Baby Sleep and the Need to Be in Control

For those of you who know me or have worked with me in the past 7/8 months, you will have learned that I have decided to begin meditation and mindfulness. It has been quite transformative in my life. This past week, the focus of our mediation was about control.

It was quite amazing because I really do find that this is one of the biggest struggles of new parents … this idea that we can control our children, especially around eating and sleeping.

We feel like if we just got them on a certain schedule that they would sleep. If we just read x book, they would sleep. If we just sleep trained (or did not sleep train), they would sleep.

The sleep industry is feeding this idea that we can control sleep. Sleep is not within our conscious control. If I tell you to go to sleep right now, you are not going to fall asleep and in fact, the pressure to fall asleep makes it even worse.

All of the strict schedules and sleep training that forces your baby to shut down leads you to believe that you have control over their sleep, but you do not.  

Baby Sleep and the Need to be in Control – Learning how to let go of your control and take a step back.

The greatest lesson in parenting (in my opinion) is understanding that you cannot control. The more you try, the more a child pushes back.

As Dr. Shefali says, “Letting go of control over our children is probably the hardest spiritual task we face as parents.” 

I often work with families who are holding onto way too much and their toddler is struggling with eating, sleeping and eliminating (the three things they can control).  

This talk was great because it was a reminder that we control very little in life. Dr. Shefali explains, “The only thing we can control in life is how we choose to feel. No one or nothing gets to dictate this.”

And yet, we also feel like we get to control our children’s emotions by shutting them down, distracting them, or stopping them. We shut down their emotions because they make us uncomfortable.

We do not even have control of our own thoughts and emotions so how do we expect to control another human being? The more we try to control and it does not work, the more stress we have.

When we let go of the idea that we can control our children, and their sleep, the stress starts to disappear. As I have mentioned over and over, our children mirror back everything that we are feeling in that exact moment.

If we are not ok, or we are stressed, they are stressed. I would really challenge you to let go a bit.

I am challenging you to LET GO!

The following is the talk given by (and written by), G.Arnaud Painvin, MD, FRCSC is a Zen Master & Dharma teacher.

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Being in control…are we?

It is a wonderful thing to be in control or to believe that we are.

When you are in control, you can pick what you want to do and when and where to do it.

You can go left or right, eat this or that, start a hobby, change your car, job, and partner.

The world and life seem to be under our control and this feeling is nice to our ego.

So, for most of us, we believe that we are in control of our destiny as long as each of us believes there is such a thing. Is it reality or illusion?

There is indeed a sort of hidden destiny for each of us. If so, we are not in control of it at 100%.

There is no destiny at all. If so, we cannot control something which does not exist.

In Zen, the metaphor for the mind is a monkey continuously jumping from one branch to the next or a wild bull. Both are not tamed.

Control in Regards to thinking

We are “day sleep walkers” and “thinking zombies” as Zen says.

Our mind produces around 90 to 100 thousand thoughts a day and only a few of them are useful such as making decisions.

The rest is pure static noise, a permanent inner voice impossible to control at once. Being in the past and future all the time is a perfect example of uncontrollable fictional thinking. Thoughts do exist but are not real even though we produce them.

Control in Regards to our emotions

Most of the time, we are not in control of our emotions/feelings, either positive or negative ones.

If we are able to manage some of the negative ones by accepting them as they are, it gives us a sense of control but it is transient since a new one will pop out.

Most of the time, the lack of emotional management strikes and our pain, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and fear, are running wild. When that happens, we feel out of control. This is where meditation becomes essential.

When it comes to love, it can be tricky.

We don’t decide to be in love. We fall in love. Boom! The emotional reaction at sight. Thinking comes later.

Our ego and hormones are in total control, at least for a little while.

In fact, love and hatred are those strong feelings where we enjoy to lose restraint.

In those moments, we believe in destiny and we go with it for better or for worse.

Similar to our thoughts, we have the tendency to believe in our illusions, judgments, and mind-sets, giving us a feeling of power. The feeling of being in control is one of these strong illusions, probably ego-driven.

As far as our body is concerned, are we in control of its functions, diseases, and aging?

Regarding our environment, people, and events, what, when, and whom do we control?

Finally, change is everywhere and continuous. Everything is transient around us and within us.

This is life. So do we control ongoing changes? Not so.


Here is a little homework for you:

Write down a list of things, events, situations, and people that you believe you are in control of. (A score from 0 to 5 with 0 as no control and 5 as full control.)

Accepting this obvious reality that we do not control too much of anything does not mean to be defeatist, resigned, or pessimistic. We still have to act and strive for the best.

If we cannot even command our body and mind, how on Earth can we expect to control the external world?

Thinking that we control can be stressful for fear of losing it.

However, thinking of not controlling too much will bring you closer to serenity.

This is worth a lot of reflection. Let go and write me a note below to let me know if you noticed any changes.

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