Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On Sleep (and why no one in our family is left to cry alone)

If you missed my first post 'On Sleep' you can read it here.  I got a few encouraging responses so I want to continue exploring sleep from a gentle parenting perspective.  Here we go.

Chris and I are committed to being present for our children, day or night.  Sometimes the day part of that is challenging enough, right?  The endless nappy changes, toys and kitchen utensils and clothing EVERYWHERE (at least at our house), preparing meals and snacks, winding down for nap time, making sure we get outside at some point to burn off as much energy as possible - it brings me back to my waitressing days, doing my best to keep everyone as happy as possible.  Do you need a refill on your coffee?  Can I help you off of the table so you don't break your little arm when you fall?  Can I quickly nurse you back to sleep before your brother pulls something dangerous off of the counter?  Actually can I nurse you while I jump up and grab your brother's hand away from the dangerous object on the counter?  Goodness, the days are full, the days are tiring.  We all deserve a good night's sleep.


At our house sometimes a very hard day is followed by a great night and we are all rested and recharged for the morning.  But sometimes a very hard day is followed by an equally hard night, and we often have three hard nights in a row around here.  That's when we start to feel delirious and a bit desperate.  That's when I have to squint and grimace at people to actually understand what they are saying, when the backs of my eyes are burning and the patience I generally have for my children (especially the one that can talk) is pretty thin.

I'm in the middle of it right now.  Last night after posting my blog I went to sleep by about 10:15.  Saf woke up at least three times before I checked the clock (with me falling back to sleep after each brief nursing session) and it was only 11:45.  What?  I woke Chris up - 'please, I need help.  can you rock him?'  Sometimes if Chris helps him fall asleep another way he seems to settle into a deeper sleep.  I actually didn't check the clock again until 5:30am (when he got up for the day) but I remember at least two more feeds and somehow he got in between us, which disturbed Chris' sleep a bit.  But Chris got up with him at 5:30 and I went back to sleep until 7:30. Then Chris went back to sleep until 8:15.  Jubilee actually woke up at 3:30am, which is unusual but not unheard of, and then again at 6 and back to sleep until 8:30.  This is a pretty common night for us.

There is a temptation to follow the fairly mainstream method of allowing my child to cry himself to sleep, in order to learn how to fall asleep without parental assistance.  Or in our case I am completely positive it would be "scream for up to three hours and then pass out from exhaustion and complete hopelessness".  If we did that long enough and for a number of days or weeks he would get the picture:  we are not coming to help you.

That temptation is very small though, even after twenty months of night wakings.  (We did have a week before Jubilee's birth where Saf slept 7-5 without waking, and a week after).  There's a great post by Phd in Parenting with some scientific and emotional reasons why her family doesn't use Cry It Out as a parenting option.  Those are very convincing to me.

But here our some of our own reasons as well, in case you don't believe in science and all: 

1. Chris doesn't leave me to cry by myself, regardless of the reason I'm crying.  In the first weeks of our marriage we became pregnant and lost the baby soon after.  This devastated me and I plunged into a pretty serious sadness.  In our first months of marriage I'm pretty sure I cried nearly every evening for some amount of time.  And Chris would always be there - laying next to me on the bed, sitting with me on the couch, listening and quiet and present.  I know that was very hard for him, but he did it, and he still does.  I am present for him in similar ways.  If we don't leave each other to cry or vent emotion alone, then how could we do that to the smallest and most helpless members of our family?

2. We work through conflict.  We don't walk out the door, we don't hang up the phone, we don't go to bed angry (even when I want to).  We work very hard to get through our conflicts together, to come to agreements, to prefer each other, to forgive and release.  Cry It Out methods seem like very poor conflict resolution, showing our children it's ok to shut the door and leave the person you have a problem with to sort themselves out.  We don't do that in our marriage, so we won't do that with our children.

3. God doesn't leave us to cry it out.  As parents we show our kids what God is like, whether we are trying to or not, whether we actually reflect God well or not.  In the same way that God entered fully into our own problems and skin and has compassion on us (which means 'to suffer with'), we want to be that (as much as possible) to our children.  We don't go off duty at 7:30pm.  When Saf was regularly waking for long periods in the night just wanting some kind of comfort, unable to go back to sleep, we didn't just put him in another room with the door closed to let him 'self-soothe'.  We did our best to care for him even though I would sometimes be crying because I was so tired and just wanted him to go to sleep.  [Dr. Sears, the parenting guru at askdrsears.com believes that a child crying in the arms of a loving parent is vastly different from crying alone].

4. It would cause a lot of stress in our marriage.  I just asked Chris why we don't do Cry It Out and he said, "Because I would get heart palpitations and have anxiety issues."  I could just imagine us having arguments about whether or not the crying was too intense and when we should go in or not and if it was working or not.  Sometimes people call it 'tough love' and just think parents like us are weak.  One of my favorite bloggers, Sarah Bessey, wrote an awesome post on Tough Love:  she writes,  "I will choose to love tough. To love harder, to draw closest right when I'm most tempted to walk away, to lavish love when I am most yearning to withhold it."  That's the kind of tough love I want to show my family.

5. We want to keep lines of communication open with our children.  It's a very long-term view, but it gives us a lot of strength even when things are hard.  If we stop listening to our children's cries, they will eventually stop communicating with us.  Our toddlers will be teenagers someday, and we desperately want to be the most important voice and listening ear in their lives.  Right now is when the foundation is being built - patterns that are set in place in these years, and impressions we leave on their supple souls will have consequences in the future.  And that matters more to me than a good night's sleep.

All of that being said ...

The lack of sleep does take a toll on us and other ideals have taken a backseat.  Chris finds it very difficult to cope in the early mornings without turning on the television to watch children's shows with Saf.  This is hard for me as I barely want us to have a TV, but it's how things are at the moment.  I also probably don't have the energy I should to keep our house tidy.  If I'm tired, the last thing I want to do is be inside cleaning, so we will often go out to a friend's house or meet someone at the park or beach.  Chris would love to get more exercise but it is one of the first things to go when he's tired.   Other forms of creativity in our lives are lacking that would be flourishing if we had more sleep, ie blogging and writing music.  But these are the tired years, we are in the thick of it, we have two little ones and so we have come to a certain level of acceptance.

There are plenty of parents that I love and respect that do some sort of Cry It Out or controlled crying with their children.  But for the reasons mentioned above, for the sake of being integrous to our convictions, it is not for us.  Fortunately there are HEAPS of gentle ideas to help our children sleep for longer stretches without our assistance that I'm planning to write about soon!


 



18 comments:

  1. I so agree Becca. For me, your reasons 1, 3. & 5 are the main ones. I've never actually considered #2 or #4, but yes, I agree!

    Honestly, I just don't understand why so many people see nothing wrong with it. I suppose that shows the power and reach of teaching and books - all the more reason that posts like this need to be written. I hope many will read this, especially new or expecting parents.

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement Adriel! Xx

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  2. You're awesome Becca, i totally agree with you! No, we don't have children yet, but if and when we do, I want them to be able to feel secure and loved, even during the night. thanks for writing about this, your perspective is so encouraging. I love the 5 points, some I had not thought of. I look forward to re-reading this in the future, when we are closer to having our own little! Keep writing, I read every post and often make Andrew read them too. :) much love to you and yours.

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    1. aww.. edolbina can't wait to see you as a mama!! hope you are enjoying your world traveling adventures!!

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  3. Its hard to hear the part about not getting to do creative things. I've had to give things up too, and that has been hard, but it's nice to hear I'm not the only one going through this. I really appreciate your honesty about parenting!

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    1. i think chris and i thought we would do alot more 'creating' once we were married to each other but it really hasn't happened .. except for creating babies, of course. :) which is awesome but definitely takes most of our time and energy. i am learning to do what i can in the free moments i do have, just get a few words down on paper when i can. and some moms are alot better at time management and seem to be able to make stuff happen no matter how many children they have.

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  4. Thank you for taking time to write, becca! Your posts, as I've said before, encourage me to live by my own convictions. What I especially love is how you explain how you count the cost in many ways, and find it all worthwhile. Thank you!
    Dean and I would like to parent according to what seems natural and instinctual to us, ie: wearing our babies, etc. when it comes to the matter of a crying little one my instinct (& I venture to say, nearly each person's instinct) is to comfort and cure the cry if I can. Upon thinking about it more, the only reason I wouldn't continue to come when my peach cries is that it might 'cost' me too much. Otherwise, my instinct remains the same.

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    1. I say this knowing it is an ideal, being untested thus far, but full of faith and hope that Dean and I will be mutually willing to bear with our children.

      I pray for your family, becca. As well as for those who count the cost as parents in so many profound ways. God be glorified.

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    2. hope your pregnancy is going really well laurie. parenting does 'cost' us alot, but it's just completely worth it. sometimes i'm bone tired, but seeing saf's sweet face sleeping next to me just washes it all away. and fortunately there are alot of great resources out there to give us creative ideas about how to parent well!

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  5. Thanks Becca! I share your philosophy and the good news is that they grow up (unfortunately it's before you know it!). My daughter is now 5 1/2, I sleep well again (but didn't for the first 3 years). We co-sleep and that is how we all get the most sleep possible. I also know that it will be no time before she doesn't want to sleep with me anymore and I'll be sad so I cherish these moments and am glad that I never left her to cry it out even if it meant that I maybe got less sleep because of it. The middle of the night cuddles, feedings, rockings and lullabies are precious memories to me now. I also know all about putting creativity on the back burner. As a potter my pre-baby romantic notions were of being at the pottery wheel while my beautiful baby slept peacefully in the bassinet ... Ha! Being the mother of a cat napper certainly brought me back to reality and I actually didn't do any pottery until she was 3 1/2. I choose to pour my creativity into being a parent and I wouldn't trade it for the world. I am now back in the studio on the days my daughter is in school and not to worry ... I didn't forget how to be creative! :) Again, they grow up so fast, you'll have all the time in the world for creativity before you know it and you'll miss a lot of the things that you have now!

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    1. i often think 3 will be our magic number for sleep (although my husband is a bit more pessimistic. :) thanks for the encouragement. i look forward to when i have more time to create and my children need me less, but i do know these years will go by quickly. things will get easier, but there is so much preciousness right now, even though things are challenging. ideally i want the pressure of parenting to fuel some good stuff right now in terms of writing and music ... but its a bit rare these days. soon.

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  6. Thank you for writing about sleep! I hope it will help to encourage many people to use gentle sleep solutions! I am a firm believer in all of your reasons for parenting the way you do! My children were very similar to yours, my oldest (3.5) had the most natural birth possible and was still waking up multiple times a night to nurse up until just a few weeks ago when I had to wean due to an awful (and dangerous) medication I was put on. My youngest (now 23 months) slept wonderfully, and still does! Both of my children sleep longer now that they are no longer nursing, but I would never trade those lost or groggy hours for the social, emotional and physical benefits of extended nursing. We have so little time with them while they are young - there will be plenty of time to sleep in the future! Way to go for persevering through the difficult nights!!
    Janet

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    1. thanks janet - i feel very encouraged by moms like you that have been there and made it through and don't regret it one bit. :) and i'm hopeful that my youngest will continue to sleep well as she grows older - glad to know yours still does!!

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  7. I always go to my daughter at night when she cries. I might wait a few minutes to see if she settles herself, but if not, I go comfort her. During the day though and she is throwing tantrums, I do give her a time out in her room where she does cry by herself for about 2-3 minutes, but when that is done, I go in, pick her up, and give her love, even when I want to punish her further. Because for me, its about Grace. God gives us so much Grace. We deserve to be left alone rotting in dark corners, but He came to earth to die for us that we might live. There are so many times where I think I should of been struck dead, but God gave me Grace. So, in the same manner, I discipline and use time out, but I also practice grace, love, forgiveness and communication. Because, it is about the long term. The patterns you set early on will continue in latter life and I want openness with my children.

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    1. you are so right about grace and how God gives it, and that we need to be extending it to our children - that's hard to do sometimes!! thanks for the reminder!

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  8. I agree completely agree! Before we had Jesse I didn't think i had a parenting philosophy, after he was born we just did what came naturally. In my opinion it isn't natural to just let you child cry, they are trying to communicate! I also didn't know until i read up on it that we practice moderate attachment parenting as well. We don't really try to do the "right thing" all the time, we try to survive and show love to our son. We always pick him up when he cries, not always when he complains or fusses because he often calms himself in a few seconds, but when he cries we are right there for him. Hopefully he knows we always will be.

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