This post is written in collaboration with Sovende Børn.
Moonboon works closely with the NGO Sovende Børn and their team of specialists to provide updated, relevant advice and guidance on children's and babies' sleep. Read more about Sovende Børn at the bottom of the post.
Having children represents a fundamental life change, and you may face challenges with respect to yourself and the expectations you have for yourself. If you do not set aside enough time for sleep, which will likely be interrupted because of the little one's need for care, it's easy to see how things can get out of hand.
So how can you best approach the situation – and is there any way to prepare for it? This is what Mia Bjørnfort from Sovende Børn will explore in this article.
Expectation no. 1: To sleep like a baby
Children are different and have different sleep-related needs. That's just the way it is. To 'sleep like a baby' is a broad concept, which we have described in the article 'What is normal baby sleep?'.
The key to understanding – and accepting – baby sleep is probably that no clear definition exists for how a baby sleeps. And, therefore, you can expect to be surprised – no matter what.
Expectations vs. reality
Some parents have their baby room ready with a musical box, with its soothing lullabies, a chair for late-night feeding, a changing station and dim lighting. You are more than ready – but the baby screams if you as much as try anything other than skin-on-skin on the sofa or bed, perhaps with a breast in its mouth constantly.
The expectations for what it is like to have a newborn or a small baby can be quite different to reality, particularly if the expectations mostly originate from beautiful Instagram posts with trendy, colour-coordinated layouts.
Even at this stage, you might feel defeated as parents. Perhaps you had an expectation for how the baby would sleep? That you would take turns tucking in the baby, that Grandmother would come a few times a week to help – and that being woken up in the middle of the night would be difficult but manageable as long as you supported each other.
The feeling of having lost overview– or control
If reality turns out to be entirely different, some parents may experience the feeling of loss of control. Not because they actually lost control, but because they thought things would go one way and now they have to adapt to a different reality. A reality they may not have been prepared for.
Some parents react by trying to establish more control, for example by Googling daily or sleep schedules to create a kind of predictability – and a feeling of having regained control.
Research shows that this approach works for some. Their baby accepts the new structure without a lot of fuss, which gives the parents a feeling of coping. For the parents of babies that are not a fan of this sort of structure and which need a more customised and loose daily rhythm, this approach will be yet another unfulfilled expectation.
And then they will be in an even worse position. Now the attempt to regain control has failed, and it is easy to be left with the feeling that you have no idea what you are doing with that baby.
Wave goodbye to the expectations – at least the stressful ones
Expectations can create pressure if you are not capable of adapting them to your actual situation. Balancing your expectations can involve how the baby goes to sleep, where the baby sleeps – and how parents should tackle the unpredictable baby sleep.
Perhaps you imagined cosy walks with the pram, only to discover that the baby prefers a baby wrap that is packed snugly into a large sweater or jacket.
Perhaps you imagined tucking in the baby in its own bed in its own room from the beginning, but ended up having to take turns so that the baby sleeps in the (double) bed for the first part of the night and then in the baby hammock with the motor running on full.
You can ease the pressure significantly by adapting to the actual situation you are in – and waving goodbye to all the expectations. Which you can't really use for much anyway.
Honest conversations can bring unexpected support
Why does your baby wake up when your sister's had no problem sleeping? And why can the babies from the mothers' group roll, while yours is still lying and snorting without getting anywhere?
Every time a parent talks honestly about how they feel about the transition to parenthood, it opens up for the possibility of receiving support from the family's network. Regardless of whether you feel that everything is as you expected or if you have had your world turned upside down due to uncertainty, it can feel good to talk to others about becoming a parent.
If you have things you find difficult, it can feel good knowing you are not alone. And who knows? Perhaps another parent has experience you can use so that your baby can also figure out how to roll. Perhaps you are the parent with the energy to offer some welcome comfort to the mothers' group and who can show them a better way to tuck the baby in the baby hammock. Or you might even loan them yours.
When things go beyond a normal level of difficulty: This is how to find help
It can be easy enough to talk about the small things – but it can be harder to talk about the more vulnerable things. Thoughts or feelings that you find difficult to have.
We all know the saying of wanting to 'toss the baby out the window' – and it may sound like a funny little saying about the rigours you may face. However, the last thing you expected was that you actually do feel like shouting, yelling and going far far away from the baby – or dream about the baby having a pause button.
If you find yourself having these sorts of thoughts and emotions, you should know that you are far from alone. Far more people than you might imagine experience the same thing. Among other things, it is connected to the huge expectation pressure that parents are subjected to when they are expected to manage everything – and smile while they are doing it.
If you find that it all feels hard, then tell something you trust in your network – or the nurse or doctor. Ask for help to balance your expectations and logistics to something that actually is realistic.
For example, it goes without saying that you can't cook three-course meals and have an immaculately clean home if you can barely sleep at night. It is perfectly normal to let go of these expectations when junior is setting the agenda during the first many months.
Realistic expectations for the first time as parents
It is impossible not to have expectations about life as parents. So with that in mind, what might realistic expectations be like?
For example, it could be something like expecting to use the bed more as a storage unit than for sleeping. Or expecting to have your eyes flicker while the baby is bouncing on your stomach. It could also be expecting to find bits of cloth nappies everywhere – and not having the energy to do more than kick then into the corner.
Perhaps realistic expectations could also be that whatever is said in the middle of the night, in the grogginess resulting from lack of sleep, doesn't count after sunrise. Or what about expecting that you have moments where you feel that everything is going as it should – and moments where you feel that you are stumbling about in the dark?
One small thing that can help could be to think of every situation as 'right now' – and know with certainty that it will not persist. Expect that it passes – since everything passes. Both the easy stuff and the hard stuff.
- 'Sleep like a baby' is a very broad concept. You can, therefore, expect to be surprised – no matter what.
- There may be a big disparity between your expectations of being a parent and what it actually feels like.
- If reality turns out to be entirely different, some parents may experience the feeling of loss of control.
- Expectations can create pressure if you are not capable of adapting them to your actual situation.
- You can ease the pressure significantly by adapting to the actual situation you are in – and waving goodbye to all the expectations.
- Regardless of whether you feel that everything is as you expected or if you have had your world turned upside down due to uncertainty, it can feel good to talk to others about becoming a parent.
- Having the feeling of 'tossing the baby out of the window' is more normal than you might think. It has something to do with the huge expectation pressure that parents face, where they are expected to be able to do it all.
- Talk with your nurse or doctor if the thoughts seem more than just momentary feelings of being overwhelmed and powerless – or if they become too dominant.
- A realistic expectation of parenthood could be expecting to find bits of cloth nappies everywhere – and not having the energy to do more than to kick then into the corner.
- One small thing that can help could be to think of every situation as 'right now' – and know with certainty that it will not persist.
ABOUT SOVENDE BØRN
Sovende Børn is an online universe for parents and professionals seeking guidance and information about babies and children's sleep and sleep issues.
The purpose is to give parents and professionals the right tools to make informed choices that suit the individual child's sleep situation.
On the website and social media outlets, you will find updated and reliable information about available research, as well as webinars, workshops, courses, etc.
Thank you for being among our readers.
I’m Marie, mom to a little boy. And I’m the woman behind the Moonboon company making organic and sustainable baby accessories that respect people and the environment.
Have a look at our baby accessories here.
I want for my son to sleep in optimal conditions, and I want the same for your baby. That’s why I’m especially proud of our GOTS certified hammock and the specially designed motor that has helped me and many other parents sleep better at night.
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