Surrender is not a dirty word

Please trust me to grow

in my own special way.

Love me, hold me close,

follow my lead.

Trust me.

 Let me dance my own tune,

beat my own rhythm.

Don’t force my petals.

In my own time,
I will blossom.

Trust me.

 Just as you trusted me to grow
into the beautiful newborn
 you gave birth to. 

(Trust, by Pinky McKay)

I believe our children are our greatest teachers. With each child I have learnt valuable lessons – patience, wonder, humility and trust. Trust can be the most challenging.

As I speak to mothers every day, I see first-hand the struggles that are often around issues of trust: trust that babies really aren’t manipulating (that the needs they express are legitimate); trust that the tiny baby who needs to feed every hour or two right now will eventually space out his feeds; trust that one night your wakeful baby will eventually sleep all night; and trust that your toddler will develop impulse control (that his ‘disruptive’ behaviour and meltdowns aren’t because he’s truly ‘out to get you’!).

Although there is overwhelming pressure to intervene and ‘train’ babies, they will naturally have the capacity to fall asleep with less help as their immature nervous systems develop. And when their tiny tummies stretch and they can coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing, they become more efficient at feeding and will naturally space out feeds. When they’re ready, they will eat family foods too, without any forcing or fuss.

Even toddlers are still learning, and although we do need to keep teaching calmly and with respect, it isn’t a punishable offence for a small person to have a meltdown when he just can’t manage his big feelings. Your toddler’s brain is still developing the connections that can help him make sense of these feelings, and with gentle guidance and trust he will learn to handle his emotions appropriately.

Just as we learn to trust in our child’s innate needs and his goodness, we can learn to surrender early. We can follow our tiny infant’s rhythms, or we can struggle to impose our own ways. The more we struggle, the more our connection with our child is at risk, and the more difficult we can make our own journey, long beyond infancy – especially if we have a naturally spirited child.

This surrender is not weak or submissive. It is not ‘giving in’. Surrender, in this context, is really about acceptance of where our child is at right now, as well as where we are as parents, and about ‘letting go’. Surrender means living in the present, not missing precious moments through resentment or blame – especially blaming ourselves – for things being different from what we expected or hoped for.

Surrender is also about being kind to ourselves, for the times we didn’t live up to our own expectations of what a perfect mummy looks like in our own unforgiving eyes. Surrender means forgiving ourselves for our own ‘meltdowns’ and ‘screw-ups’. We all make mistakes, because whatever our ideals, we can only do our best with what we know and the resources we have right now – time, energy, sleep and support.

Surrender is based on trust: trusting our child and trusting our own innate wisdom as we hang in there and work through challenges in the way that’s best for each precious, unique little being. Stop for a moment, right now. Snuggle into that soft downy head, breathe in that sweet baby perfume then gaze into those deep eyes. If you have a toddler, slow down and watch him – how his hair falls, how soft his skin is, how cheeky his grin is, and how he makes you want to tickle him, just to hear him giggle.

Enjoy this moment before it passes. This is surrender.

Pinky McKay is Australia’s most recognised breastfeeding expert and gentle parenting advocate. She’s an Internationally Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), mum of five (so she has had her fair share of sleepless nights) and best-selling baby-care author of Sleeping Like a Baby,  and Parenting by Heart (Penguin Random House).

Watch Pinky’s TEDx talk “Surrender is Not a Dirty Word” Here.

See Pinky’ s books, baby massage DVD and recordings HERE.   

Don’t have time to read? Pinky’s books are now available worldwide as audio books – links to audios at each book link. 

(photo courtesy Mel Muller Photography)

anxious motherbaby sleepmothers intuitionnewborn rhythmsnewborn routinesparenting adviceParenting by Heartsurrender to motherhoodtoddler behaviour
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  • Cindy

    Beautiful. Just what I needed to hear. All the other Mums in my group are ‘sleep training’. Some family members have urged me to do the same. I don’t feel it’s necessary and I just can’t do it. If he cries I want to pick him up . I keep getting told I’m spoiling him and he’s going to grow into a monster. I’d love to talk to parents of older kids that were fed and rocked to sleep.

    • Janelle

      Hi Cindy!
      I’m up to baby #3 and I have fed and cuddled all my babies to sleep. They have and are, all turning out fine!! As they have gotten older (than about 15 months or so) they learn to go to sleep in their cots instead of my arms, with myself or husband sitting in the room or rubbing their back. They have all been reassured that we are nearby if they need us, and we have rarely had an issue. My first child at 2yrs old would even tell me “Mummy, I’m tired” and would actually go and put himself into bed!! He’s now 5 and still has a nap in the afternoon!! 🙂

      They are little for such a short time. Don’t be pressured into settling your baby with someone else’s method. Do what works for you and enjoy those beautiful bedtime snuggles while you can!

    • Charlotte

      Me too cindy! It was suggested I try the cry it out method with my little one. I know my parents did it with me and it worked for them and I don’t think it has affected me but I couldn’t stand it. Id be bawling more than my baby and end up snuggling down with him. He is a shocking sleeper but I can’t sleep train coz it does nothing for my mental health. It made me feel so low and like a bad mum. So meanwhile I’m happy to have interrupted days and nights rocking and singing and feeding my little one to sleep until the can sleep through.

      • pinky

        What lucky children you have – thank you for reassuring newer mums who may be feeling pressured against enjoying these precious cuddles.

  • amy

    Hi Cindy

    Sleep training = stress for everyone and who can sleep when they are stressed.
    We let our girl find her own rhythm and at just turned 3 she is still having afternoon nap (mostly) or otherwise quiet rest time on her own! the sleep trained babies are all up in the afternoon and overtired by tea time.
    I wish I had read this when I had her! Things are only an issue if you make them so. every baby is different and so is every family do it your way and let your baby guide you! they wont want to be cuddled to sleep when they are 30.

  • Frith

    This is exactly what I needed to read today, I have been struggling to get my 5 month old baby to self settle and it just becomes a distressing mess of patting and shushing and crying, his little body eves about and he just doesn’t seem to be able to wind down. I eventually ‘give in’ and cuddle him, he’s asleep in a couple of minutes, then goes into his bed and sleeps for the night.
    There are so many articles and books saying that his is the WRONG thing to do so I feel I must be doing something wrong and that I’m forming habits that will last and that I’ll always need to rock him. That I should train him to self settle and let him cry but it just feels so wrong. I shall try and stop reading so much and follow my baby’s lead.
    Thank you for this article.

  • Megan

    This made me cry. Dealing with a toddler’s emotions and lack of sleep is so exhausting and it’s so tempting to impose an iron will and to beat yourself up if your baby is unhappy. It’s so hard to surrender but it’s the right thing to do.

  • Eliza

    I cried reading this, too. Cried with tender, exhausted yet sweet relief that what I am doing feels right for us and our 6 month old baby girl. Yes, it is very hard sometimes, especially with the upfront objections or judgemental looks from family/friends/mothers’ group/ MCHCN/ doctors when we explain how we co-sleep and that we rock, pat, shush, feed and hum or sing her to sleep. Sometimes I have considered controlled settling techniques, when we’re going through a rough patch, but my instincts always steer me away. She sleeps in our arms, but she sleeps, and feels safe and loved and nurtured, and that is what is most important. If her dad is with her while she naps, he naps with her, and when it’s my turn I do the same. It often strikes me as interesting that we don’t force a baby to learn to speak, or crawl or eat solids until they are ready, so why is there this expectation we must force them to learn to sleep and self-settle/soothe on their own? Especially when they are experiencing so many changes in their first years of life. She seeks us out for comfort, we are her anchor, and her safe space as her awareness of the world and her place in it shifts and expands, and as she goes through all her other growth spurts, and mental, physical developmental phases. Thank you so much for helping me feel better today because some days, that boost of kindness and gentleness is needed for a new mum,and I’ve sometimes neglected to give to myself.

  • pinky

    Thank you for your beautiful comments. You have a lucky baby – try to see every sweet snuggle as an investment in your relationship with your child. You are doing a great job.

  • Teach

    I do believe all of the concepts you have introduced in your post.
    They are very convincing and can certainly work. Still, the posts are too quick for newbies.
    May you please prolong them a little from subsequent time?
    Thank you for the post.

  • Grateful for: Pinky McKay

    […] talks honestly about mummy self-doubt, how overwhelming new motherhood can be, and how parenthood changes relationships with partners, friends and […]

  • Bridget

    This post and all the responses have just given me the warmest feelings, and I am so grateful I came across it. I had been starting to feel stressed that I haven’t yet introduced my 13 week old to any kind of routine, just being led by what he signals he needs at the time. I had also been worried about the fact that I’ve still been rocking and patting him to sleep each time, when lots of people would say that I’m installing a bad habit and that he needs to learn to settle himself to sleep. Other mothers I speak to seem to have bedtime routines down pat! What everyone has said here makes so much sense to me and just feels right. This afternoon I have just held my baby close as he sleeps. Meanwhile, the load of washing that finished hours ago remains sitting in the machine. For once, I don’t care about that; spending this moment with my baby is just so precious. Thank you Pinky, and to everyone who has posted responses. Best wishes to all.