The blog I posted last week about potty training led to some interesting discussions, especially on whether or not the fact that toddlers are training later today means we are doing things better or worse than we did 100 years ago. To be honest, I don’t have strong opinions on the matter. My kids did not potty train especially early and at four, Cooper still has accidents at school when he is distracted or too shy to tell a teacher that he needs to go. I am just as busy and on-the-go as any mom is today so the observations I made were based on my own experiences as well as those of my parent-friends who are also busy and potty-training. However, one of the reasons why children may have been trained earlier a century ago is because all children were cloth diapered and all diapers had to be hand-washed—i.e. Parent Motivated Potty Training because the results made the lives of parents easier. Some of the techniques parents used would be seen as cruel today—the use of suppositories to get the child to eliminate in a desired place at a desired time, for example. Today, our collective mindset is very different—let the child learn at his or her own pace, don’t force them to use the potty or train until they are “ready.” This made me think about other ways of “training children” today which are Parent Motivated and sleep immediately came to mind.
Parents of newborns (wiping the grit from their bleary eyes as they struggle to read this and cradle a new baby at the same time) know that night and day have little meaning to the brand new people in their care. In fact, my own babies often seemed to drift off best to the white noise and constant motion of a busy day and they perked up in the quiet stillness of the night. I haven’t heard of many parents who have unrealistic expectations about their very young infants sleeping through the night. Most of us accept that we will be woken up to feed, snuggle with or change the diaper of our new babies several times a night for at least the first few months of their lives.
Once our babies are plump, smiling three or four month olds, and we parents are puffy-eyed, sleep-deprived, coffee-siphoning zombies, we tend to wish our babies would actually SLEEP more at night. Once Lauren, our first child, had passed the scary SIDS stage and was 90% for weight (if her percentiles didn’t convince me, her thigh rolls certainly did), I thought, “Ok, baby, I know you are not going to waste away if you don’t nurse ALL NIGHT LONG, please stay asleep!” Lauren, however, was not convinced. She woke up several times a night for the first few YEARS of her life. Not to nurse, not to eat, but simply because she wasn’t a restful, deep sleeper.
At one point in the first year of Lauren’s life, a friend with a daughter just older than Lauren suggested I try sleep training to help her to sleep through the night. She recommended a book (which I bought) and swore that the method had worked like a charm for her daughter. We tried it. It didn’t work. Or rather, it didn’t work for me and I didn’t try long enough to see if it could eventually work for Lauren.
Here’s what happened. We were supposed to let Lauren “cry it out,” for as long as it took for her to fall asleep. Every 15 minutes or so (I don’t remember the exact increment) we could go in and check on her, rub back, let her know we were still there and leave again. She screamed bloody murder for an hour and fifteen minutes and showed absolutely no signs of tiring out or calming down. It was agonizing for me and for her. It was so easy to pick her up and nurse her to sleep and we both we were sighing with relief when we stopped the process. I asked my friend how long it had taken to “sleep train” her baby. She said her daughter cried (wept quietly) for 20 minutes the first night, ten minutes the second night and none the third night. Her experience had been nothing like the one night of pure torture that mine had been. Today, Lauren is 9 and still struggles with emotional regulation. Every method has different results for every child. What may seem unkind or unethical to one parent, may seem like a common-sense, practical approach to another parent.
Remember, sleep training is Parent Motivated just like Potty Training may or may not be. Whether or not the process involves compassion and gentleness, is unique to every situation. In our case, I didn’t feel that sleep training was an emotionally healthy experience for our family. If my daughter had the temperament of my friend’s child, I probably would have felt differently. What works for one family or one child, may not work for another. It’s really that simple. That early experience, and seeing how two moms doing the exact same things, could have vastly different experiences with a “method” was a great lesson for me as a mom. It taught me to take every bit of advice with a grain of salt and to trust my instincts. If something feels wrong, stop doing it. The fact that a certain process, technique or trick worked like magic for a thousand other babies, doesn’t mean it will work that way for my mine. And what works well for my child, might not work at all for my friend’s child.
Have you had success with letting your baby “cry it out” or was your experience more like mine?