I’ve never quite thought of myself as a Mommy Blogger. I’ve never felt the urge to post photos of my dear little ones with their new haircuts, or links to recipes like these surprisingly delicious muffin-tin mini meatloafs with broccoli stem slaw, which we whipped up for dinner last night with some roasted sweet potatoes and the last artichoke from the garden. I certainly haven’t felt the urge to write blog posts about sleep training, say. Until now.
Why? Because the baby’s sleep drama is giving me an existential crisis. And existential crises? They’re more of my bailiwick.
It was a rotten strange weekend. The Hubs was at a conference in Utah from Wednesday until Sunday, and wouldn’t you know that L picked that exact window to come down with the flu. Now, L is a pretty great sick kid; I’ve only had to wash vomit off the rug once in his life so far, and mostly he listlessly reads comic books and watches Wild Kratts or Planet Earth and demands occasional snuggles. Best of all, he’s tended to get sick on the days I don’t teach, or when I’m on summer/winter break. This, of course, is a blessing and a curse: I don’t have to miss classes I’d later have to make up. I do have to miss my break time, though, when I make writing to-do lists a mile long and often pick up some freelance work.
In any event, way back when L was my only, these sick days were kind of mellow and nice. Then Baby S came along. Until recently, BS—ha! Get it?—has been a promising sleeper. I won’t lie and say he’s been a great one, but certainly a promising one. Low-drama bedtimes, somewhat predictable night-waking, solid naps. Until sometime a week or two ago, that is, when he started fighting those bedtimes, hard. He just needs some extra comfort tonight, we thought to ourselves. So we went in to soothe him. Then we went in again. And again. And again. The next night, the same.
Then something catastrophic happened: he stopped being able to settle his body at bedtime. He’d start impulsively pulling himself up to standing, his new skill. Once up, he’d realize he didn’t want to be there, but he couldn’t figure out how to get down. So he screamed. At first, this happened only at bedtime, and after much soothing—me leaving, him wailing, me going back in, rinse, repeat—he’d fall asleep. Then it started happening at nap time. And in the middle of the night. Did I mention B was in Utah, and L was sick? This weekend, my boys and I certainly had our share of mellow and nice—but I also spent most of Friday night wide awake, rocking a baby, feeling like I was going to lose my mind.
That’s when I started to drink too much caffeine and eat too many of these Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups. And I posted desperate status updates on Facebook. And began to ponder the dreaded Sleep Training.
Sleep training, for those who don’t know, involves, well, training your kid to sleep better. While really it can mean any kind of attempt at getting a kid to adopt a schedule, for most of us the phrase immediately conjures the practice known in these parts as Cry It Out (CIO), e.g., leaving your child to cry until he figures it out/falls asleep. This philosophy engenders deep enthusiasm from approximately 50% of parents and cries of “child abuse!” from the other 50%. I can’t muster either sentiment about CIO, having never done it. I remember when L was a baby, and I was bleary-eyed with exhaustion, realizing that my parenting philosophy, while not in the attachment parenting camp, nonetheless didn’t allow me to just leave L to cry. I believed something about trust, and not leaving him alone in distress. I believed in going to him when he was upset. It felt very fundamental to my ethos as a parent, in fact, this basic notion: that I would meet his emotional needs. Clearly, if he was crying really hard, he had some emotional need I needed to meet. Right?
So we didn’t ever do CIO.
This second time around, my urge is still to go in to a crying baby. I still believe all that stuff I believed eight years ago. But circa three a.m., or at bedtime after a very long day, sometimes that resolve wavers. I wasn’t working when L was eight months old, for one thing. I also wasn’t 43. And I hadn’t seen the ebbs and flows of a child’s emotional life yet and realized that kids are actually pretty resilient. So when I find myself making dramatic teary statements about self-harm and/or feeling like I’m just not capable of pulling off this whole parenting thing anymore, a sensible little bird pops up on my shoulder and whispers, just go back to bed and pull the pillow over your head, Mama. He’ll be okay.
And honestly? I think he will. I don’t know which way this will end up. Knowing us, we’ll continue to take some middle ground route, nudging S at bedtimes and at nap times. Or maybe we’ll give in and let him cry it out. I certainly wouldn’t judge a parent who made that choice, given the way I’ve been feeling lately.
Either way, I do know it will work out. It has to, right? L is a champion sleeper now, and was by the time he was one (after some really rough months). But in the meantime, I’m struggling. The nights have been sleepless more than sleep-more. The nap times, I dread. And my inconsistency about it all, my self-doubt, well, it all circles back to larger personality traits that I wrestle with constantly, like my inability to make decisions or plans and then firmly stick to them. I feel like, every night, I’m reinventing some wheel and second-guessing my decisions. Should I go in right away? Let him complain for five? Or ten? Or not at all? How long should I leave him between go-ins? Am I a bad person? Would that other mom I greatly admire let her kids cry? And why the hell can’t he just go back to the way things were a month ago and fall asleep peacefully?
All of which is to say, what’s pretty much a simple fact of life—babies need help with sleep—becomes some kind of referendum on my suitableness as an adult, made worse because I’m overtired. Let me tell you, there is a great irony to lying awake in the night worrying about your kid’s sleep when you just aren’t getting enough of it yourself.
And that, friends, is why sleep training sucks.
What’s your experience with sleep or sleep training? I’m all ears! Comment it up below.
p.s. More on baby sleep. Also: Daring to imagine a different kind of life than this one.