think Amy Sedaris gets it on with Mr. Rogers. So here we go. The first entry is about how to get your kid to go the fuck to sleep.

We'll start with an homage to the inimitable Samuel L. Jackson, whose work I blatantly stole for this post:

During a Facebook argument over which of us is the best mom, I mean sharing parenting ideas for getting our kids and ourselves to sleep well at night, a friend shared this article that explains the evolutionary reasons why many kids who live in western cultures put up such a fight at bedtime.

If you don't want to read the entire article, here's a good summary:

"When your child screams at being put to bed alone at night, your child is not trying to test your will! Your child is screaming, truly, for dear life. Your child is screaming because we are all genetically hunter-gatherers, and your child's genes contain the information that to lie alone in the dark is suicide."

I'm pleased scientists are finally supporting my hunches. If I were a sociologist and not a slacker, the hypothesis for my first study would be this: Cultures with the least amount of violence have the greatest amount of children who do not sleep alone at night. It makes perfect sense to me, but in order for most westerners to take me seriously I'd have to test it and have it published in a peer-reviewed journal. That's not going to happen. Since I am a slacker, we'll have to make do with my hunches and a haphazard blog post written during potato peeling breaks. By the way, recipes are greatly appreciated for what my family of three might do with a twenty pound sack of potatoes.

I've always thought it was odd that some people think it's odd for a child to not enjoy sleeping alone. To me, it's just common sense. People, especially vulnerable children, want to be close to other people for protection. It doesn't mean they're spoiled. It means they're smart.

We evolved from ancestors who were subject to predation. They had to fight off lions and tigers and bears - oh my - much more often than my little dorothy needs to today, living in suburban Kansas. But that fear, and that instinct to surround ourselves with kin because together we're more powerful than we are alone, is in our genes. When our tired bodies and sleepy brains get ready to go to bed at night, they don't know it's inside a securely locked house within a safe community, and that the only animal higher on the food chain than ourselves we'll probably ever encounter lives at the zoo.

I guess I was lucky that my family didn't have very much money so I shared a bedroom with one or two sisters until I was twelve. I have always slept better with another body in bed, be it sister, dog, cat, husband, kid.

So here's where my hypothesis kicks in. I have noticed I'm a radical pacifist compared to most Americans. My first grade teacher would say I'm a cry baby. I say I'm mindful of my heightened sensitivity and I enjoy expressing myself. But I've noticed whenever I'm talking to someone about violence in general and war specifically, I'm always the weaniest of us both. I guess I need to hang out with more Quakers.

I suspect the reason I'm so squeamish about violence and opposed to war has to do with my feeling of interconnectedness with all living beings. I can't remember ever not feeling connected to everyone around me. As the baby sister to five much older siblings, my mom tells me I was nearly always being held by someone. And sure, sometimes they'd drop me on my head on the concrete sidewalk outside our house, but there were rare moments when I didn't have arms around me. I shared a bedroom with two of my sisters when I was an infant. Every night when I'd wake up, my sister Kit, who is nearly eleven years older than I am, would rise, change my diaper, give me a bottle, and bring me back into her bed with her so we could both get some sleep. Without complaint. As if I were her living doll. I'm very lucky, and I know that. Who wouldn't grow up to have such warm feelings of interconnection with others being raised like that?

I've tried to raise our daughter in a similar, very physically close, affectionate way. Katie goes to sleep in her own bed because we get sleepy later than she does. Usually. But sometimes she starts out in our king sized bed. If she wakes up in the middle of the night in her own room, she comes crawling into bed with us. By us I mean her mom, dad, one of our dogs and our cat. Lots of warm bodies. Yet I often don't even wake up when she climbs in bed with us. I'll awaken in the morning to a snuggle fest. It's really quite nice. Try it.

When she was still a baby, Katie was almost always already asleep when we put her in her laundry baskinette in between us in bed, and later her crib, and then when she woke up we'd bring her to bed with us. It has worked well for us.

Of course I think my own child is God's gift, but I also try to view her personality objectively. It's more interesting to think critically of our loved ones and realize we love them just as much and even more because of the things we find to critique. So objectively speaking, I think Katie's a compassionate kid. Or let's put it this way, because I think all kids are compassionate, just some have been encouraged to express it more than others. Katie has a highly evolved sense of compassion.

For example, today I was the reading helper in her class. One of her classmates had a meltdown, screaming, crying, stomping. He was sent to the safe seat to cry it out. Which is understandable since he was disrupting the class. But what does that teach our children? Ignore the person who is hurting. Let's go about our business. We have better things to do than to be concerned about that crying kid.

Because I went to public school myself and learned to conform somewhat to social norms, I sat there quietly, waiting for him to calm himself. I wanted to rush over, throw my arms around him and tell him it would be ok. But I'm supposed to keep my hands to myself, something I've had trouble doing since it was first reflected on my first grade report card when my teacher gave me a minus in that box.

But I couldn't help but smile when Katie was reprimanded not once, not twice, but five times by the teacher. "Katie, look up here!" "Katie, quit looking at him." "Katie, eyes up here." "Katie, HERE!" "Katie..." I could see Katie champing at the bit to break from the circle and go throw her arms around her hurting classmate.

Later at home, we talked about the situation with her classmate. I asked her how she felt. "I felt sad for him. He didn't want to be in the safe seat. He's a good kid. He just make a mistake."

I see my propaganda is working on her. I felt like a soccer mom watching my kid score the winning goal, only there were no losers in the game.

I have no proof, but it just seems right that if someone is used to having arms around them they'd think hugging and loving others is the most natural thing on earth. And therefore conclude that the opposite of hugging and loving, killing and hating, is an abomination. So there you go: the least warlike cultures have the most physically held children.

Some of the moms on the Facebook forum suggested the Ferber method worked for their family to get their kids to go the fuck to sleep. I don't have it in me to let a child cry it out. I'm 41 and I certainly wouldn't want to be locked in a bed alone crying myself to sleep. I've always found that trying to think of things from my child's perspective has led me to the best answers when I'm struggling with a parenting problem. And better yet, empathy leads to kids going the fuck to sleep.

So mutha, please. I don't really think you're a shitty parent. I'm trying to provoke people with the title of this post because I like to get a rise out of people. And I desperately need to boost my pageviews. I honestly don't think I'm a better mom than anyone, just the best mom for my family. And you're the best mom for your family. Maybe you don't like little feet kicking you in the ribs at night or blowing hot stinky candy breath in your face. Maybe you've found other ways to calm your child's nighttime fears. That's great. My way is not it or the highway. But I'm sick of so-called experts like Ferber telling parents they'll spoil their children if they comfort their normal nighttime fears.

The best parenting advice I have: ignore everyone, including me, but trust your instincts. And trust your child's instincts. They're there to keep our species alive.