I recently read the book ‘Why your baby’s sleep matters?’ by Sarah Ockwell Smith which discusses the concept of Night-Time Parenting. Some of you may wonder – what is Night-Time Parenting – hopefully most of you.
There is a mindset -largely in western cultures of ‘Night-Time Parenting’ that is parenting that takes place at night as being additionally tedious and demanding and the need to minimise this need to parent at night-time. It comes from a place of busy exhausted parents, perhaps with no support, perhaps one or both back at work, where it would be great it Parenting had an ‘off-switch’, where much like our jobs, we could sign out of being a parent at night and focus on ourselves.
Sorry to break it to anyone who has been operating under this assumption, but there is no end to parenting. It is a 24/7 seven day a week job that has an indefinite contract.
Children have needs day and night – for comfort, warmth, reassurance, physical touch, food, water, shelter, and whether these needs occur when it is convenient for you in daylight hours or at night when you are fast asleep, they must still be met.
If you do a google search on ‘Night Time Parenting’, you will get about 269,000 results. How is this concept of parenting at night time so widely discussed with polarising views? How did we get to a point in our society where parents feel the need to justify comforting their child at night, at defending night-feeding and cuddles when strangers tell them they are ‘spoiling’ their child and our biological drive to co-sleep like all mammals have done for thousands of years is considered to be a new ‘fad’?
I get it, as women started working full-time in the 80s due to economic necessity to have two incomes in a household, it became harder to be present as a mother and share domestic labour equally, especially when babies are still so biologically dependent on their mothers for breast-feeding. What is surprising however, is how quickly something that is primal and instinctive to us – that is – to parent our children 24/7 suddenly went from being baby-led to parent-led, with a parents needs prioritised over that of the child’s. Is it possible to meet the needs of both parent and child? Maybe. The old adage goes it takes a village to raise a child and if you live in a busy industrialised city away from family that may mean creating your own village. What I would like to emphasise though, is recognising that the reluctance to parent at night is for our needs as a parent – for sleep, rest, relaxation – which are important no doubt, but not the needs of our baby who has emotional and physical needs at all times of the day.
Consider the preachings of those who advocate for controlled crying, night weaning, and sleep training at night. If you followed some of this advice at night e.g. letting a child cry alone in their crib, not holding them or comforting them when they are cold, lonely, hungry or scared – if you followed this advice during the day – would you still think this is an acceptable way to parent?
Night-parenting is no different to day-parenting – our babies do not know the difference between day and night, they have been in a cosy womb for 9 months going off the circadian rhythm of their mothers. They have no concept of day and night yet. They just know that they need you – their parents to make them feel safe.
Have we as parents gone to far to meet our own needs, and neglected that of our babies?
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