Why are we so obsessed with making our young children independent?
Updated: Feb 17, 2019
I’ve only been a mom for one year, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked if my baby sleeps through the night. This question started as soon as I came home from the hospital. I would just avoid answering the question, but the real answer was- and still is- of course not! It’s NORMAL for infants to wake during the night. My baby has not once slept all the way through the night and she does not sleep in her own room or bed, she sleeps with us.
Another question I’ve been asked ever since she starting eating solid food, is if we are “still” nursing. I smile and nod, but I really want to yell, OF COURSE we are. Just because she eats food, doesn’t mean she stops getting nutrients or emotional benefits from breast milk.
The thing is, my partner and I are completely happy with our bedtime set-up, and our nursing relationship, but I cringe anytime we get asked these questions. I don’t want to hear other people’s opinions about my baby being “too attached” (why/how is that a bad thing?), or that she should be sleeping through the night, or even where she should be sleeping. It stresses me that I always feel like I am on the defense when it comes to our choices as parents.
I love the nursing relationship I have with my daughter. I know she gets emotional support from her “breastfriend” (haha!) as well as nutrients. It makes mealtimes enjoyable because I do not have to worry if she has gotten enough solid food. I know that whatever she did not get from her meal, she can get from me. Nights can certainly be challenging, but I like having her close in bed with our family. I know she is safe and comfortable. The topic of bed sharing was shut down by our first pediatrician at her 4 month appointment. She strongly encouraged we get her to the crib and cut out night nursing sessions by 9 months. This completely went against my instincts as a mother, and we’ve since changed care providers. But that interaction with a supposed child rearing “expert”, combined with plenty of other uncomfortable conversations with well-meaning family (and sometimes strangers), over the last 13 months has made me question:
Why are we as a society so concerned with our smallest and most defenseless members of the community being independent at such a young age?
So, like the millennial mama that I am, I googled my question
Here is a summary of what I found-
The western idea of sleeping in separate bedrooms began at the end of the 19th century. Disease was a serious concern because of overcrowding in apartments. Having separate rooms for each family member became a symbol of status and cleanliness. According to 19th century physical William Whitty Hall, author of a sleep hygiene book from the era, individuals in co-sleeping societies were like “wolves, hogs and vermin” who “huddle together”, whereas in the in the civilized west “each child, as it grows up, has a separate apartment.”
In the 1920s, psychologists continued to perpetuate the idea of sleeping separately. John Watson argued, “Too much coddling would stunt a child’s development and they should occupy their own rooms”. By the 1980s, there was a method developed by doctor Richard Ferber on how to train children to sleep in separate rooms. He claimed it was best for children to learn to sleep apart from their parents so they could see themselves as independent individuals. Interestingly, Dr. Ferber later backed down from his claim that “bedtime meant separation”. He acknowledged sleeping alone was not universally superior to bed sharing. He changed his message and recommended parents choose which method better suits their families needs. Today there are tons of books on sleep training for infants and co-sleeping is still considered “dangerous” and not talked about by many pediatricians.
I agree with Dr. Ferber- every family should choose a sleep and nurturing routine that works best for them. Bedsharing and attachment parenting work best for my family. It is intuitive for me to nurse my baby when she needs it and to sleep with her close to me. I want to establish a strong bond and family connection early. I want her to know she is not alone, and that my partner and I are always here for her- even in the middle of the night. “According to anthropologists Carol Worthman and Ryan Brown, “Family structures in co-sleeping societies tend to be closer-knit with less intergenerational conflict.” I like being led by the natural rhythms of our family instead of forcing a schedule. I am in no hurry to rush my baby to grow up, she’ll only be this little once. Plus, I enjoy our time snuggled up together.
So why is our society obsessed with training our children to be independent at such a young age? We are lead to believe we should schedule them into our lives, instead of the other way around. I’ve heard more than once to not let my baby be the boss. I know it’s certainly easier to plan your day when you know your baby will eat or sleep. But in that aspect, you lose opportunities to form a bond with your baby. You lose their trust by forcing a baby, the most primal member of our society, to be independent before he or she is ready. It makes me question why some people have children if they don’t want to take the time to nurture and raise them. For now, my baby is the boss. We follow her lead. I like to think if we raise her to know she is loved and supported from the very beginning, she will grow up to love and care for others, including herself.
If you decide co-sleeping or bed-sharing is right for your family, please follow SAFE bed sharing practices. Here is a helpful article: http://cosleeping.nd.edu/safe-co-sleeping-guidelines/
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