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Parents of Night Wakers Anonymous


My name is Amy, and my three year old daughter does not sleep through the night. Not only that, but I [gasp!] still nurse her to sleep. Sometimes I feel like people with children who wake up at night should be meeting in a church basement somewhere, drinking coffee out of styrofoam cups with bags under our eyes, secretly confessing our frustrations about sleep deprivation. Instead, I’ve always been extremely open about my daughter’s night waking, because I want new parents to know that they're not alone, they're not doing anything "wrong," and I firmly believe that the more we talk about it, the more normal it will seem.


I am also not ashamed of this fact, in the way that some would assume I should be. From a very early age, people began to inquire about my daughter's sleeping habits, in a manner that somehow implied that my ability to coerce my child to conform to their perception of how children should sleep was the primary indicator of how good of a parent I was. Oddly enough, these are typically the same people that gush over how tremendous my daughter is, while simultaneously casting judgmental overtones in their inquiries about her sleeping habits.


This is not about demonizing those who prefer to sleep train or cry it out vs. co-sleeping. This is about normalizing the concept that many children wake up at night, regardless of where they sleep, and it doesn’t make us bad parents when they do. However, it seems to me that people don’t think as much of it if your child has slept in a crib from the start. Somehow if you have abided by their parenting paradigm all along, then I guess it’s not your fault if your child is still waking up.


It has been my experience that people are far more inquisitive about your child’s sleeping habits when they know you are sharing a bed or have co-slept at some point in their development. Yet when I think about all the time I’ve spent nursing my child, being present for her, cuddling with her, letting her sleep next to me, sacrificing my sleep to help her feel safe and comfortable…if all of that is viewed as somehow being a bad parent, then I guess I’m guilty. Again, I’m not implying that anybody who does anything different is doing it wrong, I’m simply suggesting that the parenting choices I’ve made, whether they result in her sleeping through the night or not, do not make me a bad parent.


So maybe, just MAYBE when we address one another as parents, we should focus on whether or not that child is happy. Whatever parenting methods were used to help that child develop into a joyous human being is irrelevant, because what works for one family may not work for another. It’s the child that is important.


I hope that more parents will start speaking up about their child’s sleeping habits. I’m not saying that there aren’t plenty of children who grace their parents with uninterrupted sleep night after night, but I KNOW there are more out there who don’t, and their parents are just too ashamed, nervous…whatever to admit it.



400Amy Serotkin is dedicated to sustainable living and finding ways to eliminate toxins in her home.  She is an avid organic gardener and cook, and is always looking for more ways to challenge herself to lessen her family's ecological imprint. 


Her website, www.themindfulhome.blogspot.com, shares with consumers the information she's found on toxins and eco friendly products that help eliminate disposables or toxin exposure.  She also hopes to highlight smaller retailers, crafters and manufacturers.

Comments (11)

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Couldn't agree more! My 2-year old still nurses down for naps and nighttime sleep, and still night wakes 1-2 times per night (with the occasional sleep thru). Honestly, it doesn't feel like a bit deal, though you're right that jaws drop when I mention this to anyone.
We've co-slept since he was 2-months (though he's starting to transition to a toddler bed), so nursing in the middle of the night is super easy. I'm usually back to sleep before he is. Does he "need" to eat in the middle of the night? No, he wouldn't starve to death, but it's comforting for him, keeps our bond strong, and isn't any sweat off my back, so I really don't see a problem. Most definitely to each their own though -- every kiddo and parenting situation is different.
I love this! I was seriously going to blog about this next myself. I'm so glad that you did! I hated all the "Is he sleeping through the night yet?" queries. Thanks, Amy!
Sometimes I feel like people with children who wake up at night should be meeting in a church basement somewhere, drinking coffee out of styrofoam cups with bags under our eyes, secretly confessing our frustrations about sleep deprivation.
I laughed when I read this - there is a meeting just like this taking place around here - La Leche League! lol Our 2 year old still wakes during the night and nurses back to sleep. Whatever. My husband has been telling people he sleeps through the night since he was 2 days old because he doesn't even notice!
WHERE has this group been for the past 6 years?!!! I have a 6 year old that hardly needs any sleep, and my husband and I have literally read every book, tried every method in the past 6 years out there! Now that she is old enough she can read or play in her room, but rarely falls asleep before 11.... no matter HOW much she did during the day! She is also very curious, and creative, and I now think her mind just never shuts up! But OH the years of my life I have lost in those sleepless nights! LOL
My 3 1/2 year old still nurses to sleep and sometimes in the middle of the night when she wakes up from a bad dream, and in the morning. She sleeps in her own bed, which is next to ours, so I just have to lean over to nurse. I have a 4 month year old nursing on my other side. I don't really talk about it to anyone... Yes I would love more sleep, and my husband sleeps through everything. But, I hope my tiredness is worth the love and touch and security I am providing to them both.
Our daughter is 4 and still needs to nurse back to sleep several times a night (2-5 depending on the night). Sometimes it makes me crazy but I am glad to hear there are others out there.
I strongly support your efforts to normalize night waking and everything else that might be normal in parenting except we don't know because people don't talk about it. I'd have felt a lot less alone, if I'd known that others were having remotely similar experiences. (My daughter, now 9, still sometimes wakes at 1.00 a.m. and once awake, is awake for a couple of hours. Thankfully she is OK on her own now, looking at books or toys, because I'm way too old and tired to keep her company at that hour.)
I really like your post! I would quibble with the part about seeing if the child is happy as a way of evaluating parenting. Parents can do the best job in the world -- but a big chunk of the equation is what the child brings to the world, and another big chunk is the child's wider environment. The parenting can be great by any measure and the child can still be unhappy, badly behaved, whatever.
All we can do is our best. It is natural to judge other parents, but I am really trying to step back and recognize that none of us knows anyone else's full situation. What looks like failures all around can be a major triumph under the circumstances.
I'd like to extend your final plea from speaking up about sleeping to speaking up about everything! Secrecy breeds shame and nervousness and those definitely don't help us or the kids.
I always put on my best confused/concerned face and ask the person "Do you stay placidly in your bed rather than getting up at night to get a drink of water for your cough, or to fetch a heavier blanket when you're cold, or to go to the restroom when you need it?  That doesn't sound healthy."  People simply don't remember that HUMANS do not sleep through the night reliably-- why would we expect it of humans who can't meet their own needs without help?
I have to comment on this one! My DD is now almost 13. She nursed until she was 5 and only weaned then because of a medical issue I was having. (According to the studies I've seen, natural child-led weaning can be anywhere from 5-7 years old, on average.) Both kids co-slept until they were about 11 or 12, and DD still comes in at times. DD is extremely confident and we are still quite close. I know that is likely to change over the next few years, but I feel that we've built a great foundation. DS has had some issues in the last few years (he's 17 now), but things are going well and we have a good relationship also.
I have no regret over how we've handled this. I think that both kids got the security they needed from us, no battles over sleeping, no nightmares. They still enjoy closeness with me.
No one should ever be ashamed of so-called extended BF, nor co-sleeping. As long as it feels like the right thing for you and your kids, it is right. Your kids will certainly let you know when it's time to move on!
I really enjoyed your article. I was also very open about my children's night waking, and equally open about the difficulties this caused me.  I was not able to heal from postpartum depression until I stopped night-nursing my daughter at age 2 1/2 and was finally able to get full nights of sleep for weeks on end.  My husband, so patient and supportive, dealt with our toddler when she awoke at night.  Meanwhile, I slept in another room wearing earplugs, finally getting the sleep I so desperately needed.  It took about 3 months before I was able to share sleep with her again without her waking me to nurse, but it was well worth it.  Soon after, she began sleeping in her own room and we were all sleeping through the night.  I think it's important to recognize the sacrifice that mothers make when they don't sleep get a full nights' sleep for months or years on end.  It is not healthy or natural to never get a full nights' sleep, and it takes its toll on mothers in a very real way.  We need to support each other by talking about it, and we need to support ourselves by asking for help when we need it, and recognizing that our own needs are important, too. 
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