I've been hearing some rumblings about the Cry-It-Out debate rearing its head again in some online forums, as most hot-button parenting topics do in waves every now and again.
And up go the arms and everyone takes a position, holds on tightly and justifies their every action and success as being the sole result of whatever trend in parenting contention is circulating at the moment.
I've learned to keep myself out of the debates where there is no need for a winner, but this time, I found myself coming to a new realization and it didn't have anything to do with sleep but a larger question about our general attitudes towards parenting and children.
What is the message that we are sending about children's needs?
I don't actually know much about sleep-training. We were "lucky" in that we had a "good sleeper" (and we did all of those other responsive, attachment parenting type things that I wouldn't dare try to credit with my child's sleep success, so let's just stick with "we were lucky" and leave it at that) and did not have any incapacitating sleep deprived moments during the first year.
But I assume from other friendly accounts that most typical kids can be sleep trained in a few days and that it doesn't normally involve prolonged or continuous crying with rising stress levels over sustained periods of time - so I get what Dr. Heather from Babyshrink was saying about there being no brain damage, but I'd contend that crying for release is still very different than crying in distress and I disagree that the latter is completely innocuous or beneficial or necessary to produce independence or self-soothing behaviors.
Leaving a baby to cry is a personal choice.
It would be hard on any parent and the parents who have the fortitude to do it have the right to make choices that are based on their personal ability to cope and their perception of their child's ability to tolerate the experience.
Crying (behavior), to me, is a communication and represents a need to be acknowledged, not a manipulation, defect or some immaturity that needs discipline to be fixed or managed. I believe crying is always appropriate and important and yet, I can see that good people sleep-train their babies without any apparent problems and no ill intentions.
This is why there are no winners in this debate. It's personal.
So what I've realized is that the distinction for me, which arose from this time-old argument that the Psychology Today article had me re-investigating, was not how damaging leaving a baby to cry could be, but the more important question of should we always RESPOND to a crying baby?
Are there benefits to it?
Is it harmful if we always do it?
For me, it isn't about whether a bit of crying here and there is damaging, it's about what we are saying about the emotional needs of children.
I think most parents can see the difference between abuse and sleep choices but to suggest that babies thrive under controlled crying strikes me as perpetuating more than a personal choice based on the best interests of the individual family. It is evocative of an attitude that promotes dismissing a child's emotions for discipline's sake - that it is for their own good - and ours! As if this somehow grants us permission to claim some peace and quiet that we could not before.
Don't we already deserve some proper alone time and adequate sleep?
Does meeting our needs have to depend on our children's behavior?
Sleep for children is not a challenge in independence as we might strive to achieve in academics or life. Sleep is a primitively controlled basic need that demands that a set of expectations by the child be met by the caregiver - or development alters.
How does it serve us to demand how and when children sleep, especially as infants?
If we can't adjust our lives to consider each family member's challenging times and unique patterns of development, then what's the point of having a family?
We brought them into this world. Can we not give our babies the freedom, especially in the first year, to adapt to this world with our full, uninterrupted support - sleeping close by if necessary (because they're wired to have us do so) and attending to every call for comfort so that they develop a certain kind of unshakable belief that the world is safe and that they are worth having their needs met?
I believe we can.
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