In July, I began working on a series about the book Parenting Without Borders. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be able to write the second post in that series until about 4 months later. To refresh your memory:
Christine Gross-Loh exposes culturally determined norms we have about “good parenting,” and asks, Are there parenting strategies other countries are getting right that we are not?
With that out of the way, let’s get straight to Chapter 1 — Sleep.
Without a doubt, sleep is probably one of the most controversial topics when it comes to parenting, in part because if the baby/toddler isn’t sleeping, it usually means that Mamma/Dadda aren’t sleeping and when everyone’s not sleeping… it can be a recipe for disaster. Easing back on the hyperbole, when the parents aren’t sleeping, it makes it harder for them to patient with their young ones, which is usually what’s required most of the time.
In this chapter, I was struck by the range of methods that parents around the world use when it comes to sleep. For instance, it’s probably no surprise to you that in North America, it’s common for the baby/toddler to have their own room and for them to sleep on their own. But, would you believe that across the world, North America stands as an outlier int this regard? That is, it’s far more common for parents in the “rest” of the world to sleep with their baby (this is what’s known as co-sleeping).
For many of the cultures that co-sleep with their baby, they believe it fosters a sense of independence. That may seem counterintuitive at first, but think about it for a moment. If we put the baby in the other room and it needs comforting, it’s not able to get that when it wants. However, if we’re co-sleeping with the baby and it needs comfort, that need is able to be met instantly. Research bears this out, too. Gross-Loh discussed a study that showed children who co-slept with their parents (from birth) later became more independent and self-reliant (than their sleeping alone counterparts).
The big theme from this chapter is busting the myth that the baby has to sleep in its own room (for its own good). Science seems to support the idea that co-sleeping is better for the baby (and for the parents), but breaking through that cultural norm would be tough for lots of parents. I’ll leave you with one last bit from the chapter that even I bristled at, initially:
In Scandinavia, it’s customary for babies to take their naps outdoors despite the cold winters. (The Finnish government assures new mothers, “Many babies sleep better outdoors in the fresh air than in the bedroom. Sleeping outdoors is not dangerous for a baby.”) Babies are bundled up and left in prams [strollers] on terraces or outside of stores to sleep.
Can you imagine walking down the sidewalk in New York, Michigan, or Minnesota, in the dead of winter to see three or four strollers parked outside with sleeping babies in them!?