if you haven’t figured it out by now, i don’t parent by the book. in fact, i’ve never even read a parenting book. that’s a lie, i read the book about swaddling, shushing, swinging and a couple other ‘s’ words i can’t remember. the diagram for swaddling was really useful. oh, and for the first 6 months of life, i obsessively checked the list of “what your baby should be doing” in the very terrifying “what to expect” book series. i would like to burn all of those books.i digress.
i don’t parent by the book.
i parent from the heart, from the mind, from the spirit. i parent by listening to my child and figuring out what she needs. i parent by negotiating, compromising, and explaining. it requires a lot of patience and time and energy. i parent by offering love, comfort, choices, and care.
i have a child who is very loving, very independent, very dramatic, very trusting, very inquisitive, and very brave.
i have a child who doesn’t sleep through the night.
she is 15 months old.
i have never been willing to let her “scream it out.” i did try it for a few nights, but after 45 minutes of screaming, i went in to comfort her and help her fall asleep in the way that i felt comfortable with. i feel comfortable helping her fall asleep. i don’t feel comfortable letting her scream at a time of day when she’s supposed to be relaxing.
for some reason, if infant sleep comes up in conversation, i feel obligated to say something like, “I didn’t have the strength to let her cry it out.” why have i always admitted that i’m the one without strength? why is my parenting style considered the weaker one? why, in this country, have we created this myth that a majority of babies sleep through the night, but only if you make them. you must force them to learn to “self-comfort.” you must force them to understand that no matter how much they beg, you will not come to them in the middle of the night. they must go it alone.
i thought of this particularly as i spoke to a young mom recently: a lovely woman who i haven’t seen in many years. she has a seven month old: her first. when he wakes at night–which he always does–she leaves him to cry for a half hour, and then goes in to say “you’re okay,” and pat him on the back. she lets him cry for another 15 minutes after that. and then, after all this crying, she goes in, picks him up, and he falls back to sleep within a minute. she even said to me, “it’s like he just wants a hug and to know i’m there.” but, for some strange reason, even this knowledge is not enough to convince her that if she went in to comfort him right away, he may just fall back to sleep faster and then sleep better knowing she’ll be there for him. she has to do what we all think we’re supposed to do: she has to make him fend off life on his own.
and here’s where we get to the black hole of the sleep controversy. if you are comfortable listening to your child scream for hours, that’s your prerogative. if you absolutely feel the need to “sleep train,” that’s also your prerogative. what gets under my skin, though, is the thought that with all of this “sleep training” and “crying it out” comes the relegation of comfort to the daylight hours. we are told not to comfort our children at night. we are only allowed to comfort them during the day. at night, a time when even adults get nervous; even adults hate to sleep alone; even adults see shadows and want extra snuggles, we have convinced ourselves that infants should be able to handle this time on their own, with none of the comfort they get during the day. and parents like me, who believe that comfort at night is essential to a child’s well-being, are considered weak.
the first midwife i went to when i was pregnant told me that there had been a budget cut at the hospital. i could only have a midwife in attendance if i gave birth between nine and five. i found a new midwife.
infants, toddlers, children of the earth, there has been a budget cut: you can only receive physical comfort (beyond back-patting) if you cry between 6am and 6pm. at any other time, you will have to comfort yourself. good luck. may the best baby survive.
(a note to the angry–i know this post will cause some of you to steam. so be it. i welcome your thoughts. as i wrote above, this is a HUGE controversy in the world of child-rearing. just as huge, i think, as breast vs. bottle. blogs are places for discussions so feel free to explain why you think i’m wrong. i like a lively debate. written debate, that is. in person, if you hollered at me, i’d run away crying with my tail between my legs.)
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