“Mom, not baby, decides…”: What that means

What is meant by “mom, not baby, decides” as discussed in the Babywise books? What does that look like in practice?

mom kissing baby

Mom, not baby decides. How to apply this Babywise principle.

I have had a question on the idea of “mom, not baby, decides…”. In an email Anne-Marie Ezzo sent to me a few months ago, she mentioned that idea and pointed out that is true for all parenting philosophies. The mom (or parent or caregiver) is always deciding when the nap will end or start. The philosophies really differ in cues followed and whether or not a schedule is enforced. The mom who gets baby as soon as she makes a peep is deciding when to get the baby up, she has just decided to follow that cue. The mom who lets her newborn sleep 4 straight hours during the daytime, not wanting to wake a sleeping baby, has decided the nap won’t end until baby wakes himself up. Mom always decides.

Sure. But what does that phrase mean in the context of Babywise? Well, it means much of the same. But be sure YOU decide and not let the CLOCK decide. I think parents who follow a schedule can easily fall into the trap of becoming slaves to the clock. Always keep in mind that Babywise is Parent Directed Feeding, not clock directed.

This parent directed idea can and should be applied to all ages of your child. YOU decide whether or not your toddler can have some candy, not the presence or absence of a TANTRUM. Getting this “you” deciding practice down early will make future struggles easier for you.

I can understand parents, especially first time parents, wanting some sort of outline and case-by-case scenario that tells them “if X, then Y.” Yes, that would make parenting easier. It would be more like raising a tree than a human. Now, the steps to raising a tree do vary by the species of the tree as well as your climate, but at that point you can get pretty solid advice on what to do if X happens to your tree. You can tell a problem you see with your tree, ask your neighbor who has lived there for the last 50 years and he can tell you pretty definitely what to do to fix the problem. He doesn’t need to know much more.

Children have environmental factors, just like trees. But they have so much more. They have personalities and tendencies. They have desires and yearnings. And most difficult for the parent, they have agency. They can choose how to act and react! This is a great gift, though many times we wish we could strip our children of their agency. When you add to the mix the parents, things get even more complicated. Parents have personalities and tendencies. They have desires and yearnings. They have agency. Then they have a schema of the world. A parent has been affected by his life experiences: childhood, friendships, schooling, successes, failures, etc.

You can easily see why there can be no “If X, then Y” equation for your children. A book couldn’t possibly be long enough to cover it all. My posts on this blog alone cover over 300 single spaced, typed pages so far. Then you have the hundreds of pages of questions/answers. All of that is in addition to what is already written in the Babywise books.

This is why “Mom, not baby, decides…” is such a valuable concept for mom. Mom is smart. Yes, you make mistakes. Yes, you have to learn things, and sometimes the hard way, but you are still smart. You can take in all of the factors. You combine these variables and analyze them. You then work to problem solve.

Let’s say baby usually goes down for a nap at 9:30 AM. But then baby starts showing her usual sleep cues at 9:15. What do you do? If you were the “if X then Y” mom, you would for sure keep her up until 9:30. If baby really needed to go down at 9:15, then baby would wake up early from the nap and you would be left looking for the next “Y” to solve the current “X.” But this “X” could have been avoided. For the PDF mom, she thinks. Did baby wake up early this morning? Did baby have a rough night? Is baby teething or sick? Did baby go to bed early last night? Did baby miss a nap yesterday? Or simply, was that really the sleep cue? You decide to put her down right away. She sleeps her normal nap length, though she does wake up 15 minutes earlier than usual since she went down early. No big deal. That is better than an hour and 15 minutes earlier.

So mom decides. Mom looks at the variables and decides what to do. She isn’t governed by outside forces, but rather cues, knowledge, and experience. Does that mean mom is perfect and gets it right every time? No. We all make mistakes. We misjudge. We then chalk that up to our experience list and move forward.

“Mom, not baby, decides” works well because mom is better able to analyze the situation than baby. Mom has more experience and more intelligence. Mom can see the big picture. Mom has better goals in mind. Toddler doesn’t get candy because eating a full, nutritious dinner is important to the health and happiness of Toddler, and dinner is 30 minutes away. Candy can be considered after dinner, perhaps as dessert. Newborn Baby wants to go right to sleep after eating, but mom knows having some waketime will actually help him to nap better and longer. That will ensure he stays on his feeding schedule better. So mom works and works to keep newborn baby up for some playtime. It is exhausting for mom and baby, but mom looks past the moment and toward higher goals in the future. Mom doesn’t give in to the tantrum because she knows that will make future tantrums better. She also knows child needs to learn to experience disappointments. Child needs to know that a fit isn’t going to get him what he wants. She knows that giving in to the fit now will only make future behavior worse, not only tantrums.

So keep deciding. Of course as your child grows, he earns freedoms. But that is you decided if and when to allow freedoms. It is you watching the use of those freedoms and making sure he really can handle the privilege and opportunity.

Mom, Not Baby, Decides In Action

This morning, Kaitlyn was acting very tired about 15 minutes before her normal naptime. At 12 months old, her schedule is pretty consistent down to the minute from day to day. I picked her up and started taking her to her bed, but wondered why she was so tired. Then I remembered that she got to bed 45 minutes late last night because my grandfather is in town visiting. That explained the need for her to go down for her nap early. She fell asleep right away.

This isn’t some profound in action discovery, just an illustration that you are often making decisions that deviate from your normal schedule–don’t be afraid to change the normal routine if it is what your baby needs.

How to apply the Babywise principle of Mom, Not Baby, Decides.

Related Schedule Posts:

Reader Thank-Yous/Comments

  • Cameron Clark said…
    Yippie! This should be added to BW book. I think most people that read BW in the medical community take it at face value and love to bash it. If you can use common sense when applying BW techniques, you’ll win. Problem is, we’re sleep deprived parents with no experience trying to do the best for our baby — bless our hearts. No one said it would be easy, eh? Mistakes will be made doing anything worth our efforts. We are not perfect and shouldn’t read BW as the letter of the law. Right now I’m going to wake up Owen from his nap… Why? Because I know what is best.
  • Jennifer Brewer said…
    Thanks! Always refreshing to that making the decision as Mom…is the right decision.
  • Plowmanators said…
    Thanks for all the thanks. I am happy to try to help clarify any confusion that goes along with that theory.
  • atara said…
    This is so empowering to me as a first time Mom. Thank you! I currently working on getting the first feed of the day at 6:00am, but it’s not a deal breaker if it happens 30 minutes before or after.

    Plowmanators said…
    You are welcome!

Reader Questions

  • Kate said…
    So, I’m trying to get a regular schedule (daughter’s now 15 weeks). My problem is the 2nd half of the day.We always wake/feed at 7:30 in the morning then sleep from 8:30-10:30. My problem is during the rest of the day if she wakes early from a nap (which happens regulary) then I usually feed her at 2.5 hours instead of the usual 3 hrs so the rest of the day is now different and so on. Which means besides the morning nap we don’t have a set time for the rest of her naps.Should I try to make a feeding schedule during the day, for example we eat at 7:30, 10:30, 1:30, 4:30, 6:30, or is that unreasonable to expect from her and just continue with our current semi-schedule. I realize this would mean we eat at this time no matter what time she woke up. I was looking through BW and couldn’t really find any thoughts on this. Thanks again!April 30, 2008 3:03 PM
    Plowmanators said…
    Kate,I personally would never set a schedule and then think we are following this no matter what. That then becomes hyper-scheduling and really removes your judgement from the equation. I would recommend this post: Getting a Consistent Schedule: I would keep a log (Problem Solving Tip: Detailed Log ) and take note of the times of day she usually eats and the intervals she can go. You say there is a time of day she usually goes 2.5 hours. I would make that the schedule. You can do a combo schedule of 2.5-3 hours (see this post Combo Schedule is Okay). Then your schedule will become one that is attainable for you two. Good luck!
  • Jennifer said…
    Thank you for this post. The “mom, not baby, decides…” part of BW is one that I have struggled with. Your thoughts on this help a lot. I have the same situation as Kate (above comment) with my 11 week old. I usually have to wake her up about 8 am and then she goes down about 9:30 am for a nap, but then the rest of the day is always different–we go 2.5-3.5 hours between feedings, but I never know how long wake time/naps will last. In some ways I like the flexibility because I can usually fit it all in around any appointments I have no matter what time, but there are frustrating times where I think my baby will sleep longer and then she wakes up early. Thoughts?

    Plowmanators said…
    Jennifer, my advice to you would be the same as to Kate. See the same posts I suggested for her 🙂 In your case, you are going to have to decide how scheduled you really want to be and go from there.
  • Abby’s Mom said…
    I too have the same problem. Naps always differ in their length. My 4 1/2 month old will sometimes nap for 2 hours and sometimes only for 45 minutes (have tried to wait and let her go back to sleep with no success) I usually have to adjust the times in the afternoons. Sometimes she will only have 2.5 hours between afternoon feedings. She is also still taking 4 naps a day, which I thought would be down to 3 by now. Her last nap is usually from 5:30pm to 6:30pm and then she goes to bed at 7:30pm. She will usually wake from her 3rd nap between 4pm and 4:30pm. If she does not take a 4th nap, the stretch from 3rd nap to bedtime is too long and she is crabby. Anyone else have/had babies that still take/took 4 naps at 4.5 months?

    Plowmanators said…
    Abby’s mom, some babies do still have that 4th nap. Both of mine had dropped it by that age, but both dropped their third nap later than average.

    heather said…
    Abby’s mom….. I feel your pain!!!! I have a 6 month old that I’m still struggling with the very same issues. Inconsistent naps, hard to make it to the next feeding, etc. My daughter is finally just now taking 3 naps, but like today….she took 3, 30 minute naps. Aaahhhh! Not ideal. I left her alone after she woke each time for 30 or 45 minutes and she just doesn’t go back to sleep. Usually when she does this I’ll try to get her to take a 4th nap, but we didn’t get it in today. It was very hard to make it to bedtime. I’m probably not much help b/c I don’t have any miracle answers for you except that I understand exactly where you are. Let’s press on!:)