Lately, I find myself uttering the phrase, "I'm doing my best!" on a regular basis. In fact, it's become a part of my weekly repertoire when it comes to things I say to people as the answer to many a question, including how I'm adjusting to my new fall schedule, to my husband being in grad school, to Ava's sometimes never-ending tantrums and the demands of several children all day.
The other day, I was talking to another mother about Ava's sleeping schedule. Recently, she's gone from a night owl to flat out exhausted come 6PM. I attribute much of this to my newly minted fall schedule, which includes a couple of very early mornings and some long days mixed in. In fact, she's been so tired lately, I have been taking a pull-up and pajamas with me each day, feeding her dinner at ridiculous times (try 4:45!), and bathing her during the day, so that way when she inevitably falls asleep on the drive home a few days a week, we're not unprepared (I'd be lying if I said I didn't love this some nights, especially when D has class and I'm completely alone without anyone else's demands for hours. HOURS!) Anyhow, back to the topic at hand, Ava had previous been an unpredictable sleeper. She prefers to stay up later than most toddlers (she would easily go for a nightly 9pm bedtime or later if I'd allow it), needs help to fall asleep, etc. In short, while she's a low maintenance, well-behaved child, she's kind of a diva when it comes to bedtime.
The other mother I was talking to was relaying that her household was having a similar issue, with her child sometimes taking over an hour and a half to fall asleep, and ending up in their bed at night. I talked to her about how I could completely relate: Ava had slept in the pack-n-play in our room for the first five months, and then we chose to co-sleep from that point on. While that was a choice I still do not regret, it's been anything but the easy choice. Because of my opposition to allowing A to cry it out, we chose a gentler method for our bedtime routine, most frequently where one of us would lay with her (me, usually, nursing her) until she fell asleep peacefully and without crying and other stressful emotions. To this day, despite the presence of a full-sized bed in her own big girl room, we continue to co-sleep.
Now here's the point where I interject that I still do not regret that decision. The time that we've spent cuddled up to our daughter, sleeping peacefully together as a family, is time that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I adore her sweet little snores, the way that she twirls my hair in her sleep, and her natural tendency to gravitate towards me in her sleep. I feel certain that our co-sleeping practice is one of the reasons that Ava and I are so close, and why our breastfeeding relationship lasted as long as it did. But...
For all the times that I've patted myself on the back, I've wondered just as many if I'm screwing Ava up by catering to her sleeping whims like this. If she wouldn't be better off having been allowed to cry it out and work through it herself. If I'm doing the wrong thing.
Isn't that term scary? The "wrong thing", that is. As parents, we face choices for the sake and futures of our children on a daily basis. Whether it's regarding what they're eating, how they're sleeping, who they're friends with, how you've handled their temper tantrums (and they ALL have them, take it from me!), we're so concerned with doing things right and avoiding doing the dreaded "wrong thing" that will send our kids to therapy and cause them to hate us well beyond their teenage years.
The point to this long-winded drivel? Whether or not you co-sleep or allow your child to cry it out, breastfeed or formula feed, allow our children processed food or not, and so on and so forth, we are all doing our very best. Coming from someone who once worked for Child Protective Services, believe me when I say that the vast majority of parents are feeling this out through trial-and-error and doing the very best with what they have to work with. Despite our own personal feelings towards what is "right" when it comes to parenting, there's no one answer. In short, we're all doing our very best (with the obvious exception of a few standout situations, such as child abuse and neglect, etc - obviously.).
Before I was a parent, and especially with being a nanny and having an inside view of the parenting ideologies of other parents, it was easy to judge. I'd see a mom handling a tantrum in the grocery store a certain way and, in typical childless fashion, make a mental note of how I would "never" do that. You know, like when I carried Ava, kicking and screaming, from Target? Yeah, I thought that certainly my child would never behave in a way that necessitated that. Or the time that I bribed her with candy to get her into her car seat after another said fit in a public place because I was so completely worn out from handling the situation that I would have bought her a baby Hummer if that was her request to make it end. Or how I nursed my fully-grown toddler not only past her first year, but past her second, and allow her to sleep in our bed? Yeah, I'd "never" do that ;)
My point, though I'm currently taking a while to arrive there (sorry!), is to be kind to your fellow mothers. Or, if you're childless, consider karma before you give the evil eye to a mom who is struggling to handle their overtired two-year-old - ha! We're all in the same boat. We've all (barring those with round-the-clocks nannies, chefs, and a plethora of home employees) had a child fall completely apart in public. We've all been up five times in one night with a deadline looming and a cold coming on. We've all had a baby on our hip, dinner burning on the stove and the phone ringing. So the next time you see a parent unraveling in front of you, cut them some slack. Or, better yet, lend them a helping, non-judgmental hand. Chances are, they're doing their best.