By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.naomialdort.com
Q: I get a lot of advice that babies and children do better if they have a routine way of doing everything, especially sleep time. Personally, it is very challenging for me to enforce a sleep time on my baby. How important is it to have schedules and routines for sleep, food, or other activities?
A: It is best to do what brings peace and joy to you and your family. The beauty of keeping your baby in your arms is that you get to know her well; this closeness allows you to respond to her cues rather than apply external theories. Any ideas that do not come from your baby are unlikely to resonate with who she is.
You are well connected to your baby and therefore find it difficult to oppose her direction. Congratulations! Nurture this healthy attachment. There is no need for you to “attach” to ideas that oppose your baby. She is your guide. When you respond to her lead, she learns to trust and rely on herself. Self-confidence and independence are the ability of the child to rely on herself and listen to her own body and soul.
Each child is different and each family unfolds uniquely. If your baby signals her need for routine, follow her lead and it will bring you joy and peace. However, since you say that trying to create routine brings you stress, it must be that it contradicts your baby’s guidance. Listen to your baby. Why struggle to create something that goes against her nature?
Let Nature Provide the Rhythms
Nature does not need humans to make up rhythms. Whatever rhythms are needed are already there. The sun rises and sets, hunger and tiredness come and go, the seasons flow one into the next. We can relax; it is all taken care of.
Inside the child’s body, things occur in a rhythmic flow as well; the child’s own rhythm. She grows, teeth arrive, hair grows, mind develops, muscles become useful, etc. Everything happens on time. Likewise, your baby has innate natural body rhythms. Any external imposition will override your baby’s inner guide and confuse her. She will then learn not to trust the way she feels inside and to become needy and dependent.
In our society, most of what you will hear about babies and children involves strategies to control and shape them, starting with sleep and feeding. The need to control is rooted in fear and mistrust. This fear is unfounded. When babies and children are allowed to discover their own body’s signals they know to go to sleep as well as they know to ask for the breast. When they sleep based on their own inner rhythms, they develop not only healthy sleep habits but self-reliance and independence.
If you visited our home when our three children were young, you would think that there was a routine. However, we did not create a routine. Instead, what you would have seen is a flow that evolved over time around the nature of the children. Everything in nature takes upon itself a rhythm of its own. We must honor this rhythm and flow with it.
Honoring the Flow
Children eat when hungry and sleep when tired. They become aware of their bodies and their needs by being autonomous, not by being controlled. When young, the baby falls asleep while being carried, regardless of where we are or what we do. The baby must continue to be aware of her own body and learn from her own experience. As children get older, family synergy creates a flow that includes times of sleep and times of being awake. Let it unfold.
Some families enjoy rhythm and rituals and that’s what brings peace and joy to their lives. Others enjoy the flow of no routine. Look at nature to learn that there is no one best way. There are rivers that run smoothly with straight shorelines; there are streams meandering down steep slopes; there are creeks that carve their path around boulders and stones; there are gushing waterfalls with rainbows. There is soft rhythmic rain and there is a wild irregular stop and go storms; there are landscapes that look organized and neat and those that are wild and unpredictable. Such is life and such is the nature of babies, children, people, and families. There is no right or wrong and no need to match the ideas of others. Listen inside yourself and flow with your baby.
Indeed, rhythm is not a method to get somewhere, but can be the natural outcome of responsiveness to babies or children who seem to create it on their own. Be responsive to your baby and she will lead you on her path. Flow peacefully with reality and with your baby’s ways and times of sleep.