Culturally-Appropriate Sleep Training?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A reader, Priya, emailed me a few days ago with a question that has had me thinking ever since:

As a new mom of a 4.5 month old girl, I have been grappling with sleep issues. She used to sleep well at night. Now she, well, doesn't. It sucks; I'm tired. And I'm also getting advice left and right. But somehow it's turned into a bit of a cultural issue in my head. The more "American" way to deal with it is to Ferberize. The more desi way to deal with it is to go with the flow, let her sleep when she needs to and in our bed if necessary (a la my mother and mother in law).

I'm of two minds.

Are there other baby care issues that can come down on cultural lines?

I was immediately reminded of the first couple times we went to visit my in-laws in L.A. after D was born. They were of course excited to show off their first grandson to their friends, and wanted to take him to weddings, parties, people's homes. I was an insecure new mom who, at the time, needed a schedule the way others need things like air and water. I knew what time D needed to eat, sleep, bathe--and I believe he thrived on the routine we kept. So I forced my husband to put his foot down (which is the subject of another whole line of posts) and insist that we wouldn't take D out after 8:00. D goes to sleep at 8, I would recite as mantra-slash-automated-cult-programming. After initial protest, my in-laws tried to be understanding of my rigidity, but I would still hear many stories from various people in the community about how when my husband and his childhood friends were babies, they were out partying till 3 a.m. on a regular basis, and how J over in Diamond Bar takes her kids to every sangeet and mehndi on the social calendar. And you know how those stories can affect you when the source is in-law-related and when you are still unsure of Every. Single. Thing. you are doing as a mom.

Fast forward to now. While I am no longer pathologically attached to my schedules, I still do believe in routine--maybe even more for me than my children. I suppose it isn't very "desi." But it is what keeps me "sane." I will take some sanity over homage to my cultural heritage in this round.

As for Priya's question: What do you guys think? Have you/do you sleep-train your kids and do you meet resistance from your family for doing so? Do you have other examples of care-taking that are frought with cultural implications?


37 comments:
Anonymous said...

As the mom of a 2 yr old and 3 yr old, I need routine and schedule just as much as my kids do.

We did sleep train both kids before they were 1 yr. old., and I'm happy to say that it was my v. traditional mom that did it.

She advised me that there was no way, that I could go back to work without a good night's sleep, and that the only way to do it was training.

I couldn't stay home for either child, so getting rest at night has been essential.

My mom worked also, so she's been there, and knows what it takes.

As far as sangeets/mehendis etc, I feed the kids before we go. We stay for 1 hour, and then come home. It's the only way that we can all make Mondays less painful.

Just my $02.

Anu said...

This is a great question. I'm definitely in the pro-schedule, cry-it-out if necessary camp. I do remember a great deal of resistance from my mother-in-law about the schedule. While she now sees the benefits of the kids going to bed at the same time every night, I have been labeled as "strict" amongst her friends. As my kids get older, they need a schedule less and I waiver as necessary. But as babies, I definitely paid the price (with a lot of crankiness) for keeping them up late, or missing their nap.

The other big issue that I've noticed has deep cultural implications is eating. "Desis" have no problem feeding their kids - I've seen 7 or 8 year olds being hand fed by their moms. I struggle with the issue because the typical "western" way (which is to let your kids feed themselves, don't force feed, don't feed between set snack and meal times) is really hard for me as an indian person - because that's just not how it was done when I was a kid.

Hema said...

This is so timely for me right now. I am at the point where I swear I will do anything, anything for sleep. We began trying to sleep train our 6 month old last week with my parents in town and my mother did look horrified to hear her first grandson crying so much his voice got hoarse. She told me she never had to do that with me. And yes I felt like a bad mom, but I am going on month 7 of interrupted sleep and I am a disaster and constantly grumpy. So I will do some more Indian things to compensate but I am sleep training this kid. Whatever it takes.

Anonymous said...

This is a great question! The one that pops to mind for me is playdates/activities. My parents think I am certifiable, the amount of shuttling I do, and the elaborate things we do for our kids' bday parties. But if all their friends are doing it, what choice do we have?

Anonymous said...

Completely understand where everyone is coming from. I had my mum help me out when my daughter was born and I remember her staying up with the baby til something insane til 1-2am. Within a week after she left (baby was 1.5mths old), we let her cry it out and fall asleep herself. She did not cry too long (ie 5-10 minutes at most) but mum would have definitely freaked. When we flew to my parents place to introduce the baby (4 months) to extended family, everyone was upset at me for sticking to the 7pm bedtime (they wanted to wake her up to say hello!!!! argh). Had to sic hubby on them to guard the baby from being woken up. Got quite a reputation for that but ask me if I care since I would be the one dealing with an irritable baby!

Now thats she is 17months, I get grief from the family on her activities (reading program 2X a week, 1 swim class and 1 music class a week) ie its too cold to take her out, she could catch something from other kids etc. I just let them know that I appreciate the concern but she enjoys it too much and I woul rather have her participate and make friends than stay at home, watching the idiotbox.

JGF said...

Definitely the rituals. I didn't want to do the mundun (spelling?) in part because I was in l-o-v-e with my little baby's hair. My in-laws acted as if I was depriving my child of house and home. And, even more hurtfully, my husband was of no help, insisting that I just "go along with it." I didn't want to go along with it! Then I would set the example of doing every single "very important" Punjabi ritual my mother in law could think of for the rest of my life.

Nimisha said...

Priya: Take it from me, who tried to do it the "desi" way-Get your kids to sleep. Adding insult to injury in my case is the fact that I "went with the flow" for years and now have school-age children who don't sleep. AND I get comments from my parents and in laws about how I must have done something wrong!!

Anonymous said...

I am in the same camp about sticking to schedules. However I seem to be the only one in our extended family here who believes in that. We have a very hard time when we visit my sister-in-law who is also local. Our kids are the same age want to enjoy together, and look forward to our visits there. My kids though are "early to rise, early to bed" and get very cranky if they stay up later than 8pm. Their cousins however are late risers, no nap kids, and stay late watching infinite amounts of TV to sleep only after 10pm.

On the sleep training issue I realized the only way for me to get any sleep was to just hand over the night duty to my husband. I think we as moms (working or at home) just assume that we have to carry the burden all by ourselves all the time. We work too, why should I be expected to live on no sleep while the hubby gets to sleep and "progress" at his work by staying late there. I did this for 5 years (between 2 kids)and decided it was too much. Since our 2 year old is still not okay sleeping all by himself I just have him sleep with my husband. Now my husband completely appreciates what I went through for so long.

Also each child is very different - our 5 year old was sleeping all by herself in her room before turning 2. Our 2 year old however is still like a baby always needs to know that mom/dad are nearby within reach! Hopefully we will have a day when he too moves into the big kid bed all by himself!

Lyvia said...

I did not train my first born to sleep by himself. In fact, we did not even allow my first born to ever cry! Can you imagine? I was told that there must be something wrong if he's crying, so the goal was to always do things "right" and never let him cry ...

Craziness. I'm over it. Kids cry. It's fine. I trained my second son to sleep in his crib at a set bedtime out of necessity. And it's the best thing I ever did! I read Ferber's book and retrained my first son at age 2. It only took 2 days and he only cried for half and hour, the first day.

I've also heard the stories about how my husband, as a baby used to stay up til 3 in the morning at various parties and did just fine. The only thing I have to say to that is: I require proof.

Train your boys -- that is the best gift we can give to our furture daughter-in-laws! When I first got married, my poor husband actually looked confused when I didn't chase him around asking him if he was hungry or when I told him that temper tantrums were an unacceptable way to express frustration. Lordy, we were 30 when we got married!!! :)

Anonymous said...

My kids are 4 and 2 and both are horrible sleepers. It's completely my fault, I never attempted to impose a schedule or anything, in part because my mom said I never had one. If I could go back and do it all over I would. This is likely too much info but I can't remember the last time my husband and I had sex in our bed! There are always kids in it!

Another issue that kills me is how I am supposed to only travel to see my parents or in laws now that I have kids. I told my mom we were planning a trip to the Bahamas and she seemed personally offended that we had time for the Bahamas but that we hadn't taken the kids back home in a while. It's better than my in laws though who now assume they are invited on every trip we take!! Isn't that crazy?

Anonymous said...

umm..

actually my mom comes on every trip we make. She takes care of grandkids in some exotic locale, and gives mom and dad a break. She loves it because she gets to go to new places, and see grandkids. We love it, because se get a break.

Me said...

I'm going through sleep training for my 5 month old son now. My mother in law stays with us, and boy are there some cultural differences.

First, she doesn't get why he sleeps in a bassinet besides our bed, versus IN our bed. She talks about how "alone" he is and how in India you don't leave kids alone! And when we are downstairs we hook up the video monitor so we can see him sleep, but according to her that is still wrong because he is still alone!

Second, she goes against whatever the pediatrician tells us to do. The doc told us to feed him solids closer to bedtime so that he sleeps longer. Of course MIL feeds him solids all through the day instead!

Third, according to dear MIL my son is always COLD. Even when he is wearing a onesie, fleece shirt, fleece pants, shoes, hat, fleece blanket, with the heater turned on! I will find that magically during the night my son will get another layer of blanket...only to wake up soaking wet with sweat.

As for my husband, she dotes on him 24/7...tells him to change his pajamas when the are too dirty, chai around the clock, feeding him is more important than anything else in the world. She treats him like a total baby, and although he says just go with the flow, I know he secretly just loves it. I sometimes wonder what I married into...punjabi boys, no matter how successful and independant, revert to their diaper days when around mommy dearest!

Anonymous said...

Lyvia: LOL, my husband was (let's be honest: is) the same way. If the "desi" way of raising children has them coming out like he did (before I whipped him into shape of course) than I will not be signing up!

Lakshmi said...

"Me": You could be writing about my life. And yes what is it about our parents constantly thinking our kids are cold!! You should see the look on my mom's face when I simply take my 3 year old out of the bath tub and wrap a towel around him. She looks like I am torturing him! What does she want me to do exactly????

And Punjabi boys. Aye aye aye. I happen to be married to a fairly progressive one (it's all relative after all) but you learn some things in five years of marriage and I have learned there is a huge gap in between what he says ("I don't mind if you don't make dinner") and what he mans ("I need a wife who makes dinner.")

Anonymous said...

To the poster whose mom travels with you: Yes but does she ASSUME it's what you want? My MIL just assumes that she should be invited on every trip we plan now because there are kids involved.

Mom travels with us. said...

No, we actually have to ask mom to come with us. We know she loves traveling and is totally flexible about food/schedule/what we do. But we ask before every trip. We buy the tickets and make the arrangements.

I'm counting myself super lucky now.

Lyvia said...

My husband is Punjabi ... so maybe it's a Punjabi thing?!?

Anonymous said...

Gotta say, I do think Punjabi boys tend to be more needy than others. Not sure why that is...

Priya said...

Great post. It seems like almost every decision we make with our 2 year old has some sort of "cultural" implication. We are trying to figure out preschools right now and I want to do a Spanish-immersion, which my mother in law finds undesirable for some reason? Have any of you dealt with that?

Payal said...

TOTALLY agree with "Anu" above. I am made to feel like a white-washed American when I insist on my children eating on their own. And whenever any family is in town they don't respect my rules/limitations. Is it so horrible to want to teach your children to be self-sufficient?

Archana said...

Struggling with whether to sleep train our 4.5 month old right now - this discussion is GREAT...

Anonymous said...

This is a great conversation. I find myself wondering how much of this cultural uncertainty is unique to us as Indians, and how much is universal to all second-generation immigrants. Just something to think about. Also wondering what our kids' will one day be saying about us on the same topic!

Anonymous said...

My parents thought sleep training was cruel when I first started it, but within a short time they noticed the my child slept so much better than my sisters kids ... and also plays better, too. Also, letting children learn to sleep on their own is the best way to help them have better sleep. BTW, I used the "Sleep Easy Method", which worked well.

Pontificater said...

I think alot of our parents still need to get over the idea that the way they did things was perfect. There are so many examples of how things are different now than when we were babies. Take breastfeeding versus formula: Many of our moms were told NOT to breastfeed and that formula was better. To this day, although I know my mom respects the lengths I went to to nurse my children, I think a little part of her has a voice in her head that needs to be validated in terms of the fact that she didn't breastfeed me. The same with sleeping. I think our parents need to understand that just because we may be doing things differently from them, it doesn't mean we don't respect the way they did things. I do wonder why so many of our parents are anti-sleep-training. Were we all a generation of easy sleepers???? Ha.

SM, DC said...

I'm not a mom yet (hopefully next month), so I apologize that this comment is not directly related to kids, but it is sort of. I have often noticed that the older generation of S.Asians eat very late. I'm talking like 9:00 PM or even later. So everytime we go to a party, we are starving and downing snacks like there's no tomorrow. So when the kid gets here, I'm insistent that I'm going to stick to a schedule for both sleeping and eating. We get invited for dinner, means we leave at 7:00 (tops) if dinner hasn't been served. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

my thought: good luck!! We had the same plan but 2 years later we have yet to stick to it!

Grandfather said...

My wife and I have experienced effects of sleeping schedules of our grandchildren. My commonsense (not cultural learnings)tells me that strictly following any schedule for anyone, let alone children who have little control over their own faculties, is counterproductive at best. It also takes fun out of parents’ lives. Hundreds of millions of children grow up to be healthy adults without any clock- watching by parents. Scheduling, for adults and children, like all things in life, is good in moderation.

This discussion prompts me to ask another related question. We get together with our son and daughter’s families several times a year. They, but mostly daughter, insist on having very quiet environment around the house when our infant and toddler grandchildren are sleeping. They believe that any noise will wake their children up. I think, in general, healthy children will sleep thru nominal noise, and our grandchildren don’t have special need for quiet environment. We have discussed this matter, but there has been no agreement. So my questions is, “Do my children have a point or are they overly concerned?”

Uma said...

To "Grandfather": I think it's great you are even asking the question! I don't know if my father would. My parents have similar "issues" with me and my husband--we like it to be quiet when our kids are sleeping, and we like to stick to routines. I will say this. Each child is different. With my first, I insisted on quiet because it somehow felt "right" but I don't think I needed to. With my second, it is obvious that he wakes up if a pin drops so, in the interest of our sleep, we bend to his whims. Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

It's a good question. I'm in the "grandfather" camp. It is so annoying when I go over to my sister's (who has 3 kids) and we are all constantly being shushed by her. It just seems like excessive coddling to me, especially when her kids all go to sleep at 7!

Anonymous said...

Your children probably have a point but are also overly concerned! From the point of view of your kids, I would have to say: Even if they are being overly concerned, I think the best thing you can do is respect the way they want to do things.

Anonymous said...

I sleeep trained my son when he was 9 months old. It wouldnt work everytime he fell sick. When my parents were here, my dad was not cooperative at all while I tried to sleep train. Now my inlaws are here and my son has been sleeping for 10 hrs or less. and his naps are less than 2 hrs together. I am frustrated, angry and very ready to sleep train him. My mother inlaw is a big pain. She has ths wierd concepts and I feel Indian women think that parents lives are supposed to be this way with no sleep and pick up your baby everytime he/she cries. I guess they dont even realize that there is a solution to it.I am following the sleepy planet advise on sleep training babies and it has worked in the past and I hope it will now.

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Anonymous said...

Hello all,
So glad to have stumbled across this website... I have a 2 year old who is spoiled rotten by her grandparents. To their credit, they take care of her when my husband and I leave for work at 5 30 in the morning. We come back at 5 pm in the evening and then take over the reins. My little one goes to sleep late, 10 ish, and wakes up every single night, which means one of us (We take turns) has to wake up take her downstairs, feed her and rock her back to sleep. We decided to sleep train her and MIL said that we were the worst parents ever. Helpless as to what to do?

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