The Comparison Trap
I’m sure you’ve heard it before: “How is your baby sleeping? Oh, mine has been sleeping through the night since he/she was 6 weeks old.”
To be sure, there are some babies who do sleep through the night at an early age, but most do not. Comparing how your child sleeps with another can be so detrimental because you can end up expecting something from your baby that they may not be able to do just yet. It sets up a dynamic where you are at odds with your baby, and you no longer see your child for who they are, but who you want them to be. You are measuring your child’s abilities, which can in turn mean you are measuring your parenting abilities against someone else’s. You may find you are second guessing yourself, and pushing your baby in ways that are not helpful.
Comparing is a normal human experience. We like to measure things, and see progress. We like to share our experiences and hear how others are doing. This is all totally normal, and would be fine if we could just hear it and not turn that information into a yardstick against ourselves. But when it makes us feel less than, or makes us feel there is something wrong with our child (or with us) it interferes with our perspective, and can leave us feeling low and cranky.
It can be hard to remember that we all struggle with something, especially when you see a parent who looks like they have it all together. Or when you see your friend’s baby drift off to sleep peacefully and your baby screams intensely every time you put them down. How can babies act so differently when it comes to settling into sleep?
One size does not fit all when it comes to sleep. Each person, starting at a very young age, has their own way of settling into sleep. When we read a book that says babies need to follow a certain pattern to get to sleep, and your baby does not follow that pattern, no matter how hard you try, it can be very frustrating.
Here are some suggestions for how to stay out of the comparison trap:
Read books or articles on sleep with an eye for using only what feels right for you and your baby. Take what resonates and leave the rest. You do not have to follow every step to reap the benefits.
Take advice and suggestions from well meaning friends and family as what worked for them and not as what will definitely work for you. Say something like “That sounds like a good strategy. I’ll give it some thought”.
Try to re-frame how you talk (or think) about your baby’s sleep so you aren’t making disparaging remarks, like “My baby is a terrible sleeper.” It can set you up for advice that may not be helpful, and can make you feel worse about your baby’s sleep. Instead, say (or think) something like “My baby is learning how to settle into sleep. I know they will get there”.
When you feel yourself getting caught in the comparison trap, remember that each baby has their own unique way of being, and every one of us has strengths and challenges. Know that your baby’s sleep is not a reflection on your parenting.
If you are struggling with your baby’s sleep, and you find yourself getting frustrated, slow down and take a step back. Sleep rarely goes better with pushing, so it’s best to regroup and reflect on what is going on for you and your baby. And reach out for support. Non-judgmental guidance can make a world of difference.
Disclaimer: Elizabeth Green's Early Parenting Sleep Consultations and written materials are for educational purposes only and are not meant as medical advice. All spoken and written information is to be used at each parents' discretion.