by Jessica Martin-Weber
Sponsored post. This post is made possible by the generous support of Arms Reach Cosleeper.
I recently wrote about quiet time over on our more general site, BeyondMoi.com, and was asked about quiet time and breastfeeding. Hundreds of questions pour into TLB every day about breastfeeding and nap time, sibling transition, postpartum depression, overwhelmed moms, touched out syndrome, and general burnout are regular topics. So here’s one of my sanity saving tips for families: quiet time and how to transition the breastfeeding child into independent quiet time.
The old adage to sleep when baby sleeps is all well and good when you have a newborn and only a newborn and that newborn sleeps. But what about when they’ve grown into active toddlers? Or when you have an extroverted preschooler and a newborn? When do you find some time to recharge and rest during the day if you’re a stay at home or work at home parent and especially if you’re a breastfeeding mom? Maybe you can find some rest helping them rest but when a part of your body is required to help someone else sleep, there can come a point when one’s very sanity is threatened. So how do you find space and help the small children grow into adults that can appreciate time alone as well and develop respect for others’ sensitivities?
Parenting is hard. Maybe not the hardest job in the world, but certainly a challenging demand with responsibilities 24/7. No other relationship or career requires participating individuals to be so continuously available or interacting. If I had to spend as much time with my friends as I do my children, chances are strong we wouldn’t be friends. Getting space from each other, yes, even from my children, helps me interact as the mother I want to be when I’m with them. In other words, I’m super grump mom when quiet time doesn’t happen and my children are too. True, I’m an introvert (a shock to some, but an introvert is described as someone that gets energy from being alone and an extrovert gets energy from being with people) but even the extroverts I know appreciate a bit of space to themselves from time to time. Being “on” all the time is exhausting. In our family, with 9 of us at 2, 4, 6, 11, 13, 13 (foster daughter), 15, and two thirty-somethings, it is imperative to all our sanity that we find space in time to call our own. Even just 45-90 minutes a day.
But what about the toddler or preschooler that is accustomed to breastfeeding for their midday siesta? What about when they’re ready to drop a nap all together but quiet time is still needed for everyone? How can everyone get the space and quiet time they need as stages and ages change?
Personally, I’ve transitioned 5 out of our 6 children from breastfeeding to sleep at nap time, to taking quiet alone time as toddlers and preschoolers and transitioned one of them from nap to quiet time without breastfeeding involved. Transitioning the breastfeeding toddler or preschooler from naps to quiet time isn’t a process that should be rushed. Like night weaning, there’s no magic age but rather a collection of readiness signals for both mom and the child. For us it usually doesn’t happen until sometime after 18 months, usually closer to 2 or 2.5 years old. Signs of readiness include: down to one nap a day, able to play independently for 20 minutes or more, demonstrates a natural inclination for balancing being active and quieter play, and displays a secure attachment. Whether transitioning to going down without breastfeeding or shifting to a quiet time rather than a nap time, something that can go back and forth for years actually, following the child’s cues helps make the transition easier. When I’ve been tempted to force something they weren’t ready for it just stressed us all and set us back. Still, there’s a balance to be struck, mommy martyrdom leads to burnout and stress for the entire family. Quiet time may be the oxygen mask a parent needs, figuring out how that works for your family may be all that is standing between you and saving your sanity.
My own needs for space and quiet time as an introvert led to me noting the need to nurture the nurturer and to find ways to do so. With my fingernails desperately clinging to the cracked foundation of my spirit during postpartum depression with my second and my first period as a stay at home parent, I croaked out to my husband how I was failing but couldn’t find my footing without having space to do so. Fortunately, the sensitive, introverted man I am in love with didn’t hesitate to make some room for me to find that footing even as he helped secure my life line: quiet time. Admitting I needed a break felt like some sort of failure. Moms don’t need breaks! They need aprons and bowls of cookie dough and a baby carrier for the littlest and everyone is happy then! Right? That I needed a break not just once in a while but every day felt like I wasn’t cut out for this mothering gig. Which was incredibly problematic since I already had 2 children by this point. What was I going to do, give them back? The horrible reality that maybe I was a bad mom started to sink in and I wasn’t about to give in, I was going to do whatever I could to change that. Maybe I was a bad mom but my kids were stuck with me and I wasn’t ready to give up, just had to figure out how to keep it together.
Quiet time did more than help me keep it together, it gave me time to drink a cup off coffee, fill the journal The Piano Man gave me with poetry and thoughts, and gave me the space to find my footing to be the kind of mom I want to be. Needing a break didn’t mean I was a bad mom, just a human one.
So when my nurslings no longer need to breastfeed for naps or quiet time but we still practice the daily ritual of quiet time for everyone in our homeschooling home, we gently guide the transition. If they are still napping, instead of nursing to sleep, we nurse for 10 minutes or just before sleep and then stop and read something together before putting space between us. Gradually decreasing the amount of time at the breast while still engaging in physical connection through a back rub, light foot massage (with some lavender oil, so relaxing), reading cuddles, etc., meets that need for physical attachment while helping them prepare for some alone space. We start them out having quiet time in the same room, I’ll just be sitting in a chair across the room while they play in the bed. Sometimes even in bed together but I’ll sit and read my own book and not interact. Building forts or creating a nap nest or book nook helps too, working together to create the space, then have them go in and have alone time in the space. When they start to give up naps, a snack during quiet time can be helpful and a distraction. When we’re in the same space, I just tell them I won’t be talking to them and even avoid eye contact during the designated time. Making use of a timer such as 30 minute sand timer (oh how the eyes get heavy watching the sad) or the alarm on a smart phone (pick a sound that won’t be too startling should they fall asleep) can give them a goal with a definite end point. Now with big kids in the mix, sometimes a younger one will take quiet time with an older one, quietly side by side reading or coloring. For extroverts, making sure the coming out of quiet time transition is one that engages them fully is so important. With our extroverts we like to ask them about their quiet time experience, what they did, what they thought about, what they created, etc. We just let them talk. Having the conversation while doing some other activity is good too, such as cooking or playing outside.
As with all transitions, it’s best if it isn’t abrupt. One day she’ll settle just fine on her own and even tell me to go away, the next I may end up nursing her to sleep. Being flexible and attentive to her needs as well as mine helps us all find the balance we need.