No, this is not a post for you Ambien junkies out there… you know who you are. I envy you whole-heartedly. Actually this is for the babies with would-be Ambien junkies for moms. Those of us who are SO WORKED UP over our kids sleep (or lack thereof) that we don’t get any ourselves.
I started out in the cry-it-out camp, like most know-it-all college students with no kids of their own. Badly behaved kids were the result of bad parents, period, and I was going to be the best parent ever. (Don’t worry, I’ve since repented of my ways and paid dearly for the sin of pride.)
Then I got pregnant for the first time and I did some research. OK, I did a LOT of research. I read every single baby-related parenting book at the Provo, Utah library. 23 to be exact. At that point, I came to a few conclusions:
1. When it comes to actual parenting, male pediatricians have NO IDEA what they’re talking about. These guys have never been the primary caregiver to a little person, they do NOT get to tell moms how to do their jobs, period. Let them take care of sick kids, that’s their job.
2. Cry-it-out seemed too cruel to me. (Back then, anyway. More on this later.) I didn’t think I’d be able to turn my back on my child like that. I also remembered being left to cry it out as a child, and I’m pretty sure it contributed heavily to my current sleep problems and anxiety. So that was out.
3. Attachment parenting seemed all great and rosy, but I just couldn’t see any wisdom in letting a baby dictate an entire household. I especially knew that with my own high-strung personality, this would never work. So that was out too.
Then a coworker gave me a book called “The Baby Whisperer” and it was the first of all the books I read that just clicked. It made sense, it was a perfect, moderate road between tough love and doormat parenting, so I committed it to memory.
Then my daughter was born and I kind of blundered through for a couple months before I remembered – oh yeah! I had this all figured out back when I was getting sleep at night. But my daughter had colic and seemed to fight sleep at every turn, so I was worried. More than my fear for her health and development under possible sleep deprivation or my own mental heath and deprivation, I was terrified that something I had subscribed to so whole-heartedly wouldn’t work. Because that’s one big thing about being neurotic – We love rules and schedules and predictability. We need things to go according to plan. The Baby Whisperer was my rule book, and I feared desperately that maybe, just maybe, she was wrong and those rules didn’t apply to me.
Well, thankfully, they did. I used the pick-up, put-down method down to the letter, and it worked exactly as she said it would. You put the baby in their crib when they’re sleepy, but still awake. Then if they cry, you pick them up. When they stop crying, you put them down. If they cry, pick them back up. You do it over and over until they realize that if they cry for mama, you’ll be there. Otherwise, it’s bedtime. It worked like a charm. My willful, colicky girl was sleep trained right at 3 months (as the Baby Whisperer said she could be) and slept through the night at 5 months. I took this as evidence that (a) Tracy Hogg was an angel on earth and (b) I was the Best Parent Ever.
Fast-forward three years, enter Baby Boy into the loving arms of me, the Best Parent Ever. I was ready with my tried-and-true rule book, ready for action. Except I found out pretty early on, this kid was DIFFERENT. If he didn’t fall asleep attached to a boob, he wasn’t going to sleep at ALL. And if he was being held, he wanted to be nursed, period. So there was no sleep training here- pick-up/put-down assumes that holding a baby makes them stop crying, but holding my little guy only made him cry MORE.
So I tried everything I could think of EXCEPT letting him cry alone in his crib. I held him while he cried. I sat next to his crib while he cried. Usually for an hour or more at a time. I swaddled and shushed. I sang and sang. I nursed him for 45 minutes until he fell asleep, then snuck him into his crib, only to have him wake up 30 minutes later needing to be burped. Absolutely nothing worked, and at 6 months, he was still waking up every 2-3 hours to be fed.
Here’s the part where I tell you that, not only do I pray every day (yep. very religious) but I actually pray MORE when my kids are supposed to be sleeping than when my own life is in danger. Guys I told you, I’m really, really neurotic about their sleep. So I’d been praying about this for months, asking for wisdom to know what my baby needed from me to get into a healthy routine.
So one night, I was having a dream that I was walking on a beach with a medicine man in a loin cloth (this is the part where I tell you I have dreams. Like real, spooky prophetic ones like you wouldn’t believe) and in real life, the baby started waking up. Still stuck in the dream, I turned to the medicine man and said “Ugh! What am I going to do with that boy??” and in response, he drew some wavy lines on a piece of paper (which, to my unconscious brain, indisputably symbolized “water” without needing any further explanation) and said “If you will be strong, he will be strong. Do what you have to do.”
Then I woke up.
To me, water is a symbol of resilience and flexibility – if you meet an obstacle, you do what you have to do and you flow around it. So when I woke up, I knew exactly what I needed to do – I needed to grow a pair and let my baby boy cry it out.
I’d like to tell you it was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but I can’t because the first time I put him in his crib, turned my back on my baby boy, and walked out of the room, and implemented the Ferber Method, he cried for 7 minutes. SEVEN. Before that, with my more “compassionate” methods, he had screamed for an hour or more, sometimes two. SEVEN MINUTES! Putting him to bed after that, he was asleep before the first five-minute check-in. After a week, he wasn’t crying at all. That’s not tough love, that’s miraculous!
So at that point, I came to the conclusion that maybe different sleep training methods were needed for different kids, and that I could still handle – different rule books for different kids, sure! At least there was a rule book.
Fast forward to more recently, little dude is 16 months and STILL not sleeping through the night. Most of the time he’s just hungry (he’s a big, busy kid), but a couple months ago, I realized that he was having actual separation anxiety about me leaving him in the room. I had still been letting him cry it out once in a while, but now that he’s more mature, the crying was getting worse instead of better and I knew I had to change something again. So I started trying stuff out again. I even tried bringing him to bed with me (GASP! ATTACHMENT PARENTING!) but nothing worked, not even once.
So in desperation one night, out of the blue, I tried pick-up/put-down. It took almost an hour. I dead-lifted that boy one hundred and seventy three times that night. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, right up until the point that I realized I was re-establishing my little boy’s trust in me. He needed to learn again that I would be there for him if he cried, but otherwise he could do it on his own. And it worked. The second night it took twenty minutes (forty-five dead lifts). On the third night, just one. And now… are you ready for this? READY?
He’s sleeping through the night.
YEAH!!! Now I really AM the best parent ever!! (Just kidding.)
So the current conclusion: Our kids are their own rule books – we need to do what’s best for them, not because we are their parents and we’re in charge, and not because they’re beautiful creatures and deserve to get whatever they want, but because we love them. Because it’s our job to figure them out and tailor our parenting to their individual needs, not to tailor them to a certain lifestyle or philosophy. It can take a LOT of work and we may need to adjust as a child goes through different phases and develops different needs, but it’s worth it.