Getting back into the night routine – Episode 3 with Jan Harrison from The Night Owls

In this third episode of my interview with internationally renowned maternity night-nurse and expert Jan Harrison, we talk about how to parent as a unit, getting back into the night routine and the support between us women.

MARTINA: You know, my husband says so often to me, you need to trust me more, with the baby. For mums, this is hard, especially because intuitively, we know that we’re the best at putting our baby to sleep, we know that we’re the best at feeding when we know how to get them to the best state at any given moment. Even though we are at zero energy, we always trust that we can do it better. What are the ways that we can ensure that the husbands or the partners, the baby daddies of this world, are also given that freedom to do their best with the babies? 

JAN: So that starts off, doesn’t it, right at the beginning? 

MARTINA: Correct.

JAN: It actually starts off before, doesn’t it? It starts off with the kind of relationship that you’ve got with your partner. And it’s about trusting them. It’s about trusting them generally, before you’re trusting them with our baby. But we feel like this baby grew inside me. And it’s my baby. And you know, I’m the person that can do this the best. But we need to give them a little trust at the beginning. So that you start to really cut that umbilical cord between you and the baby. And you trust them when you’re around so that you can trust that baby to them when you’re not around. But it’s no good saying to me, how can I get him to help at night? Because, you know, he never does anything? If right from the beginning, you’ve said, I can do that you’re doing it wrong. What she needs now is, so it’s no good saying, well, he doesn’t help at night. If you’ve never let him help change a nappy while you watched? Or if while he’s been changing the nappy? You’re “no, no, no, you need to do this, you need to do that you need to no, no, no, not that one.” You’ve got to give that trust from the beginning. And a lot of men because their hands are bigger and not as dexterous, are frightened of small babies. So give them the trust that they can handle and build on that trust. But do it from the beginning. So that’s in the short term. It’s like how is this going to help you a little bit later if he’s learned to handle the baby? And he knows that he’s trusted with the baby? Because he’s not helping you? Correct. He’s a dad, you know, I said to one guy, he told me quite proudly. I’ve been babysitting for two hours. And I was like, right, ticked off. And I said to him, sweetheart, let me tell you something. You’re the dad, dads don’t babysit. That’s your job. You’re not helping her. You know, like she’s in bed now. Because she’s been up every night for the last seven nights. And she’s having a two hour nap while you babysit? I don’t think so. You’re not babysitting,  you’re not helping your parenting. So he got a good ticking off.

And it’s not your responsibility to raise this child. It’s your responsibility as a unit to raise this child. And the only way that you can get them involved is to let them be involved. So your generation, you need to let the partners be involved, whether that’s a husband or partner, another wife, you carried the child, you birthed the child, but now it’s a joint job. 

MARTINA: So I think it’s the boomerang of this disconnect where everything is so thrown at women, all of this responsibility about the baby. And then because of this, we’re so “I have to get okay, it’s only me, me, me, me, me,” that needs to keep the baby alive that then women start to feel relaxed or are growing into their role as parents, we have such a hard time of letting them do their thing. And then we deprive them of really becoming the best versions of themselves. My husband says to me, and with this he tells me everything he says “I’m so relaxed, when you’re not around when I’m alone with a baby, then I know that she will be good. But I’m so anxious when I know that you’re around. Because if you just hear the baby cry, you’re coming in, “what did you do? what is happening?” and so on. And I understand this completely. So he has his activities with her. They go grocery shopping, he digs for walks and hikes, and they take baths together, the babies genuinely happy that she’s had her one on one time with daddy. And for men, especially because they’re deprived of this experience of carrying the baby, and spending actual physical time with them, that really brings them closer and the kids start to respond more to them, and they start to trust them more. So it is also our responsibility to really make sure that this happens. 

JAN:  It really is, and you know, you’re a mother, the day that your baby is born, but you grow into being a mum, you know, a man is a father, but he’s got to grow into being a daddy. And it’s all about relationships, isn’t it? It’s about your relationship together, and then the relationship with the child. But what I’d say to you and your generation of women as well is look forward. And please, please, please start to raise your boys with the same dignity and respect that we’ve put so much energy into raising our girls, so that for the next generation, it will become easier, because it will just be more natural, it will be what the boys expect to do. 

I don’t think we can reverse this issue by talking to women who are mums to boys that are already grown up. But I acknowledge a huge step forward, speaking to men who are the generation of my husband, and seeing my husband completely acknowledges it and is completely aware of it. And he’s now spreading this, the same attitude amongst his friends. I mean, I go into lots of different homes every month, and I meet the dads who are “well, it’s her problem, she really needs to be able to talk this out”. And I can’t believe she brought you in. Because she should just be able to deal with this. There was a family that I went to where it was probably my toughest sleep coaching night ever, where the child woke every 47 minutes through the night, because he was used to sleeping in bed with the dad. And so we would just go in after 47 minutes, the little boy would say, “Okay, you’re still there”, and you’d lay down, and he’d go back to sleep. And then the next night, he was fine. But then the dad called me two weeks later, and he said, “I really miss him.” Like you put him back in that bed with you and I will kill you. But that dad was doing all the nights because his wife was no good on no sleep and he was better. So you know, we’ve got big extremes going on at the moment and things are changing. But it’s going to be your generation that really changes what happens next, because of the way you raise your children.

MARTINA:  We all love our kids the most that we can, regardless of how we choose to raise them the way that we want them to sleep or how active we are in our motherly responsibilities versus work responsibilities. Where do you think this lack of understanding and empathy and proper education about what parents could really entail come from? 

JAN: Well, I think that it would be good if there was more education about what motherhood is at school. And you will talk more than the functions of how you get pregnant and how you can save a baby or how you don’t. And there was more education around relationships and the emotional and the psychological and the spiritual impact of bringing a child into the world. You know, so that in those early days at school like when you’re teenagers when you’re thinking about this journey that is hopefully going to come to you in your adult life, but you are more prepared as a person for the responsibility and the joy that comes with bringing a new little human being into the world, rather than just making it about function, it was a much more holistic subject that was tackled at school. 

JAN: Did you know that sleep deprivation in small children affects the same part of the brain that alcohol affects in adults. So basically, when you’ve got an overtired baby, you’re gonna see what they’re like as a drunk when they’re grown. So some of them get like really sleepy. And others get really a bit manic and a bit nutty. And, you know, Goldman and the Duracell bunny like, and a little bit crazy. 

MARTINA: See, there’s a whole science that we have no idea about, that needs to come out.

JAN: I just really would want to say, again, this whole mum shaming thing that can it is it’s worse the last 15 years than it has ever been, I think. And that can change, you know, but that change really does have to come from each one of you. And each one of you making that mindful decision that I’m not going to do it in any shape, or form. And I am going to be the one that looks at the little comment on social media that builds up rather than tears down. I’ve got a few superheroes myself. And one of them is Mahatma Gandhi, who I think was just the most amazing man. And he is reported to have said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” And I really do believe in the power of one. And I think that one woman supporting another woman and then that woman paying it forward is the way that this whole mom shaming culture that we’re living in now can change and become as positive as it currently is negative. But it starts with you. 

MARTINA: Absolutely. 

JAN: So but that doesn’t mean you personally. All of us…

MARTINA: … all of us and so let’s build up sisterhood and let’s embrace each other and help each other versus judge each other. 

JAN: Strong Women. May we know them. May we raise them, may we be them. 

MARTINA: Wonderful.

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