The seasons of parenting sometimes change as often as the daily tides. The tough times come and go, sometimes rapidly. But there are times when a tough season of parenting is particularly long, when everything feels too hard and, just like that, you’ve lost your grip. This could last just one full day or a full month – the feeling of desperation and confusion is still the same.
When I was in my first year as a mother, I remember a moment in my support group when I was, yet again, lamenting about our sleep issues.
The woman running it told me to go into “survival parenting” mode.
For me, this meant throwing all of our sleep training practices out the door for awhile and doing whatever worked in order to “survive.” This meant “breastsleeping” for me – letting my daughter nurse as long as she wanted to all night long. It wasn’t how I wanted our nights to go regularly; but, it was easy and both of us slept well. I activated the technique in order to get our sleep deficit all paid up before undertaking the sleep challenge once again.
I also, unknowingly, went into “survival parenting” mode in the early days when my daughter wouldn’t stick to the “every 2-3 hours” of nursing schedule. Feeling fed up, I stopped trying to get her on that schedule and just nursed whenever she wanted to. I set myself up on the couch with snacks and Netflix for the day and there I stayed, nursing and holding her all day long. It was easy and gave me a break until I was ready to try her on a schedule again.
Now she’s in her 3rd year – a time when enforcing boundaries and routines are more important than in the previous years. But every now and then, I still have to go into “survival parenting” mode. Whether it be an illness, overworking, a developmental milestone, or a personal crisis, I find myself relaxing on my boundaries and routines with her until we get through that tough season. Sometimes, it’s VERY relaxed (when it’s screen time, snacks, and pacifier allowances all day long, you know we’re in the middle of something brutal). It makes the days easy and allows me to concentrate on whatever the issue is rather than on the day-to-day rules.
And yet, I feel so guilty.
I know that “survival parenting” is a lifesaver, but I can’t shake the worry that, by breaking from routine and rules, I’m causing permanent damage. That being inconsistent will make it all the more harder to become consistent again later. That she will recognize that I’m relaxing the rules and will push back even harder when I try to reinforce them. What if, by taking the easy way out to get through the tough times, I’m making it harder all around? Furthermore, if children truly do find security in structure, am I causing her to behave more poorly than usual by relaxing that structure? Would it be easier for her to get through this hard season if I keep her structure in place?
I really don’t know.
I haven’t quite been through enough tough seasons in order to see if I’m making it harder on myself in the long run by entering into “survival parenting” mode. Long term effects of enacting this mode are yet to be seen; but, I do know that I do not always have the energy or the willpower to be firm in my parenting methods while dealing with an unusual circumstance. That always makes me wonder if I’m too weak for this job.
It seems as though the general consensus is that you just do the best that you can. Sometimes it feels like “survival parenting” is my best; or, is it not my best because I should be able to find the strength to try harder? I just don’t know.
I’d love to hear from parents who have seen the long term effects of “survival parenting.” Is this easy way out going to bite me in the you know what later on? Is it possible to cause lasting damage with these slip-ups?