Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sleep. You Know You Want It.

Two years ago, if you had asked me what I thought of co-sleeping, I would have first asked what it was and then said "Oh, no way." The first time I heard the term "attachment parenting," I thought it sounded relentlessly creepy. I still kinda do. I was also one of those kidless people who had all sorts of ideas about what you should do with your kid, like letting them cry, putting them in their own room, not spoiling them, etc.

Now here I am in bed at 9:40 with my baby, who is happily nursing to sleep while I type with my thumb on a handheld device.

And you know what the really neat thing about that is? Not that I adapted to circumstances and am therefore capable of change and growth. No, it's the fact that there are legions of people out there ready to judge my parenting choices, armed with research, and thanks to the Internet, they actually can judge me if they so choose. And I could judge them right back.

I generally keep politics off this blog as much as my overly political brain can manage, but I really had no idea that there was as much of a maelstrom over parenting issues as there is over political theory. And just like politics, both sides are armed with data supporting their conclusions.

Sleep should not be controversial, but it is. It's one of the areas of parenting where you will find yourself bombarded with opinions and, often, a smattering of judgment. People on both sides of the trenches will cite research that supports their approach, and they will lob their grenades of advice into your sleep deprived barracks with a sniff of superior, "I've been there I know best" accuracy.

Well, those people can suck it. No one knows better, and no one is you, and no one else has your baby. I am already frustrated with other people's opinions about other people's parenting, even if it is just from researching online and reading the blog wars between different parenting camps.

My choice is that I will not be letting my baby "cry it out."
Everyone else can do as they please with their own babies.

When I have an opinion about something, there is usually a reason. Sometimes , it's just a gut feeling. Sometimes, facts can come to light to make me question my instincts, but it still has to make sense to me. People like to say that comforting your crying baby will make it dependent. That babies need to use their own resources. That you are spoiling them if you respond to their cries. That if you don't let them cry it out, they will never learn to sleep through the night.

Here's what I think about these assertions:

1. Comforting your crying baby will make him dependent.

Um, he's a baby, not a business man, and even business men need comforting sometimes. What else is a baby but a dependent creature? He has many years ahead of him to make it on his own and learn how to fend for himself. Right now, he gets to be a baby. Not a little mini adult.

2. Babies need to learn to use their own resources.

Like what? Fixing themselves some warm milk? Counting sheep? Crying is their resource. It's the one thing they know how to do to alert the grown ups that something is wrong. How would you feel if the only resource you had was continually ignored? Mad? Frustrated? Filled with despair? I don't think babies "learn to sleep" from crying it out, I think they become exhausted and give up. If you can believe that babies have learned "Ah, no one has come. It must mean that the power to comfort myself resides in me, and I am a strong, powerful individual," then it could be possible that they are learning "Ah, no one is coming. It is a cold, hard world, and you can depend upon no one." There is plenty of time down the road when this little boy won't want my help. As tiring as it can be right now, he actually needs me, plus, he's not talking back or giving me sass.

Some people think that the baby who gets a response to its cries at night will be clingy and desperate during the day, but the reverse makes sense to me. In any case, in my experience, so far, Finn does not cry much because he does not have to, and he's capable of playing "on his own" (as much as an eight month old does) during the day, so I am not too worried about it.

3. That if you don't let them cry it out, they will never learn to sleep through the night

Never? Really? Casual observation of the bulk of humanity does not bear this out.

One thing to remember when it comes to baby sleep is that the medical definition of sleeping through the night is five consecutive hours. Furthermore, no one really sleeps through the night, including grown ups. Whether you remember it or not, you change position, adjust covers, and go through your sleep cycles. Another thing to remember is that babies' sleep cycles are shorter, and night waking is normal. But babies, unlike adults, often need assistance when they wake at night. I think that the problem with baby sleep is often a grown up problem: we want them to sleep like we do. It's not realistic. Sure, it's a problem when adults are crazy tired and nonfunctional, and I know that I would love a solid six hours of sleep, but, realistically, I am not expecting one any time soon.

When it comes to parenting, I don't have time for weeks of research. I have devoted a few hours of reading plus a few hours of online research to this issue, and that will have to be it. And this topic is lucky to be getting a post; the hours of reading, note taking, and writing I did a couple of months back on the roots of the current economic crisis are languishing in a word doc on my laptop. I don't consider us to be conforming to any one, named parenting style. It seems weird to me to label parenting beyond "parenting." We have a son, we are raising him, one day to the next, trying to work our lives and personalities together into a happy environment.

So this is not here to change anyone's mind, cast judgment, or wake the Kraken, it's just here to relate my experience so far.

There's usually no easy solution to "baby sleep." What has helped me somewhat is to realign my perceptions and my expectations. As far as I am concerned, Finn does not have sleep problems. He sleeps like a baby. Once I understood how they sleep and got over the expectation that he would be sleeping through the night any time soon, I felt better. At this point, he is with me all night, in bed. Sometimes Pete joins us, and it's all three of us, sometimes Pete sleeps in the guest room. Sometimes Pete takes him in the morning, and I have a little extra sleep, sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes, Finn's intermittent evening whining siren almost pushes me over the edge, so I give him to Pete.

At some point, I will try to transition him to his co-sleeper or into a crib in our room, and we'll see how that works out. But what every parent needs to remember is that every baby is different, every parent is different, and every situation is different. Castigating someone else's choices is not going to do anyone any good. What works for us, works for us, and when it doesn't anymore, we'll make efforts to change it. Besides that, when have you ever changed someone else's mind?

No comments: