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Every parent is different.
Several years ago, a couple we know prepared for their first child by reading book after book about parenting. During a casual conversation one day, the wife mentioned that they would not allow their baby to get out of the crib at night unless he needed to be changed or fed. Their plan was to go into the room when the baby cried, address his needs and leave once there were no further needs to be addressed, even if he was crying.
If he continued to cry, they would go back in after five minutes, check to see if there were needs to be met and leave. They would add five minutes to the wait time each time this happened until the baby soothed himself without their interference. They chose not to pick up their child or touch him when he cried at night because they believed that would teach him to manipulate them by crying to get attention. They believed he needed to learn independence, and there were books to support their plan.
Outwardly, I sat in silence. Inwardly, not so much.
What? Surely I heard her incorrectly.
Leave a baby crying in the crib and never reach out to him with a comforting touch?
Make a baby who can only communicate with you by crying wait for 10 or 15 or (GASP) 20 minutes of tearful pleading so he learns independence?
What infant needs to be independent?
Why does everyone listening to her story seem to think this is a good idea?!
I did not agree with this theory, and I still don't. There are many parents who successfully use this method, and I'm sure they get a lot more sleep than I do and are raising an independent little crew of self-soothers.
Good for them. I'll take my merry little band of Mommy-loving Muppets any day.
The theory is popular, and I understand it on some level. If you over-coddle a child, they can become needy and not learn an appropriate level of independence. Follow your child with a wet washcloth, hand sanitizer and a dirt/sun/rain/eye contact with strangers-shielding umbrella her whole life, and she will not be well-prepared when the dirtiness of the world confronts her later.
So yeah. There is merit. Certainly. But I still don't agree.
When my husband and I married, I already had a child from a previous relationship. She was 19 months old when we got married, and my new husband became increasingly frustrated by how often I went to her in the middle of the night.
You could almost set your clock by it - some time between 2 and 3 a.m., she would call out, "MAMA!" and want me to come in her room. My husband's idea of parenting was similar to my friends who believed their infant should self-soothe. Based on what he had seen other parents do, this worked, and it was the path to take.
Until that night when lightning hit close to the house, and she yelled, "DADDY!"
I had never seen that man move as fast as he moved to get to that child, and he promptly came back with her tiny little arms around his neck and his heart feverishly thumping a proud-Daddy-saved-the-day beat. He laid down in the bed next to me with her still in his arms, whispered, "It's okay, baby. Daddy's here," and smiled to himself as they drifted off to sleep, each knowing they were right where they were supposed to be.
We never had to have the "let her cry it out" talk again after that. He understood what it felt like to hear your child cry out your name in the middle of the night and know that you were the one human on this Earth that she trusted to meet her needs at that moment.
To err is to be a parent.
Perhaps we erred in the other direction by going in to check on our kids too often, but I simply don't see how that can be possible. Kids don't always need to be changed or fed when they cry at night. Sometimes, they just want to know that someone is there who cares. They want to know they aren't alone. A tiny child in a big, dark room sometimes needs to see a familiar, loving face by her bedside to know that the sun will rise again after the scary night has passed.
Why is that so bad? Is it so wrong to show love and compassion to a child to reassure her that she can count on you to help and protect her, even when the things from which she needs to be protected are shadow monsters and creepycrawly figments of an overactive imagination?
Although it must surely sound that way, I'm not downing the method our friends chose. If it works for them, that's fine. It's just not for us, and I get a little tired of being made to feel like we're doing our children a disservice by reaching out to them in this way. Maybe parenting literature says other methods are better, but in our home, we decide what works best.
And, to be honest, I don't want to make it seem like we're always catering to our little princesses' ever-changing whims. We aren't always cordial about how we address those call-outs from our girls. If it's in the middle of the night after they've been asleep for a while, we get there as quickly as possible, but if the call goes out a gajillion times in the first 15 minutes they're in bed, we're a little less likely to go rushing in.
Our girls don't always need us as badly as they think they do, and there are times when they use the "I want you" speech to delay going to sleep. It's not those times to which I'm referring.
I'm talking about all the times when they wake up from a bad dream, when they don't feel well or when they just feel like they need to know there is someone else out there in the dark silence of the house. They call out, "Mama" and "Daddy," and, yes, we go in there and sit down next to their bed or hold them or love them or maybe just pat their back until they drift off again, and there are many times we return to bed struggling to go back to sleep only to find that the minute we finally do, someone else needs us.
But there are plenty of nights that no one makes a sound all night long. Despite all the literature that claims we're doing it wrong, our children do know how to self-soothe when they choose to. It's in those long, quiet nights, though, that I find myself standing in the middle of the hall looking back and forth between their rooms and sneaking up to the bedsides to check to make sure they're breathing and covered and sleeping soundly.
Whether they need me or not, I need them, and there will come a time before I'm ready when they'll have their own homes, and this house will be quiet every night. While they're still little, let them call out all they want.
We will go to them.
We will address their needs.
We will hug and reassure them.
And no amount of self-soothing, don't-give-in-to-your-kids literature can convince me it's not a worthwhile effort. My kids are precious. It's my job to remind them of that every time I get the chance, even if it's at 3 a.m.