The Most Important Parenting Lesson I’ve Learned

James just turned 13 months old, so naturally I consider myself a newly minted expert on all things related to parenting. But seriously, there is one thing I’ve recently realized that I think will be really helpful to new parents. Get your notebooks out—Your child will do things when they’re ready.

I know that’s incredibly obvious. But if you really accept it as truth, it removes so much anxiety. For the first 12+ months of his life, James would not nap by himself. (link to blog post where we talked about his sleep). Initially, he would only sleep in our arms and then he started to sleep on his own at night, but still needed to be held for naps.

We had tried every suggested strategy and spent so much time trying to figure out a way to put him down for a nap, but the best we ever got would be a short 20-30 minute nap and then a very grumpy and tired baby. It was maddening and stressful on all of us. But this past week, while holding him for his nap he would be tired but start kicking like he didn’t want to be held. So I’d set him down in his crib and he happily went to sleep for over an hour. He has done it for both naps each day for a week. He just wasn’t ready to nap alone, and now he is.

This has been the case for so many things. We spent a few days trying to give him a sippy cup and it was another kind of messy, awkward ordeal where he would either be having a blast spouting water ev-er-y-where, waterboarding himself, or getting frustrated and cry. So we gave up for a while. And then when we tried again, he miraculously knew how to do it. Now I’m sure the previous experience helped him a little, but the truth is I just don’t think he was ready, either physically or intellectually to figure it out. But once he was, it was a cinch.

It can be frustrating when you google milestones or behavioral quirks and read about other babies who are composing symphonies, writing novels, and deadlifting 400 pounds at 10 months. The reality is babies develop at different rates and the range of normal development and behavior is huge. So let go of the anxiety and just accept that your child will master skills or outgrow undesirable behaviors at their own rate. Something Daniel used to say was “I don’t know any adults who need to be held and rocked to sleep,” meaning that even though it can be a long and bumpy journey to get there, eventually every baby figures out how to sleep on their own.

I’d love to know—have you found this to be true for your child or children?



11 thoughts on “The Most Important Parenting Lesson I’ve Learned

  1. Tara

    Love this. I too found this to be true! My little girl was born the beginning of Sept last year so they are the same age :) My girl did Not sleep at all on her own for about 5 months, and then one day it was magic. I had wondered for so long if I held her too much during the days, or didn’t give her a chance to learn how to nap on her own. But she just needed to feel safe and held for a while. And once she could roll over, she slept on her tummy and sleeps like a Rock. 12 hours every night straight through. Still. After 5 months of sleep deprivation torture that was heaven. But I’m not sure it was ever us that did much, she just did things her own way in her own time. Thanks for this post <3

  2. Paula

    Yes… but I don’t believe that you need to hold a child to sleep 6 times a day for one hour or more at a time, for 3 months or so… gradually reducing to probably once a day around 14 months…
    What if… it’s not your first child? What if you need to cook a meal and put a toddler to bed at some point in there? What if you need to watch a 5 year old and a 3 year old climbing up on a jungle gym at the park? I think so much of attachment parenting involves severely neglecting other areas and people in our lives. And what if that baby needs to be held all night long…as opposed to for naps? Would you encourage me to do the same? Just stay up all night to safely cradle the child who gets denied learning the skill of falling asleep on their own for a whole year? And what about the toddler sibling that wakes up in the night with a bad dream? Who will tend to them? Sorry, my husband doesn’t have the luxury of showing up to work with a totally sleep-deprived, erratic brain. He.s sleep deprived enough already due to the nights he doesn’t work, when he’s helping me survive. I wish it were as simple as your article tries to make it. I am glad it was that simple for you.

    1. Julie Ellis

      I don’t think she was telling anyone what they should do, just what ended up working for her. And her baby. Sheesh. Don’t be so critical. If she wants to hold her baby, let her! I did with my son for 3 months while he napped. Now he’s 6 years old and I wish I hadn’t been so quick to stop…I miss cuddling him! That said, and Andi’s point, do what works for you and your family.

    2. debbie in alaska

      Paula, it sounds like things weren’t simple for you. I’m so sorry. I like that Andie keeps things short and simple. It’s just one more perspective to consider — not an all encompassing answer to everything.

  3. Anne F.

    Words to remember: “ This too shall pass.”
    Daniel’s comment is spot on! No grown adult needs to be held to nap. Lol! Remember “this” will pass and you will be onto another questionable event. Also, remember that the internet is not always right. If you have another baby, the two will argue and fight. My pediatrician told me to quit listening to those mothers that said their kids didn’t fight. He said they were all liars!!! I was so relieved! Enjoy that sweet James and please! Live in the moment. ♥️

  4. Marci Lambert

    Yes! We tried to get my first daughter to walk, but she didn’t take her first unassisted steps until she was 14 months old. With the second daughter we didn’t try at all (we realized how much harder it is when babies get that kind of mobile). And she also walked at 14 months old. I realized then that they do what they do when they are ready.

  5. Naomi Mimnaugh

    Wise words, Andie. Every little person is different and isn’t that what makes life beautiful? Parenting involves fears and frustrations of course. It’s all part of the gig, so be gentle to yourself and to each other. Happy Autumn. xxx

  6. Erin H

    I told some pregnant family members recently that I was going to tell them the secret of parenting that no one told me. Here it is: you never fully know what you’re doing. Just when you figure them out they change. Once I accepted that I was much more relaxed. Also- some days they eat all the things and some days they barely eat a thing. We were out of town and she was not eating much of anything and I was just so stressed about it but when I mentioned it to to her doc he said well was she fussy? No. Sleeping? Yes. Did she eat the next day? Yes. Then he just chuckled and said it’s fine. I guess the lesson is don’t sweat the small stuff. They (and you the parent) figure it out in the end.

  7. Stephanie

    Yes! All of this is so true of our son. He’s now almost 5 years old. I remember when he was an infant I did the same thing you did and constantly was looking up what milestones he should be hitting, what strategies we should be using, etc. He may not always do things as quickly as other children his age, but when he does, it seems that he masters it very quickly.

  8. Jessica

    LOVE THIS! My son who is now 3, was and STILL is a terrible sleeper! We tired EVERYTHING and I mean everything to get him to sleep. Sleeping in his own crib …forget it! After about a year and half of just being drained we finally let him sleep with us. He now sleeps 12 hours every night. We have been working for a couple weeks now to put him in his own twin bed we have for him in his room, which he will stay in most of the night but yes all mamas have to do what they feel is best for them and their babies!! Baby #2 will be here next month and I am hoping she is a sleeper unlike her brother but ya know what we got through it once we can do it again! Keep it up mama! You are doing great!!

  9. Hillary Frye

    Yes! This is the #1 lesson I learned as well. The #2 lesson is everything is a stage so just when you’re on the end of your rope-something is going to change for the better!


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