Did you know that in tribal and traditional societies the minimum caregiver to baby ratio is 3:1? That’s considered vital for both baby’s development and mum’s health.
Here in the west we often have to fight our spouses to even get a 2:1 ratio on the weekends and for a couple of hours in the evening.
Our daycares are running a 1:4 ratio. Literally the opposite of what other “less civilised” cultures know is best practice.
Science tells us that women need a full year to recover physically from pregnancy - not a traumatic birth, not a highly medicalised birth, not a cesarean. Just pregnancy. And yet we don’t even get a golden month.
Our culture and our economy expect us to be back up and running within days of beith, even the major abdominal surgery that is cesarean, and not ask for help. Our sisters in America are often required to go back to work within days of birth. But even when we are lucky enough to have 12 months of paid maternity leave, we are still culturally conditioned to parent alone.
We feel guilty asking our spouses to step up and pull their weight because they’re at work all day, (so their sleep and self-care needs are more important). We feel anxious asking friends and family for help because surely we should be able to do this, and besides asking people for favours all the time is putting them out. And that’s if we even have people to ask. Too many of us live too far away from family, (sometimes even from friends too) to have anyone to ask. Alternatively we’re the only ones in our families and friends who don’t sleep train or formula feed or whatever, and asking for help means subjecting ourselves to an endless litany of “you’re making a rod for your own back”s and “just give him a bottle, then you can rest”
And then there’s our health providers. When we ask them for help, they too push sleep training, formula, and antidepressants.
It’s no wonder that our society has created this false dichotomy that it’s either mum’s sanity or baby's. Sleep train or martyr yourself.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In an ideal world, government, workplaces, health providers (and yes, some subsets of Feminism) would get this, and massive shifts would occur. But we can make change for ourselves and for others, without them.
The first step has to be valuing ourselves and our time.
We’ve all seen those viral videos and posts where a husband who gets it lays out exactly what his wife should earn per year if she was actually paid fairly for what she does. But most of us, unfortunately don’t have spouses who think this way on their own.
So let’s start by spelling it out for them. Sit down and ask them how much it would cost for your child to be in full time day care or have a nanny. How much a housekeeper would cost. How much extra it would be to have them make meals, do the groceries, run around to appointments, manage the finances etc.
Question the belief that these things aren’t “real” work. That only the person who works outside the home deserves to be well rested or have time off.
As Annika Moscoso a member of The Beyond Sleep Training Group said in a post on this topic,
I am on night duty over time for the next 2-3 years. Now normally night shift workers like nurses or cops do 5 days a week then they have the weekend to relax and catchup on cleaning and washing. But since I have zero time off, it justifies getting hired help. I have a cleaner. And during rough times will get hired help with washing, shopping etc.
FIFO workers who work 14 or more days in a row without day off get a full two weeks off to balance things out. Plus they are well paid for the sacrifice.
But Motherhood? Motherhood in the west is 24/7 365 days a year, and we have to fight to get a sick day or for their other parent to look after them for an hour! When dad’s look after their own kids we call it babysitting for Christ's sake!
It’s inherently fucked up, and shows just how little value “women’s tasks” are given, and how much our acceptance and worth as women depends on our capitalist driven economic output.
We have to stop devaluing ourselves.
We have just as much right to sleep as our spouses. We have just as much right to consistent freely given practical help as women in other cultures. We have just as much right to go to yoga or have an afternoon off once a week as our spouses. We have just as much right to paid help as “working” mothers.
That’s step one.
Because only when we value ourselves can we actually implement any other self-care.
Step two: we have to actively challenge the belief that it’s sleep train or martyr yourself.
Not only does this belief make no sense (since sleep training doesn’t actually result in more sleep, regularly has to be re-done, and causes stress and anxiety for the parents) it’s not fair to ourselves or our babies.
We don’t have to pit our mental health against our babies.
It is perfectly possible for us to meet everyone’s needs without sleep training. But we have to demand that we are worth it, and demand that our babies are worth it.
Step 3: Look for the ways you can integrate self-care into your life.
Even if you have no family nearby. Even if you don’t have supportive family. Even if you’re financially stressed, there are options - sometimes we just have to think outside the box.
Finally step 4: Is to actually accept help. When your friends or family say, “Hey let me know if you ever want someone to come round and look after baby whilst you nap, or do some cooking/laundry for you” actually take them up on it.
Schedule them in!!!!
Don’t say “Aww, thanks, but i’m fine” (even if you are). Don’t say “Sure i’ll let you know” and then never actually call them back.
Say “OMG, that would be amazing. Are you able to come on Friday?” Then ask them if you can make it a regular thing. Ask multiple people so no one feels too burdened.
Schedule it. Wednesday morning- fortnightly your mum comes and does laundry and a basic clean of the kitchen and bathroom. Monday’s your bestie who batch cooks on the weekend anyway drops off some meals for you. Twice a month your mate comes to take the kids to the park on Friday. Once a week you and another mum trade off babysitting so you get a kid free morning. Your work-friend’s teen who’s planning on taking a “gap year” comes 3 days a week to get practical experience before going overseas as a nanny. Schedule it. Make it happen.
Then in the dark times you know “I only need to get through today, tomorrow I have help coming”.
If your family and friends pressure you to sleep train or stop breastfeeding, or make snarky comments, instil some boundaries. "I can see that you're concerned about me and want to help. The best way that you can help me right now is to do the cleaning so that I can focus on my baby"
"I know you want to support me in my goals, so please don't make comments that insinuate I should give baby a bottle"
Schedule your spouse too - especially if they are the kind who says they will help out, but never follows through, or complains that you never get time together. Schedule it on the fridge or in the hallway. Monday and Friday nights - us time after baby goes to bed. Dad cooks. Tuesdays and Thursdays - Mum goes to bed early, Dad puts away laundry, wipes down the kitchen and writes the shopping list after you go to bed. Wednesdays and Saturdays - Bath and bed routine together (or just dad does it depending on if bub is in an “I only want mum” stage). Sunday afternoon Dad takes the kids to the park. Mornings, Dad empties the dishwasher and puts on a load of laundry before leaving for work.
Everyone lives in the house, both of you made that baby. Everyone pitches in. It’s not entitled to demand that happens. It’s entitled to expect Mum to do everything.
We can Survive a Sleep Thief without having to sacrifice our vales or our sanity.
At The Beyond Sleep Training Project we have thousands of mum's doing just that.
Hi I'm Nicole