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Dear Daughters

Brace yourselves, I have a confession to make. It may or may not surprise you. Here goes…

I don’t like being woken up in the night! I REALLY don’t like it! I can’t stand it!

Maybe you thought it just washed over me – all part of the service – like chopping cheese into chunks or sitting through Waybaloo – well you’re wrong. Being woken up and dragged from the delicious depths of sleep two, three, four, five times a night is WAY more irritating than that! WAY MORE! And, quite frankly, I’m bloody well sick of it!

It’s not just the nights – which are bad enough – it’s the evenings too. For five years now I have had my enjoyment of every single evening compromised in some way, either because I’ve been trapped in a bedroom breastfeeding, singing, storytelling or simply begging you to go to sleep, or because I’ve had to abandon my delicious food / fascinating film / other grown-up activity, and go back upstairs to soothe you back to slumber.

And then there’s the days. I used to be bright eyed, sparky, witty even. I used to have a ‘To Do List’, and do the stuff on it. Now my face is as grey and puffy as my brain and I cry when I can’t find a matching pair of socks. You might think that all I need is a good night’s sleep, but deep down I know that this state of insane confusion is becoming The Way I Roll and that I’m slowly morphing into a Mad Middle Aged Woman. This is how it happens.

Yes, dear girls, the days, the evenings, the nights – all a chaotic blend of mind-numbing sleep deprivation, dreams that are never finished, and constantly, completely fucking irritating interruption. But do you know what? All of it is just a teeny tiny tip of the most enormous iceberg of what I would do for you.

For as long as I am alive, if you need me, I will come, no matter how much it inconveniences or even irritates me. Call me in the middle of the night from a train station four hundred miles away, and I will jump in my car without question. Get sick and I will camp on the cold hospital floor for as long as it takes. Without hesitation I will empty the bank, I will cut off limbs, I will turn my back on friends, I will serve time, I will move to a new country, I will lay down my life. No matter how old you are, or what the situation, I will be there.

Which kind of makes missing the end of the film while I pop upstairs to soothe you back to sleep seem like nothing much really.

For some reason I can’t quite fathom, not everyone sees it this way. Being a ‘parenting blogger’ who speaks out against sleep training makes me a sort of ‘High Profile Softie’, and sometimes a target for people who think I should be treating you differently. Their arguments, often put forward angrily in blog comments, all seem to boil down to two essential points:

1. Letting you continue to disturb my sleep means I am ignoring my own needs.
2. Responding to your cries round the clock is ‘spoiling’ you and teaching you that the world revolves around you. You will grow into a selfish person with no boundaries and probably end up in prison.

Let’s quickly deal with these points, firstly –

1. Ignoring my needs? My ‘need’ is to respond to you, to be there for you, to comfort you, to mother you. While you are small, and vulnerable, and dependent, I actually want to provide you with all the reassurance I can that you are 100% safe and loved. Doing so brings me great fulfilment. I absolutely know that this solid start will stand you in good stead as you grow and move away from me into the world, which brings me to –

2. Responding to a small child’s needs day and night does NOT create a fragile adult destined for a difficult life, rather it provides a secure foundation, a strong sense of self-worth, and an ability to find comfort in healthy places – essential for long term mental well-being. If you actually talk to people who are finding life hard – prisoners, addicts, the mentally unwell – you will struggle to find any of them who say, “If only my parents hadn’t been so responsive, so loving, so consistently warm and kind to me, 24/7”.

And so, dear daughters, I will continue to be there for you at night as well as in the day, and ignore the critics, the baby trainers, the journalists and the researchers who say ‘Shut the door and let them learn to sleep alone’.

I confess, I don’t like having my sleep interrupted, not one bit, but I know that – for now – you need me, and I need to be there for you.

By the way, I really can’t stand the Soft Play Area, either.

It’s amazing what you’ll suffer for someone you really love.

– – –

You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.

Dr. Seuss