Sleep Training Sucks. Here’s Why

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.

Sleep training is the worst.

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?butI spent most of Friday night rocking a baby, feeling like I was going to lose my mind. Share on X

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.



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  1. pammese

    Oh Suz, thank goodness for the realization that ‘this too shall pass!’ And if it doesn’t, come home to Mama and leave S with the Hubs. I too have every kind of chocolate covered morsel that TJ’s makes! And wine….

  2. Kelly Holt

    Ugh, I’m also dreading having to do this a second time around. First one was a pretty good sleeper, with typical sleep regressions sprinkled in here and there (just when we thought we were in the groove, of course). We made the mistake of letting her sleep in the baby carrier all the time at first, though. Then we had to train her to sleep on her own. We let her cry, but assured her we were there too, lengthening the times between us going in to soothe. I actually had to re-train just about a month ago, because we got into some bad habits again (namely staying in the room until she fell asleep). But it’s funny how all these things go: sleep training, introducing foods, sippy cups, potty training…so much of it is our own handling of the changes to routines and training ourselves to find a method we’re all comfortable with (on minimal sleep, and with accidents on the floor, yes). Hang in there!

    • Susie Meserve

      Oh, yes! The Jenga of parenting. I think this was the part I had most repressed before having numero dos. You figure out one thing, and something else goes….slip. But I am so excited for you for round two. Because all of that said, it’s pretty great. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Kevie

    I’m on my third now and in the throes (day 4) of sleep training. It’s funny how you can find yourself questioning all you know. This is only the second time I’ve sleep-trained and even with all of the progress made, ANY backsliding at all seems like a complete failure to me and I’m ready to give up. Oh I HATE that crying! All I want is for my baby to sleep and be happy and for me to sleep so I can interact with my older 2! Is that so much to ask?! X[

    • Susie Meserve

      Oh, I feel for you! And glad you stumbled on this blog, I’m guessing while you were desperately trying not to listen to the baby cry. I’m on the other side, now–my little one is 2.5 and now we have different sleep woes. And so from there I remind you that this too shall pass.

      Wishing you all the best…and, you’re not Kevie from my class, are you?!

  4. Trish

    Ahh, thank you for this! At the moment I?m spiraling and on the second hour that my sweet little (currently poor little monster child) has been up and resisting going back down. The husband is out of town and I?m finally biting the bullet and going for it, after weeks of what you described creeping into our nightly routine, (and in fact a crick in my neck from last night?s falling asleep on a pad next to the crib). I know it?s what needs to happen (I think? I hope? Or else it?s child abuse and neglect) but I feel terrible and it?s awful. Somehow I feel like furiously googling other people going through the same will help make me feel more confident about pacing the house while she cries. Side note, she starts crying 30 seconds before every max interval, she?s either an evil genius or knows that I almost relax for a second and wants to make sure I don?t. Anyways, thank you for the blog! I love it, and will definitely keep tuning in!

    • Susie Meserve

      Trish, thanks for writing! Sorry it’s so tough. I’d say our children are all evil geniuses, but all the lovely things, too. : ) Wishing you the best of luck and also just a word from the other side of it all: you will get through this. Promise. Thanks for reading and tuning in. I appreciate it.


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