Ada Calhoun has a very interesting piece on the battle over “crying it out.” This is something that very directly impacts my life as a mother of two toddlers. There are few things that can screw up your life more than not getting the sleep you need. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is considered torture. So I’m all about reading everything out there. I’m open to ideas, people. It seems like Sleep Training or Attachment Parenting are the only two options sometimes, though, and, like everything else, people like to set them up as polar opposites and have them duke it out in a robot rock ‘em sock ‘em ring of their own creation. I especially enjoyed that Dr. Sears was made out to be an extremist. Here's a quote from his website, "Follow your heart rather than some stranger's sleep-training advice, and you and your baby will eventually work out the right nighttime parenting style for your family." Yeah. He sounds like a real jihadist.
I think the comparisons are false and stem from false assumptions like all parents choose one or the other and commit to these ideas completely. I have two toddlers. I let one cry it out (sort of) and the other co-sleep to her heart’s content (kind of). What I am doing is to survive and “whatever works” is my life motto. So I don’t fit completely in either camp (if these camps really even exist) I did not want to wear or sleep with my baby indefinitely. That’s why pregnancy ends y’all. And with Crying it Out? The big secret that no one tells you? You don’t just do it once. It is not this one week session of misery and then golden child goes to bed without a single issue forever after. If it was I would have let them cry until their eyes bled.
When we tried crying it out with Aidan, it was more than the classic three nights of misery. (Personally I found the Crying it Out message boarders to be a hell of a lot more self-righteous and insufferable than the attachment parents. They were always quick to point out that sure it was hard (What are you, some kind of wimp? Get a spine!), but little Johnny cried less and less each night and by the third night- it’s always by the third night- there’s something magical about that third night- little Johnny was sleeping like an angel. If it doesn’t work for you, well, dude, you’re doing it wrong. Maybe it's message boards that are the problem.) Aidan cried for almost two weeks with some nights being great and others terrible, but she did get better and eventually comforted herself back to sleep on her own. Then came the Fateful Date Night.
New parents have pressure on all sides. If you’re a mom you’re supposed to be back to pre-pregnancy shape a week after delivery. If you’re a dad you’re supposed to be nurturing your marriage and romancing your wife with date night right away. (Or, let’s be honest, after almost a year of spotty sex you’re desperate to get laid.) So we tried the date night thing and it was good to unload the child on someone else for awhile. We were tearing each other apart by this time. Aidan needed to be nursed almost constantly and I am a person who needs at least a six hour stretch of sleep once a week to be any kind of a human being. Pair this with a nasty case of mastitis that had me alternately screaming and weeping as I nursed and you have a divorce in the making. My poor husband stood there during one of these painful nursing sessions not knowing what to do. Wanting to fix it and being completely helpless. We were both miserable beyond words and there was no one to take it out on except each other.
Date night was an attempt to remember why we were doing this whole thing after all. Re-capture a little magic. I hope we did. Frankly, I don’t remember. What I do remember is the aftermath. We picked Aidan up from my mother-in-law’s late and the child had passed out. No big deal right? We tried to carry her out to the car gently and put her into her car seat to go home. Well, car seats these days are a nightmare of twelve-point harness straps and buckles. We got one arm in, I think, before she started screaming. And these screams? I can’t even describe them. She was at least six months old at this point. I thought I had heard everything she could dish out. This sounded as though we were simultaneously sawing her right arm off with a rusty blade and boiling her left arm in oil. We finished buckling her like the Marx brothers on methamphetamines and drove off with her screaming the whole way home. And sleep after that? Forget it. And the next night? Guess what? Like we never cried it out in the first place. We were back to square one. This is the sleep trainer’s dirty little secret. Any kind of tiny change in a kid’s schedule can undo everything you’ve done. And every kid does not respond the way little Johnny responds.
With our second child, Sidney, we co-slept. For the first year it was absolutely ideal. I got more sleep than I ever had trying to lay Aidan down in her crib soooo carefully like a house of cards in a high wind, knowing the slightest head tilt would wake her. With Sidney I ignored all the “you’ll smother her” crap and slept surrounded by blankets and pillows. There’s actual photographic evidence of this too. You can call DCFS now. And I SLEPT! Ah GOD! Blessed sleep. I would pass out halfway through nursing the kid with my boob hanging out in the trashiest of fashions. It was glorious.
Now we are trying to get her out of our bed. It has been a comedy of errors the whole way through. We put her crib in the guest bedroom and attempted to cry it out. I have never seen a child as determined as Sidney. She would fall asleep standing up in the crib, clutching the bars in her little fists. I went in once and tried to lay her down. Her grip was like iron and, of course, my attempt to move her woke her and inspired a new fit of wailing. Some of the sleep training books suggest you stand in the room with the child and “comfort them” without picking them up. What a joke. This pissed my daughter off even more. I was standing right next to her and not picking her up, which was all she wanted. She did not want me to touch her if I was not going to pick her up. We gave that nonsense up right quick. We now had another child to think about waking with this endless screaming.
The next phase of sleep deprivation involved laying a mattress on the floor and one of us, usually my husband now because when I lay next to her all she wanted was boob (takes after her father I always say) lying next to her until she fell asleep and then sneaking out of the room. This worked to varying degrees as well. As often as not, my husband would just pass out with her and sleep the whole night in the other bedroom. If he did make it out without waking her she would wake at least once a night and we would have to repeat the process. The lesson here seems to be: “suffer now or suffer later, but you will suffer.”
The final stage in sleeplessness has been our possibly ill-conceived idea to move the two girls into one room. I thought Sidney just needed company. And how do people in one-room shacks do it anyway? I think this is a first-world problem. Anyway, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It may be a train. But the girls are sleeping better. There are still bad nights. Last night was one of them. I ended up in the spare room with both of the girls in bed with me, but this wasn’t until four am. At least I had a good six hours before then.
Ms Calhoun gives some excellent advice in her piece, “Everyone needs a devil's advocate so they don't get wedded to an extreme position.” Absolutely. I believe in reading opposing arguments. (When I actually have time to read) Except that these shouldn’t really be opposing arguments. Bits of each philosophy are important. Children need to learn independence and parents need their own lives. Children also need nurturing and support and giving that to them is not necessarily being undisciplined. My experience is that parenting is a big messy area of grey and a whole lot of mistakes and I’m only four and a half years into this whole thing. So you’ll forgive me if I look a little skeptically at Ms Calhoun’s final statement that, “Those two nights of agony nearly three years ago were almost insignificant -- except insofar as they saved our life.” I do wish her well, though, and I hope her son continues his healthy sleep habits. I just wish she had taken her own advice on the middle ground.