An honest take on life and parenthood

Sleep, my pretty, sleep…

on February 11, 2013
"Poppies...sleep, my pretty, sleeeeep."

“Poppies…sleep, my pretty, sleeeeep.”

Sleep training. Those two words provoke intense debate in parenting circles. I have friends and family who have used sleep training techniques, and some who have not. My mom sleep trained me and my sister, and my aunt sleep trained her three kids.

You would think I would have done the same, yet I did not.

Instead, I woke every time the Pooh did, and tended to her. You may wonder why I did it this way, in a day and age when sleep training is common and there is no reason why an educated professional woman would put subject herself to intentional sleep deprivation.

There were two reasons. First, the honest truth: I couldn’t bear to do it.

The second reason: it felt unnatural to me.

The Pooh is my first and probably my only child. I know that there are many styles of parenting, but I ended up largely going on instinct with her and didn’t read a single book, strange for someone like me who has always made a beeline to the library to learn about everything.

From the time the Pooh was born, if she cried, I responded, regardless of the time of day. Yes, I saw some eye rolls, but I really didn’t give a crap for once in my life.

At a primal level, I believed that if she was crying, she was trying to communicate with me.  As a baby, she couldn’t talk, so she had to communicate in other ways.  Crying had a reason behind it – not manipulation. She was too hot, too cold, hungry, thirsty, or something was hurting her. Or she just wanted to be held – and who in their right minds would turn down a sweet smelling baby for a cuddle?

The thought that she was alone in her crib and crying because she was too cold, too hot, sick, or hungry was too much for me to take. And god forbid something was terribly wrong, and I never responded. I would never forgive myself.  I was the parent and the adult, and it was my job to do what she could not do for herself.

And there was no way I was going to ignore her screams just to show her who was in charge.

I won’t lie to you. This approach tires you out, especially with a smart, sensitive child like the Pooh.  She can be very demanding.  I found ways to get breaks, because it was necessary for my sanity.  Believe me, I had no interest in being a saint or a martyr, and I still don’t.

However, being responsive wasn’t as bad as you might think.

During the Pooh’s first month of life, she slept in short cycles of two hours, which gradually lengthened to three hours, then four, and so on. Here and there, she would sleep through the night. By the time she was a year old, she was sleeping through the night for the most part. I eventually caught on and tried to nap when she did, though it could be tough to choose between sleep and quiet me-time.

I reaped benefits from responding to her. I learned to read her well, and while I cannot pretend to read her monkey mind, we have always had a positive, strong connection. She has complete trust in me, and while I have earned every ounce of it, I am careful to preserve it. I don’t lie to her or trick her, and I try to be honest with her.

Also, since she is a girl, I want her to be as confident and sure of herself as possible. If she knows that her parents are there for her, no matter what time of the day or night it is, then she will grow up with an unshakable sense of security and self-confidence. Responding to her cry tells her that she can vocalize her needs and be recognized, not ignored. Girls are taught in many subtle ways that they shouldn’t say anything if they need something or are uncomfortable. Over time, and over years, girls condition themselves and tell themselves that their thoughts and opinions don’t matter, because no one is listening to them – so why speak up if no one will respond?

I want the Pooh to know that her voice is important. There will come a day when she will be dismissed (something we all experience as human beings) and I want her to ask for what she wants, to say “ouch” if it hurts, and to fight for what she believes in.  No daughter of mine will ever be a doormat if I can help it.

The Pooh turned three a few days ago. She may still call to me in the middle of the night, but I don’t mind. I know that this time is fleeting, and the warmth of her little body next to mine as she drifts back to sleep is enough reward for me.

2 responses to “Sleep, my pretty, sleep…

  1. I did sleep train my babies, but I never dismiss an ouch or a nightmare. Like you, I believe teaching girls to be strong and confident includes teaching them to be vocal. My girls won’t be doormats, either. I think all the best mothers do what they think is best for their families. The sense of trust and self-worth you give your daughter isn’t something anyone should judge, because it works for you both.
    That being said, I will roll my eyes (on the phone, not in person) with the martyrs who end up whining about how their child is six and still won’t sleep through the night. 😉


  2. momsasaurus says:

    very well said! I can’t bear to let my babies cry either. I love your honest style of writing.


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