Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Really Long Post on Why I Don't Feel Guilty About Letting My Child Cry It Out

When I was a first-time mom I was pretty naive on the whole sleep issue.  I knew newborns woke up in the middle of the night but I thought it was short-lived and I thought the cure, the way to "teach" a baby to sleep, would be to let them cry it out.  I didn't know what age that would happen but I knew eventually we would get to that point and we would use that method.

But along came my prodigy of sleeper named William.  He started sleeping through the night very early on, around five weeks of age or so.  After that he only woke during the night if he was extremely hungry (rare) or if he was extremely in pain (chronic ear infections).  We never even had to consider using the cry-it-out method because it simply wasn't necessary.  He had a need, we met his need and he went back to sleep.  Easy as pie.

Instead of thinking he was a fluke I took all the credit thinking I was the best mom in the world and started to get up on my high horse whenever another mother would talk about sleep deprivation.

But that God of ours, he knows how to humble us to our knees.

Along came my Lucy who seemed to have deep-seated opinions about the idea of sleeping more than three or four hours at a time.  Those opinions being that she didn't want to do it.  She would have rather nursed or rocked or watched Letterman.  Sometimes she would have rather just screamed for no inexplicable reason.

But still, we never used the cry-it-out method.  By this time I had read numerous reports and posts from other bloggers about how damaging that method really can be to a baby's psyche.  Those ideas were constantly weighing on my mind.  I didn't want to drive a stake in our mother-daughter relationship at such young age.  That's what the teenage years are for, right?  Of course her relentless, blood-curdling, glass-shattering way of crying didn't help either.  Who could sleep through that anyway?

Even if we did use the cry-it-out method I'm not sure it would have worked.  Lucy is one determined girl and, as a baby, I would bet my life savings that she would have rather cried for an entire night than throw in the towel.  The most I ever let her cry was five to ten minutes and that was only to regain some sort of sanity through my sleep-deprived state so that I wouldn't go in her room and do or say something I might later regret.  Extreme sleep deprivation can do that to a person.

In fact, I remember during one particularly difficult night, when I turned to Brian and declared we would not be having any more children.  He quickly agreed.

But then the magical age of nine months arrived and suddenly she decided 12 (sometimes even 13!) hours of sleep sounded pretty good to her.  There was no gradual crossover here.  She literally changed overnight.  At first Brian and I didn't say anything.  We didn't want to jinx it.  But after a few weeks (months?!) we finally looked at each and sighed.  We had survived and lived to tell about it!  Maybe we could manage that big family we've always dreamed about.

As I mentioned last week, she still does occasionally wake up in the middle of the night.  But the wakings are easy, dare I say, even blissful.  A drink of water, a slight cuddle, finding her nukie, her blankie and her bunny and getting her situated again.

But the past couple of weeks have been a downward spiral setting us right back at square one.  At first I was sure she was in pain.  In fact, I'm convinced that's what started this whole thing because she wasn't only cranky at night, she was cranky all. day. long.  She's getting her bottom two canine teeth which I know are the most painful.  One day she even spiked a fever making me think it might have been the teeth coupled with a minor bout of some illness.

But even after I was sure the pain had subsided and her usual happy state returned during the day, the four-a-night wakings continued.  And it wasn't the wakings that were the real trouble.  The real trouble was getting her back to sleep.  She just didn't want to do it.  And even if she did do it, she was awake again ten minutes later.

This sleeplessness was taking its toll on me as a mother, wife and human being.  I became extremely runned-down and just mad at the world in general.  It's no way to live your life, I'm telling you.  No one, no one, benefits.  For some reason getting up four times a night with a toddler is so much more taxing than getting up four times a night with a newborn.

A few days ago I had reached the end of my no-sleep rope.  It was the middle of the afternoon and both William and Lucy had just fallen asleep for a nap.   At almost four years old, William's naps are no longer consistent so when he does fall asleep I seize the opportunity.  This particular day I saw my opportunity as being able to take a nap myself to try to catch up on those lost Zs.

The house was oh so quiet and I gingerly laid down my tiresome body.  I kid you not, as soon as my head hit my pillow Lucy started screaming.  And I, subsequently, started crying.  How much longer can one person go on little to no sleep? I knew that it was going to be near impossible to get her to go back down.  So I went in her room to make sure she didn't accidentally cut off her right leg or anything like that, gave her some water and gently, but firmly, told her it was time to take a rest.

Then I walked out of the room.

That really set her off.

But I just left her be.  I went back into my bedroom and laid on my bed.  I buried my head in my pillow and started praying, please, for just a few quiet moments of shut-eye.  Please, please, please, over and over I pleaded with God.

The heavens opened up, the angels began rejoicing in harmony and a miracle was blessed upon me.

Lucy stopped crying.

Not only did she stop crying but she went back to sleep on her own.

I think during the whole teething/sick thing (which I do believe should be looked upon with empathy, by the way) she learned that if she woke up and cried in a certain way that I would come in there and rock her and sing to her and maybe even let her get up.  Toddlers are smart that way.

And while it's certainly justified to be asking for affection from a parent I wholeheartedly believe it's also justified for me to let her know there are times for sleep and there are times for cuddling and those times don't necessarily cross paths.

Later that night the same thing happened again.  And this time, rather than getting all emotionally-charged up about it, I went in her room with a level head and called her bluff.  I gave her some water and tucked her back into bed and gently informed her it was time to sleep.  She started to get up and cry as I left the room but I just kept walking and shut the door.  A few minutes later the crying ceased all together and she was back asleep.

Since then I have used the same routine.  I always go into her room when she initially starts a hard cry.  Little yelps while dreaming don't count.  I give her some water, find her lovey items and lay her back on her pillow.  She stills cries when I leave the room but she's not as upset anymore.  It's more of an annoyed cry than a mad one.

I know there are plenty of people out there who will tell you that letting your child cry it out will guarantee his/her spot in therapy in years to come.

Maybe they're right.

But I'm here to say I've found a solution that works for us.  It might not work for you and it might not work for your child.  And you might even still think I'm an awful mother for making this decision.  I'm OK with that.

If you're a mother and you ever have to make a decision about letting your child cry it out, I'm hoping my story makes you feel a little less guilty.  There will be plenty other situations where you'll get the opportunity to feel guilty.  That, I can assure you.  But I, for one, don't think sleep should be one of them.

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