Content note for potentially controversial parenting approach related to sleep.
E’s sleeping has been rapidly declining over the course of the past few weeks due to a perfect storm of milestone explosions and newfound separation anxiety. It’s really hard to sleep when you’re busy crawling and doing downward dog in your crib, especially when your awesome parents aren’t there to witness such feats. Needless to say, K and I are exhausted and so is E.
We decided to attempt the dreaded “sleep training.” After much research, comparison and contrast, we decided that a modified Ferber approach is most closely aligned to our thoughts and theories about sleep as well as our leanings toward baby-led/empowerment parenting approaches. You know, Ferberizing, which is often referred to as a “cry it out” method, and feels really terrible to do to one’s perfect little human. Each night, we follow a loving ready-for-sleep routine and then place E in his crib while sleepy but still somewhat awake. We tell him that it’s sleepy time and then leave his room. He often cries when this happens. We set a timer and after about 3 minutes, we go back into his room, comfort him without picking him up, lovingly remind him that it’s sleepy time, and then leave again. He cries again, we set a timer for 5 minutes, and repeat the process. So far, the longest we’ve gone before going into his room is 7 minutes and, for now, that’s where I feel comfortable staying, though we might eventually increase it if/when we see progress. The thought behind this approach is that babies learn to put themselves to sleep without adult intervention, which is important because babies sleep cycles differ from adults and wake more frequently than adults do. There have been times each night where he cried so hard that we did end up picking him up to soothe (which is not typically recommended because it can stimulate baby more) because we believe in doing what feels right and instinctual as parents. Each night, after about 45 minutes of struggling, E has found his way to sleepyland and slept through the night without intervention.
Now, like I mentioned earlier, this method feels horrible. It makes K cry and breaks my heart. I am constantly reassuring myself by saying that there’s a big difference between struggling and suffering, and that there will be many times throughout his life where E will struggle. While K and I don’t subscribe 100% to any particular parenting label, one approach that often feels right to us is Magda Gerber’s Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) theories. I feel like one of my main roles as a mom is to listen to E, encourage the sharing and understanding of his feelings, and to let him know that I hear him and am here. Crying is normal, just like any other expression of emotion, and can even be cathartic at times. I know that a lot of my issues with hearing E cry are just that – my issues – and stem from times in which I felt abandoned or didn’t feel heard around my feelings. I will ensure that E never feels abandoned or that I don’t see or hear his struggles, but it feels right to me to encourage him to find his path without me doing it for him.
It’s my hope that this will all be for the greater good, though we will change course if we do not see improvement in the next few days. In the meantime, we’re all a bit bleary eyed this morning.