Trusting my Instincts for the Long Haul

Everyone who makes the choice not to let their child cry until they fall asleep is likely to hear lots of ‘helpful’ (read: well-meaning and honestly given but not actually helpful) advice on the subject.  I know I did.

“You’re spoiling her.  She’s manipulating you!”

“Babies cry.  It’s what they do!  Leave her alone.  She’ll figure it out.”

“If you don’t teach her to fall asleep on her own, she’s not going to learn.”

There are many other variations on this theme, but you get the idea.  Someone I respect very much says often, “Young children don’t manipulate.  That part of their brain is not even formed yet.  They learn cause and effect.”  I believe this is true.  Many parents hold that children cry, especially around bedtime, and that if you pick them up, they will learn that crying makes you pick them up.  This is a respectable point of view.  I think there is another cause and effect behind that, though, which I chose to value first.  I mean that I wanted my daughter to understand that I will be with her, that I will respond to her compassionately, that she can trust me.  Because someday I will hope for all of those things from her and it makes sense to me to model them consistently.  Babies do cry.  The average newborn cries something like 2-3 hours per day.  I get that.  But if I am going to teach my child to be compassionate and to care when other people are crying, I wanted her to learn that I would care when she cried.  So we have a rule in our house:  no-one cries alone if they don’t want to (the ‘if they don’t want to part’ is mostly for my introverted husband).

The main thing that I wanted to address is that last piece of advice, though, because I’ve been hearing it for two and a half years.  And in the back of my mind I have doubted myself and thought, “Maybe all these people are right.  Maybe I am just getting caught up in some hippie crap and causing my daughter emotional dependence issues.”  But I had some very good support that encouraged me to listen to my baby and myself.  So I pressed on.

And the other night, the strangest thing happened…

E. was not going to sleep in any of the normal ways.  She was just…restless.  Finally, in a fit of frustration, I said, “Am I keeping you awake?  Maybe you should just go to bed!”

And then she did.

Just kidding!  She went in her room and had a screaming hysterical fit.  J. stepped in and calmed her for a few minutes while I calmed myself.  After a few minutes I went and relieved him and said, “Okay, I’m here.  I’m sorry I got frustrated but you weren’t listening to my words.  Listen, here’s the deal.  I’m going to stay for a few minutes.  I’m going to pray for you, and we will cuddle for a bit, then I’m going to go in the office and you should go to sleep in here.”

“M–mm—Mommy?”

“Yes, honey?”

“Will you check on me?”

So I did.  I prayed for her, I tucked her in with a stuffy or two, I hugged and kissed her several times, and I promised to come back in 2 minutes to check on her.

Two minutes later, I crept back in, and peeked…”Mommy?”  “Yeah.  I’m here.  Are you okay?”  “Mommy I okay.”  “Okay, I’ll be back in 5 minutes.”

So I went back in 5 minutes.  Then 5 minutes again.  Then 10.  After the 10 minute interval I found her snoring.

The next night, I suggested we do the same thing again.  I had to check on her twice.  The third time she was out.  The next night she was out by the second check.  Last night I found her sleeping after five minutes and pulled her door mostly shut so the tv wouldn’t wake her.

This morning, after baby N. was dropped off, I told E. that I needed to help her go down for a nap.  She said, “Because she’s a baby, she can’t go to sleep by herself!  I big, and I can go to sleep.”

There has been no obligatory “cry-it-out” that so many people have insisted to me is completely necessary for children to learn to sleep.  We tried to try it out of respect for people, but it never felt right.  And I’m so glad that I was able to trust the wisdom that was given to me regarding my child.

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9 Responses to Trusting my Instincts for the Long Haul

  1. I love this! It is true that you can’t spoil babies. Erickson, a theorist on human development, states that the first subconscious item on the agenda of newborns is “Trust vs. Mistrust”, and whether or not they can trust their environment. Good job trusting your gut!

  2. Chase says:

    my parents just used children’s nyquil.

  3. Just came over from Hippie Housewife. I was a “cry it out” kind of parent, and let me tell you I got hell for that, too. People just give advice thinking they’re helping, but it’s us parents who have to decide what is best for our children and for our families. Somebody is ALWAYS going to disagree with our parenting choices (no matter what they are)… it is close to all of our hearts so it’s hard not to advise.

  4. Karen Bannan says:

    I fall into the cry it out camp, but respect all forms of sleep training. As long as it’s not interfering with your life it works. That’s my motto. 🙂

  5. I really wasn’t trying to change anyone else’s mind; although if I can offer some encouragement to people who are being told that their parenting instincts are not sufficient to guide them, I will. I think that God gives each of us the child that needs us as a parent, not the rest of the world. We should definitely take the time to thoughtfully consider our choices and gather information from trusted sources, but at the end of the day we are the ones who have to live with our parenting decisions and not anyone else (except, obviously, our children. and whoever they marry. and interact with. Okay…rabbit hole…). I have to parent in a way that makes sense to me and appears to work for my family. Advice should be in the proper context (“Listen, I know you are the foremost expert in the field of your baby, just fyi this is something that worked for me. It may or may not be helpful to you.” I wish I was always with it enough to preface things that way!) and I try to hear it that way, even if it isn’t intended by the advisor.
    There are a lot of people I respect who followed the cry-it-out method with their kids. The ones I respect the most are the ones who have shown respect for the way I choose to do something differently.

  6. Cynthia says:

    So glad you listened to your gut. It’s hard to know what to do in the sea of conflicting advice you hear. I definitely have had my moments of self-doubt as well. But it’s like you said, it’s wonderfully confirming to finally see that light at the end of the tunnel, the fruit of all your hard work. Loved this post.

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