Clarity.

As you will have noticed, I have been on a bit of a blogging break. And, like any good break, I have come back with a clear mind and having learnt a few things about myself. As this blog acts as a sort of diary on this journey of self-discovery that is parenthood, I thought it was necessary to write it all down. It might seem a little over-analysed to you, but that is because it was, and that’s OK.

I recently went to visit a couple of Montessori nurseries, with the view of completing my dreaded 420 hours work experience in order to gain my full diploma that I have been working so hard towards for what feels like forever. I had been putting this off knowing in my heart that I didn’t want to leave Poppy, but with the 2016 deadline for completion on the horizon I thought I had better face reality if I wanted to reach graduation day. I decided that maybe it was a good thing to do something for myself now that Poppy is getting that bit older. The idea was that she would attend the same nursery I worked at (in a different room) and seeing as I am passionate about Montessori I started to tell myself that perhaps this environment would help her to thrive even more. I convinced myself that I was excited about the extra work I would be subjecting myself to. I started to imagine how much Poppy would love it and that maybe by the end it would be hard to leave the wonderful place we had grown to love.

Montessori is a method of education, but I believe it is so much more than this. It is respect for the children, love of nature, trust in the human mind and body and it’s natural ability and overwhelming urge to learn and a focus on hands on experiences to satisfy those innate driving forces. Parents and teachers alike can adopt all of these principals, and much of Montessori’s philosophy fits so perfectly into our home environment, even though we are planning on going down the ‘unschooling’ route of home education. So I felt hopeful, despite our choice to stay away from school and our ‘alternative’ approach to parenting, that a Montessori environment might just be the only place I would be happy to leave Poppy. Perhaps all of my worries about how often she still breastfeeds, how accustomed she is to having me near her every minute, every day, how well I know her better than anyone else could and how when she isn’t with me I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach that something is missing…perhaps all of those worries would just fade away when we walk through the doors of that beautiful, idyllic, understanding and gentle Montessori environment. Of course they didn’t.

I was open-minded. At least I tried to be. But it dawned on me pretty quickly that a classroom, Montessori or not, was still a classroom, and a teacher, loving, caring and gentle or not, was still not Poppy’s mummy. The picture in my head of the perfect Montessori setting quickly disappeared when I noticed some fundamental ‘rules’ being broken. The baby rooms full of plastic, a teacher reprimanding a child in front of the whole class, the shelves cluttered and verbal praise being thrown around left, right and centre. To the untrained eye this might seem like no biggie, it happens all the time in regular nurseries and schools, but it goes against the most basic of Montessori principals. Being so passionate about Maria Montessori’s work – her methods and the reasons behind them – I hated to see it not being implemented in these well-regarded schools. I started to feel disheartened; my own efforts at creating a Montessori home environment weren’t looking too bad at all! But I tried to remain open-minded and told myself that it was unrealistic to expect everything to be perfect.

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Poppy playing in her Montessori inspired bedroom

As I spoke to the teachers showing me around I tried to gauge how similar their views were to my own, whether or not our alternative parenting style would fit together with the way they ran their nursery. I didn’t really care about where I did my teaching placement, but if it wasn’t right for Poppy, it wasn’t going to happen. I smiled and nodded when they said things that I didn’t agree with. I tried not to recoil in horror when I looked at their menu and saw junk food and a lack of wholesome nutrition (unfortunately true for many settings these days it seems). They answered my questions about things that they knew I felt strongly about, and their friendly voices and sympathetic eyes almost made me feel like they really did know best and I was living in cloud cuckoo land. After voicing some of my concerns over leaving Poppy, one of the teachers introduced me to the staff as somebody who was ‘very precious about her daughter, and her daughter is probably very precious about her’. Wait a minute, aren’t all Mum’s precious about their children? She said it in the nicest possible way but I have worked in childcare; she didn’t realise I knew that it was code for ‘This woman is an over-protective psycho and is going to make our lives very difficult’. The thing is I remember telling anxious parents the same thing once upon a time, that their very attached child who cries every time they leave them will be just fine, as soon as you are gone they won’t even remember why they were sad. I believed it, and sure, it may have appeared to be true. But how do we know how they are really feeling inside? Especially when we hardly know the child. Don’t get me wrong, Poppy is confident and increasingly independent and very sociable. She would be fine. And the comfort she would have gotten from a member of staff would be fine. And the reduced milk feeds would be fine. And the way that people would have spoken to her, in a tone that I wasn’t quite comfortable with, would be fine. And the fact that she would have had a biscuit as a snack everyday instead of her usual green smoothie, would be fine. It would all be fine. I suppose. But what if ‘fine’ just isn’t good enough?

I came home from the second nursery almost feeling convinced that I was being an over-the-top, paranoid, too-hard-to-please, obsessive mother who absolutely had to relax if I wanted us to fit in and be classed as almost normal. But then I realised that spending just one hour in an environment that was so far from what we now consider our normal, I was being sucked in and questioning myself where I never had before. I am so happy with our parenting choices, our life is amazing and Poppy is thriving; why should I change that to fit in somewhere we don’t even belong? The fact is, being in a nursery even for just four hours without me is most definitely not the best possible situation for Poppy right now. I knew it I just couldn’t quite acknowledge that my reasoning’s were important enough to ignore the influence of others. I had to speak to someone who would tell me I wasn’t crazy before I started to believe I was. I messaged one of my lovely friends who I know completely ‘get’s’ me when others might not. And after I had spoken to my wise friend everything was clear again. No matter how many nurseries I visit, I will never find the right one, because as she put it, Poppy and I are still one. No one can ever love and care for her like I do, understand her needs entirely, or accept and work through her overwhelming frustration and tears when her sock is just ever so slightly bunched up by her toes which means she feels it every time she steps down on that foot (this happens everyday). Most Mum’s will relate to that, and yet we are constantly given the message that we need to break away from our children, give them the opportunity to be independent or they will never learn how to be; stop holding them back, smothering them, spoiling them, molly-coddling them and learn to let go. Stop being so ‘precious’. But this isn’t a natural way to teach independence. Why is attachment so feared in our society? Since when was it so terrible to love your child so much that it hurts to think of leaving them with someone who won’t do it as well as you can. As my friend pointed out, it is human nature to protect and nurture our young, and that protection covers all manner of things, including the emotional stress of separation and all of the things in the world that you, as a parent, decide might be harmful, in any capacity, to your child, their development or well-being. Yes I go above and beyond to make sure I am doing this at all times, from the diet I feed her, to the medicines I choose to use, from the techniques I use to teach her to the way in which I communicate with her. And I will avoid anything that I believe could be detrimental to these efforts, to the most important years of her life and to our strong, secure relationship. If this means that I come across as an obsessive weirdo at times, then so be it. These little details, and the niggling issues I had with the nurseries, may be small and seemingly insignificant to others but to me they make up the beginning of my child’s life, and that is huge.

And so it was decided. I am completing my exams to be awarded a certificate but I won’t be graduating and gaining the full diploma. It was difficult for me to accept that this is not failure but another turning on our journey. I have learnt so much, and will continue to do so, and it will enrich Poppy’s childhood for sure. But for now, I need to focus on family, and just be a Mummy to Poppy…because I am the only person who can be.

As I am sure you can tell, this post isn’t just about deciding not to send Poppy to nursery. It is about the realisation that it I do not have to compromise in any area of my parenting. The truth is, I often feel awkward or embarrassed when voicing yet another opinion, or explaining to family why we don’t do things this way, or requesting that they try to do things that way. I spoke to my Dad recently about why we don’t use verbal praise like ‘good girl’ in the same way we don’t use punishment or any other conditioning techniques (I will write a post about this soon). I found myself feeling a mix of guilt and defensiveness before the words even came out. I don’t want people to feel like I am criticizing them; especially people who I know love Poppy so much. Incidentally, my Dad was, and has been with many things, very understanding and open-minded, which made me realise that I didn’t necessarily need to feel so worried. I am no longer going to protect other people’s feelings or indeed my own feelings of being judged as over-reacting, if it compromises Poppy’s chance to the best possible start in life. I have taken on that label of being a bit whacky or weird because we do things differently, but in reality I am simply passionate, dedicated and motivated to do the best I can. There is nothing wrong with that. I need to realise that so that other people can too. This post is about realising that you are perfectly entitled to be unconventional, you are allowed to want complete control over how your child is raised and you have the right to say no. This post isn’t about anybody else’s choices; it is about me not apologising for mine.
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Thank you to my friends who are there when I need that clarity, who give me the confidence to write things like this, who I would be lost without. You know who you are.

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Routines and responding respectfully

For those of you who missed my recent post, we decided that it was time to make a few changes to our night time parenting in order to ease the pressure on myself. Poppy is essentially being taught to self settle. It is tiring, but it is a gentle approach designed to respect Poppy, it is not a quick fix. We had a couple of wobbly nights but things are back on track. I said I would post about exactly what we have done to change Poppy’s sleeping habits so here goes (the “sleep training” element is at the end):

Routine: WP_20140604_023I know it is the oldest trick in the book, and considering the number of books I scanned through during pregnancy I really should have been a bit stricter with this one. I am talking about the bedtime routine; bath, massage, book, breastfeed, bed. We started off well, but gradually we dropped one thing at a time until it was just bath and feed to sleep. No wonder she was still pretty wired and wouldn’t instantly go to sleep! No more skipping steps. It has been amazing how quickly this took effect, and even when she still seems wide awake during the story, as soon as she is in my arms feeding she starts dropping off. Sometimes it takes longer than others, but she isn’t getting that second wind just as I think she is falling asleep, which seemed to be happening so often before.

Black out blinds: I told myself this was the reason for her difficulty in realising it was bedtime, and maybe it played a part, but I think the routine was more important. The blinds have helped, but they don’t quite cover our windows!! Even so, there is enough of a transition from lights on to lights off that helps reinforce that routine.

Introducing a lovely: Poppy now sleeps with the same teddy (cat actually) every night. I put it in her arms as she feeds, and she has started to grasp it, so I think it is working. The cat is currently nameless – ideas on a postcard please!

Moving her into her own room: This was the saddest change, as it came way before I thought it would. But realistically I knew that I was unlikely to make the other changes, like reducing her feeds, without it. We wanted her to learn to settle with Tim, and eventually alone, but when she is at arms length and we are half asleep I act on auto pilot. Tim wouldn’t have had the chance to even try to settle her, he probably would never have woken up at all. Amazingly she didn’t seem to protest to the move, I think she realised very quickly that we were still there for her, all she needed to do was ask.

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Cutting down the feeds: This was my main aim of the transition. I didn’t make a plan, not really. I told myself I would see how she reacted if I just didn’t feed her, and to my surprise it was really not that bad. She grizzled a little but then dropped back off. So I tried to resist a few times. I realised her cry was different when she was really hungry…more about that in a minute. I found she needed a feed at around 3am every morning, sometimes earlier, sometimes later, I am still being led by her in that regard. At the moment we are down to a feed to sleep at 6pm, a top up ‘dream feed’ before I go to bed (although I am sure she wakes up for this) and then the 3am fed.

Listening to the cry NOT cry it out!: You know that study about how stress hormones wash over a crying baby’s brain? The one that makes us AP mums feel guilty every time we hear our pumpkins sob? Well did you know that when they are being held or even if they are next to you that the stress hormones could be almost non existent? Just being there through the tears makes your baby feel safe and by the end of that crying session they could have even learned a thing or two; that they are able to regulate their emotions and that their feelings valid because you stuck around and showed them love when they felt sad. That is very different to leaving them to cry themselves to exhaustion on their own and eventually give up on anyone coming to them. We knew that Poppy would cry to start with. She had no idea why she was suddenly not getting what she had been used to for 8 months! But I honestly thought it would be much worse than it was. We agreed to be with her when she cried and try to comfort her but not desperately try to fix it immediately. First we would listen to the type of cry and ask ourselves what Poppy really needs. Just like other stages in development learning to fall asleep on your own can be frustrating, and we would be there to support her through that. If this was the sort of emotion she was expressing, what does feeding really do? I am all for comfort feeding, but I can’t do it whenever Poppy faces something challenging or when things don’t go quite the way she had planned or hoped. We quickly learnt the difference between her cries and when it was frustration we lay with her, stroke her head and talk to her calmly and lovingly. She falls asleep within minutes. And if she doesn’t, we know that she really needs me instead of Tim or she needs a feed. If it is getting towards 3am and her cry is intense and builds I feed her straight away, and some nights she does still refuse to settle without feeding, but those nights have been few and far between. She is sometimes able to fall back to sleep during the night with no more than a quick rub on the back to know we are there, or even a ‘shh’ at the door. There are still times when she needs more and we are with her for 20 minutes or so, but the point is we know that she can do it. She is only waking once or twice, tops before her early morning feed, which is an improvement, and Tim is able to share the responsibility. I think this is good for their bond as well, although not so good for the dark circles under Tim’s eyes!

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There have been a few downsides to this change. The biggest being that for some reason she is waking up earlier, 5am most days, and I don’t really know why. I have even tried to feed her back to sleep despite my better judgement in a desperate plea for a lie in, but she enjoys the feed and then wakes up anyway! It means we have all started napping at about 7.30am, which is a nice way to make up for the lack of cosleeping. I am also finding it harder to switch off knowing that I might have to get up at any moment to go into her room. But it is getting easier to relax as time goes on. We are quite tired from going back and forth to her room, but it has lessened. Even if things stay as they are for the time being, it means I have my evenings without interruption, the nights are becoming more predictable, I probably have longer chunks of sleep even if the waking up is more effort, and Poppy has come a long way which is great. I have loose aims of what will happen as we go forward, but I am not going to put any pressure on Poppy or get my hopes up too much. I might try this weekend to drop the dream feed before my bedtime, because I don’t really know how long she would go into the night if I didn’t give it her. If it turns out she doesn’t really need it then that would be ideal because it would free up my entire evenings! (oops I said I wasn’t going to get my hopes up!) If that doesn’t work and she wakes up at midnight each night, hungry, then I will revert back to the original plan and perhaps aim to gradually push the 3am feed later and later, until she is going through from our bedtime until her ridiculously early waking up time. That sounds wonderful! Of course the biggest bonus would be if she decides that other than the hungry feeds, she doesn’t need us at all to help her settle, and we could go to sleep every night knowing that we will get ‘x’ amount of hours In before she wakes. But that sounds far too structured for otherwise chaotic lives, and I am sure those babies don’t really exist.

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One step forward, two steps back

Following on from my last post about our new sleeping arrangement I am calling out to anyone who has tried anything similar. For advice, reassurance, wisdom…As I said before Poppy was settling herself to sleep without feeding fairly often in her new room. During the evenings I simply had to go in and put my hand on her back and give her a little shh and she was back to sleep. Leading up to her middle of the night feed she was a little harder to settle and she always cried more if Tim was settling her, but it was a frustration cry and she went back to sleep without my heart breaking.

The night I published that post everything changed! Tim just couldn’t settle her. She cried but it got more and more intense until I went in and she started to settle again. One time she had got herself too worked up and needed the boob to relax again. I ended up waking up at 3.30am that morning, listening to her cry as Tim attempted to get her back to sleep (I had aimed for no feeds before 4am as she had a late one at 11.30pm) He eventually succeeded only to hear her wake again 15 minutes later. This time she didn’t accept him and I had to step in. She woke up fully and started smiling at me and stroking my face (“Aww how cute!” you say…not at this time in the morning!) There was no convincing her it was the middle of the night so I tried to feed her into drowsiness again. Long story short I got her back to sleep at 5.30am and fed her more than planned, and by the time she was asleep I was too wired myself to go back to bed. So yesterday I was a zombie. Last night I had to decide what to do, seeing as she refused Tim again twice in the evening and I ended up feeding her at 9pm. With Tim away all weekend I needed sleep so I pondered weather sleeping in her room would be enough to give her the comfort each time she woke and stop her getting herself worked up to the point that she needed to comfort feed. After all I knew she could fall asleep without the feeds, but she still needed a little support. I gave it a go, and our night was even worse. I was so tired when she woke up I could hardly be bothered to try (hence why I moved her out of our bed in the first place!), and her cry just didn’t sound like that frustrated cry, it sounded more distressed, and I cannot listen to that for too long without feeling like the worst mum ever. Coupled with the fact that she was putting her hands down my top I felt like I was completely suppressing my natural response and not listening to her. So I gave in, multiple times, and fed her throughout the night. I convinced myself that she must just be hungry, but her fluttery, lazy sucks proved otherwise! She decided it was time to get up at 5am, and as well as that her morning nap is all out of sync for the second day in a row. Back to square one?

Feeling confused, annoyed, disheartened and guilty. Go with the flow and hope she decides to play ball again sometime soon? Or push on through the heartache knowing that at least I am there with her as she cries? But what if she just doesn’t stop?! Is this her way of telling me “Yes I figured out your plan, and I gave it a go, but I don’t like it so you had better stop right now because I’m not having any of it!” I have had enough of thinking about who needs what…I have no idea what I need anymore, apart from a strong coffee.

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