Since BG was conceived, we have been receiving all kinds of “advice” about how to raise a baby. One of my siblings gave the book On Becoming Baby Wise to us early on. Upon reading a few pages, I promptly threw it across the room after being told that I needed to nurse my baby on a strict schedule, avoid all forms of attachment parenting, make sure he sleeps in a room all his own, force him to play by himself, and, perhaps the worst in my eyes, let him cry it out, lest he manipulate me with his three-month-old critical thinking skills. I have never in my life thrown a book in the trash, but after reading about this method and its links to babies’ failure to thrive as well as the author’s complete lack of education or experience with child development (he leads something akin to a cult), I threw the thing in the trash and proceeded to tell nearly everyone I could about what a dangerous hack this guy is. (If you’d like to read more, the AAP article is here.)
Last week, we had the ladies from our old poker group visiting, and we had some difficulty putting BG down to sleep. He was overstimulated and needed a little extra help going down, so J and I each took turns taking him, walking him, and comforting him in our bedroom. At one point, one woman in the group said, “You know, we won’t think you’re bad parents if you just let him cry.” I found myself snapping at her. “We don’t do that,” I said. And we don’t.
Now, by discussing the sleep problem here, it seems I’ve opened us up to even more advice that if we would just let our baby cry it out, we’d have this perfect sleep-through-the-night baby, and all our problems would be solved, but that’s not going to happen. Were we to let BG cry it out, we would be left with a crying, awake baby, and two moms who are frazzled and crying themselves. As it is, our son does sometimes cry as we’re comforting him to sleep, and more often than not, this causes him to work himself into a frenzy that is quite far from sleep. I shudder to imagine what this would look like were we to leave him on his own to work it out. But then, I’m that kind of mom. We’ve taken a very hands-on, attachment-oriented approach from the beginning, and as a result, we have a happy, trusting baby who knows his communication (primarily crying at this point) is valued and understood by his caregivers. I wouldn’t ignore anyone else who was asking me for help; why would I ignore my child? How could it possibly be helpful to ignore my mothering instincts?
This is one of those very personal parenting decisions, but it’s one that seems to be pushed with evangelical zeal, and that is unsettling to me. In fact, anything that is paraded as the answer for everyone raises my hackles a bit because, frankly, we all have our own ways of parenting, and those methods (save the abusive ones) should be respected. Because J and I are academics, we tend to research everything to death, and this is one of those issues that got a fair amount of attention early in our pregnancy. And what did we learn? Child development researchers are starting to find that letting babies cry it out may even be harmful to their social, emotional, and intellectual development, but that babies whose needs are met when they communicate a need tend to thrive. ( You can read more on that here.) Ultimately, though, we didn’t need the research as much as we needed to look at who we are, what our values are, and how we want to raise our child(ren). When it comes down to it, we want a happy, well-adjusted baby, who knows that when he cries, someone who loves him is going to comfort him promptly. And when looking at it through that lens, I have to wonder, isn’t that what we all want–a soft landing, some warm arms, and a safe place to cry? I know that’s what I would want.