Prior to having kids, I thought that I would “sleep train” them using some sort of version of “crying it out” (CIO). Not because I had put any thought into it, but because that seemed to be what one did to one’s child when they got to be a certain age--the same way that people potty train their children and introduce solids. People who did not sleep train their children had little monsters who stayed up till all hours of the night and threw temper-tantrums and basically were Satan’s spawn.
And then we had Finn. When Finn was six months old and had graduated from being swaddled, there came a night where he just wouldn’t go down. (Looking back on it, he was probably teething and/or working on crawling) In a fit of tired desperation I attempted to have him Cry It Out. Oh, it was awful. I really went against every sort of motherly instinct. Finn just isn’t the type of baby to take that sort of decision gracefully. He worked himself up to hysterics, and we intervened because we seriously worried about his health. Mr. F. and I resolved at that point that Crying It Out was not an acceptable solution.
Most of my acquaintances are people who believe in sleep training their children by letting them Cry It Out. This makes it rather difficult for me to feel supported in my decision not to do so. If I mention how utterly exhausted I am, they might smile and nod and appear sympathetic, but I sense them thinking in their mind, “well, that is because you have chosen to not sleep train your child. You can’t expect too much sympathy if you won’t make the sound and reasonable decision.” Luckily, I have a couple of friends who have “been there, done that” and can really offer the support that I need to not go absolutely crazy and postal.
If you look at the two sleep camps (CIO vs. Not CIO), you will find that the Non-Cry It Outers are really adamant that Crying It Out is wrong. I had an epiphany the other day as to why that is the case. If you are putting yourself to the brink of exhaustion night and day to take care of your child’s needs, you need to be absolutely certain that it is because you are doing the best thing for your child. Otherwise, what is the point? You are basically putting yourself through a rather painful torture regimen, and you will go crazy. You need to feel that the benefits of tending to your child’s nighttime needs (which can be every freakin’ half hour!) far outweigh the benefit of getting 8+ hours of uninterrupted sleep by letting your child Cry It Out. Is this actually the case? Is responding to your child’s cries better than letting them Cry It Out? I don’t know. But I do know that I need to believe that it is, if I am going to survive this process.
As a result of this process, I have really come to change my thinking on some key points.
1. Who decided that babies are supposed to sleep through the night without comfort, nursing, etc? While I am sure that SOME babies can sleep through the night. I am not sure that we should expect ALL babies to do so. Even if they are physiologically able to sleep through the night does not mean that they should. I think our society has developed that expectation because it suits our needs, not because babies are designed to be that way. I realized that I was putting an unrealistic and unnatural expectation on my child and then getting rather upset at him for not playing along.
2. Babies need help learning how to soothe themselves. Letting them cry alone in their crib to learn how to “self-soothe” is akin to helping a person learn how to swim by tossing them overboard into a large body of water and then leaving them to fend for themselves. Yes, they may learn how to swim, but is that really the best way to teach them? There is a great book called “The Science of Parenting” which describes how studies have demonstrated that the ability to soothe is actually a higher brain function to which children don’t initially have access. What happens is that when a child’s needs are met, and when he is comforted when he’s upset, a child starts to build connections to that part of the brain that will allow him to self-soothe. So, in reality, by responding to your child’s cries, you are helping them learn how to soothe themselves.
3. I am not sabotaging my child’s sleep by responding to his cries. Nor am I encouraging him to wake more often by responding to him.
4. I had a friend say that I was giving my son lessons in empathy by responding to his cries. I don’t know if this is true, but I think it is a self-fulfilling prophesy--if I think of this as I am dragged out of my sleep, I am much less likely to feel resentful, and I respond with much more patience.
The purpose of this post isn’t to bash another person’s parenting approach. Rather it is to show how by changing my perspective on How Things Should Be, I am able to attend to my son’s needs with a lot more patience and love. I think also there is some merit to challenging preconceived notions. Are those ideas really the best for your family and your particular situation? Are there alternate ideas that might work better?
If you have any similar experiences/words of encouragement would be welcome. It is still hard not to second guess myself when I am in the throws of another sleep regression.