I want to start this article off by saying both of my children have been “sleep trained”. Both of my children have experienced “controlled crying” to some degree. And really. They both seem relatively normal. Ish. 😉
It is not my mission in writing this blog to guilt anyone for the choices they have made in how they have gotten their children to sleep. Because I believe every parent is inherently good. We’re all trying our best. We make choices every day for our children and hope in our heart of hearts we are making the right ones.
But sometimes to know more is to do better. Right now I know more, and I am choosing to do better. In my own parenting at home, and with every client who trusts me to guide them in my sleep work.
I did not get to where I am today holding back. If you know me, you know I’m an open book. As honest as they come. I’ve made decisions I’m proud of, and some that bring me guilt, shame, and yes, even regret. And while this writing may make you feel a lot of “feels”, this was a story I felt I needed to tell to continue on in my business and propel it forward in a direction I feel most proud of, and confident in.
I remember the first time I questioned controlled crying. Like really questioned it. I believed it to be a good method to use to get a child to sleep when I had an infant. That’s because I really fucking needed to sleep. It worked. And I was grateful. I got my life back. A little piece of me I was really longing for.. lost in the abyss that is postpartum life. I began to feel like me again. I was also convinced that I had given myself and her the “gift of sleep”, and that I had done a good thing by teaching my baby to “self-soothe”.
But then that little baby became a toddler. More advanced than her peers in the language department, she would love to talk your ear off. And when she turned two, she decided bedtime was the place to share all of her wildest dreams and deepest secrets.
My usual methods in getting her to sleep weren’t working. I could close the door, but immediately she screamed. And not just a little cry or whimper. A bloody murder scream. The kind I remembered from when she was a baby and we sleep trained her using the Ferber approach. But this time, she didn’t quiet down. She added another element to her plea. A “mama mama mama mama please don’t go!”.
That night I laid on her floor. Closed my eyes. And sang until she was asleep. I wondered what I had done wrong. What had happened. And why our sleep strategy was no longer working. The Ferber approach is supposed to be a 3 – 5 nights and you’re “done forever and for always” approach. What was happening?
And in true Lara form, this brought me to the library. Where I then checked out every toddler sleep book that exists, and began to dive a little deeper.
Had I been prepared for what to expect, I would have been ready. There is a sleep “regression” at age two with the burst of language development, the evolution of true fears, and some residual separation anxiety. A normal, healthy, and natural part of my toddler’s childhood that I was trying to close the door, separate myself from, and ignore. And this strong-willed girl was having none of it.
I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it. And it made me question everything. Why was it appropriate for me to walk out of the room on my crying baby when she was but 7 months of age and barely had object permanence? But, as soon as she had words it felt wrong? Had she not always been trying to communicate something to me?
Of course she had. That’s biology. Human infants communicate to their caregivers through tears. This is the only way they can get their needs met. Sometimes this is a cry for a diaper change, a tummy to be filled, or pain from an ear infection. And at other times a cry may mean; please stay with me, I need you near.
Now I am not an advocate for NOT allowing our children to cry. In fact, I encourage quite the opposite. I believe that we should meet all of our children’s needs, and then if there are some tears to be had – fine. This is part of a normal, healthy emotional release, and you can read more of my thoughts on crying here. But, I believe tears can be in the arms of a loving caregiver, or the presence of a parent sitting beside, hand on chest, telling their child they are there for them. Or in my case that night, singing “on top of spaghetti” at the top of my lungs because I really had no other way to get that child to sleep.
I’ve learned a lot in my work with families. I’ve always attracted a “gentler” crowd, and through families asking for something totally different, I learned a lot. People wanted to move slower. They wanted to connect more deeply with their child. And they wanted options. Caring as much as I do about the clients I serve, I tried to find these for everyone who asked. And in doing so, I found myself a whole new repertoire of skills.
But still, I offered controlled crying as an option. Since no concrete research based articles on sleep training proved it was bad, or harmful to infants (or so I thought), I carried on.. business as usual. Doing what 90% of other child sleep consultants do. Convincing families that their children NEED to sleep. And that I would be the one to get them some.
But then came along baby #2. And damnit. He was more difficult than the first in the sleep department.
I promised myself I wouldn’t worry. I wouldn’t stress. “You’ve got all the tools to fix this Lara” were words I repeated often, and as a result I relaxed.
I relaxed a lot. I gave myself a chance to just “be” with Theo. To listen to him. To feed him more than I thought I should in the middle of the night. To respond to him with pick ups, cuddles, love and contact at any hour of the day – with far less restrictions than Ferber would ever allow. And dog gone it, the child began to sleep. In his own time. In the comfort of my presence. Without “negative sleep props or associations”, with room for “healthy tears and emotional release”