Parenting through milestones as a first-time mother has been this wild process that always goes something like this: 1) Reach milestone age and set a goal 2) Try to execute milestone flawlessly 3) Fail miserably, panic, compare my parenting methods to others, and mope about how bad of a mother/teacher I am, shaming myself into getting better 4) Drink a glass of wine, or two (optional, but never disappointing) 5) Realize that everything happens on my daughter’s time, not mine.
This brings me back to a year ago, when my daughter, Josephine, was quickly approaching six months, yet still waking up several times at night to nurse. All the websites and books on parenting indicated that babies no longer need the nighttime meals and will therefore sleep until morning, but that was far from the case with us. So I went into mommy panic mode. Desperate to get her sleep “corrected,” I started asking other moms what I should do. On one end of the spectrum, a some moms resorted to the cry-it-out method, in which they leave the house so they wouldn’t be tempted to break into the room and console their baby. On the other end, other moms co-slept in every position imaginable with their kids until they grew up and asked for their own space.
While I knew neither option was wrong, they left us shuddering between a rock and a hard place. Josephine’s cries were capable of ripping me to shreds from the inside out, so I fought hard against the cry-it-out method (in which, let’s be real, I’d be doing most of the crying.) However, our queen bed was getting smaller with the three of us crammed from edge to edge, sometimes forcing my partner to concede and sleep on the couch in the living room, so I knew I couldn’t keep her there forever. The best decision my partner and I could make was the age-old solution to simply play it by ear, gently remind Josephine that she has her own little bed, and allow her to tell us when she was ready to sleep in it. Yes, it seemed counterintuitive to let our baby, who’s only been on earth for a whopping six months, call the shots, but it felt like the only option we could agree on. So I continued to nurse Josephine at her will throughout the night, trusting that Josephine’s sleep habits at six months weren’t going to ruin her chances of becoming a fully functioning, respectable human adult.
Flash forward to Josephine at 14 months. She took partial naps in her crib and still awoke in the middle of the night rooting for the breast. At this point, my body had gotten accustomed to the excessive night awakenings and delirious exhaustion. I quietly accepted the fact that I was going to nurse her until she left for college. But one ordinary day, quicker than I could say “attachment parenting,” Josephine suddenly stopped nursing. Boom. Just stopped, cold turkey. She shook her head every time I signed “milk” and preferred a sippy cup of cow’s milk instead of my liquid gold. I pumped for a few days in case she decided to change her mind, but her nursing strike led her to do the unthinkable: sleep straight through the night in her very own crib. There was no apparent reason behind her sudden change of routine, no new detectable teeth or fever. The only explanation I can think of is that she was ready to wean and sleep peacefully. I was floored at how unbelievably easy the transition was.
Nowadays, while I stare at the “18+ months” label in big, bright yellow letters across the box that came with Josephine’s first potty set, I have to pause and tell myself it will happen on her time. I think about how delighted I am to get a full night’s sleep, and how I’m even happier it didn’t take a traumatizing, drawn out battle to get here. I’ll admit – it takes every ounce of resistance to keep from googling when and how other parents got their children to poop on the can. Perhaps I’ve learned to preemptively skip the panic step and go straight to the wine drinking, but so far I’ve made it without being overtaken by shame. Besides, learning how to be a patient, gentle and encouraging parent all at the same time is our biggest milestone — one that takes us much longer to accomplish than all the milestones in our children’s early, tender years.