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 have chosen to value first. I mean that I want 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 want her to learn that I will care when she cries. 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 want to address here 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.”
“Will you check on me?”
I prayed for her, tucked her in with a stuffy or two, hugged and kissed her several times, and 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 we love who seemed insistent, but it never felt right to us. And I’m so glad that I was able to trust the wisdom that was given to me regarding my child.