Cry, Baby Cry

So my friend C sent me this article on the dangers of “Crying it Out,” which says, among many other things: “letting babies get distressed is a practice that can damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term.” You leave your kid alone to cry in hopes they’ll become more independent; in fact, studies show, this practice makes them more dependent, and more than that, prone to anxiety, separation anxiety, low self-esteem, etc. I’m not a scientist, but I am a parent who decided against letting L “cry it out,” and the “science” (more on that later) in this article seems to make sense to me. Anyway, right at the end of this article, the author slips in some propaganda about co-sleeping, and I thought to myself, aha. I knew it was coming. Because these are the hot-button parenting issues of our day: crying it out and co-sleeping (which, if you’re a parent to a young child, you already know; and if not, I’ve already lost you, sorry).?

Back in the day, when L was, say, between 6 and 12 months, keeping me up at all hours with his penchant for not sleeping, I started in despair to read some books. I even took a sleep class, which summarized a lot of the common sleep research of the day. And I started to notice that there were two camps described in these books: 1) Sleep with your kid. Soothe his every need. Or 2) Leave your kid to cry and assume he will learn an important lesson about the cold hard world.

But what, I thought to myself, if I don’t like either method?

So B and I, who had slept with L for about three months, which was lovely and great and not something we missed thereafter (okay, maybe I did a little, but B, no) pioneered a very high-tech method of sleep training that involved setting a pretty strict routine for L, which, I’ll admit, sometimes meant waking him up from naps or in the morning. And the other piece was very gently trying to push him in the direction of sleeping longer. I called this methodology, when I was in the midst of trying it out, “The Sleep Lab.” I would write these cryptic notes in the middle of the night in my sleep journal. One read “12:38 nursed 1:01 rig”. “rig” stood for “rigamarole,” as in, “the same old bullshit”–L wanting to be held, not wanting to nurse, me not understanding what he needed, L falling back asleep for an hour if I was lucky. I took these notes for endless nights until, one desperate week, I hit a trifecta of factors that worked: 1) I decided not to nurse at night anymore. When L cried, B went in and soothed him. 2) We stuck about nineteen pacifiers in L’s crib. 3) We dressed him warmly, but in comfy enough clothes that he could turn himself onto his belly and stick his butt up in the air if he wanted to. Et voila, circa 9 months, L slept through the night for ten days in a row and basically, after that, forever as we know it. In a crib, down the hall. My kid is a great sleeper.

And yet, there were the books, telling me I had to sleep with my kid or let him cry. And with that went all kinds of other expectations or stereotypes: that co-sleeping moms breastfed until their kids were 3; that cry-it-outers sent their kids to daycare from 8-7 every day. Now that our kids are two, these differences have evened out some, but I still find myself asking other moms, “Do you co-sleep?” and I get asked at least three times a week, “How long did you nurse?”

Now all of this is, of course, a metaphor for something greater. I’m not sure what, exactly, but as I read this article today on crying it out, I found my old exasperation for that stupid sleep debate rising up. Why do parents have to be so polarized? Does this have something to do with the way Americans are so polarized right now? (Co-sleepers are hippy-dippy Democrats, cry-it-outers are heartless Republicans? Ha–) Because, friends, the more I meet parents, the more I realize that no one is so rigid in their parenting in one camp or another. We are all in the middle somewhere. C, for example, co-sleeps and has a wonderful (but sometimes trying) close relationship with her little one. But she stopped nursing him ages ago, and she is extremely grounded in her reasoning for everything. My friend S, on the other hand, still nurses her 2+ kid, but when I asked her if they slept in the same bed she rolled her eyes like, “Nooooo thank you!” When I read Dr. Sears I find myself thinking, “who are these parents who can accomplish perfect attachment parenting, anyway? And how does this work for even a second for working moms?” When I read the other sleep peeps, you know, Dr. Ferber etc., I find myself wondering why this propaganda exists that says there’s no other way than to let a kid cry.

As C says, “I continue to believe that it is pretty close to impossible to apply solid science to this area.”

And you know what? She’s right. Every kid is different, every family is different, and I am so glad that L is two and most of this is behind me. Because the truth is, I don’t care anymore. Everyone can parent how they want to, sans judgment from me. As another friend with two little kids said the other day, “I am simultaneously trying to enjoy it and get through it.” Amen, sister.



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  1. Shawn Kilburn

    You know what? I read this book called BECOMING ATTACHED: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love by Robert Karen. It’s a historical survey of attachment research over the last century.

    My takeaway? So so much of this stuff is so misunderstood by so many, but the science today is there right in the middle, as much as science can be in this type of situation.

    What’s important to attachment research is the quality of the relationship (or attachment) between child and parent. The sleeping thing is kind of irrelevant. Apart from it being a huge issue in ACTUALLY parenting!

    It’s all about finding the middle ground between the two extremes (which is where the science is, strangely enough, no?) and making your family work the best way it can. And yes, there’s this crazy weird pendulum swing between blaming the parents (usually the mother, sadly) for not doing enough or for doing too much.

    Anyway, I think you guys are doing a great job, no matter what any hippy dippy cry it outer cosleepers say to you! Bravo for finding a way through that worked for everybody!

  2. Claire Kiefer

    I just forwarded this to several of my friends. You’re a wise woman!

  3. cookwithwhatyouhave

    Ah Susie! So well said. We did a similar combo (though when Ellis was 1 since he slept great as a little one) and yes, enjoy it and get through, sometimes more of one than the other. It all evens out if we’re lucky. Love K

  4. calmdowndear

    really like this post. Hooray for the middle way. If you’re interested, my sister (who is a doctor and a totally obsessive personality) writes a parenting blog where she painstakingly goes through all the studies available on various parenting topics- CIO/breastfeeding/co-sleeping etc to see what the scientific research actually says (or more usually doesn’t say.) Often the claims made for scientific evidence in these areas are very misleading. Worth a read if you ever have time.

  5. Linda Mason

    My very wise father used to tell us the parenting is the hardest job in the world and one you would not change for anything. Amen Dad.


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