Friday, February 12, 2016

A Reader Asks About Infant Sleeping

I was recently asked: "I'm curious on when Anders was an infant and it was bedtime and he was crying how you responded. I go and comfort her and my husband gets frustrated and wants her to cry it out. How did you make it through this phase?"

My answer: Think about what you are trying to communicate to your little alien. He is telling you, "I feel this awful thing! It feels terrible! I don't like it! Pain! Pain! Pain!" If you were to say that to your husband, what would you like him to do? You certainly don't want him to shut the door and abandon you in that moment. But you also would most likely not feel seen or heard if he were to distract you by grabbing you, shaking you, and shouting in your ear (as is advised in Happiest Baby on the Block). It is certainly possible to distract you from your feelings, but this is not advisable. (If you haven't read my book, please do so!) The proper response, I believe, when we encounter a sad person is just to be with them while they are sad. When I am sad, I don't need my husband to fix it or distract me or judge me or ignore me. I just need him to give me a shoulder to cry on. It is no different with children. I like to let them know what they are feeling so they know the words, "You're tired" or "You're sad" or "You don't feel good" can help them have the words for their feelings later, but in the mean time, just be with her, listen, empathize, hold her hand.

I believe this is the method from Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect. I never abandoned Anders when he was sad--"crying it out" is brutal on both the baby and the parents. But I also didn't hold him when he was crying or rock him or swaddle him or do anything that would "distract" him from his discomfort. I was simply with him, loving him, and trying to support him, sometimes with my hand on his back, often cuddled up to him. (He never had a crib; he had a Montessori floor bed, so I could always cuddle up to him.)

I also liked the book Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems

I did other things too, when he was an infant, like at night I never turned on the lights. Anders knew by the time he was three days old that night time was dark. I never turned on a light in his room at night nor did I use night lights either. I allowed the house to get dark naturally in the evenings as well. Natural light gets us in tune with our natural rhythms. Very hard NOT to go to sleep when you watch the sunset and then experience darkness. (A side benefit of this is that Anders has never been afraid of the dark.)

But also Anders slept with us from the age of 1 1/2 to 2. I hated having him in the other room. I woke up all night needing to check on him. Having him in our room enabled me to sleep much more peacefully. And I just loved sleeping with him. 

Then when he was around 2, my husband's work schedule changed so that his hours were not compatible with mine. Sleep was too precious for me to be woken up by his alarm in the morning, so for a while my husband, my son, and I all had our own room. From 2 to 2 1/2 my son slept in his own room simply because he wanted to. When we went to the farm he would sleep with me sometimes and other times he would try to sleep in his playhouse outside! He actually fell asleep in there many times. (I always brought him inside though, too many bugs to sleep outside all night long.)

Then with all the moving and traveling from 2 1/2 to now (4 1/2) my son has just felt more comfortable sleeping with me most of the time, so it has been that way for a while. However, his new bed is almost done (a bunk bed) and he is very excited to sleep in it when it is done. 

Also, it should be noted that I nursed my son to sleep until he was 2 1//2, and then one day I told him I didn't want to do that anymore, and he said, "Okay." And that was it. It was similar when he was about eight months old, one morning I told him I was not into him waking me up at 5am anymore, and I needed him go back to sleep. He just did. Never woke me up again (at 5am anyway). It was as if he had understood me perfectly. And then when he was 3, and I told him I was not interested in getting him water in the night anymore, he also just understood and adapted and started getting his own water.

What I am trying to express--in this very hasty post--is that situations and needs are ever-evolving. You get to do things one way and then another way. Other parenting experts are going to fill you with fear about habits and consistency. I have never found this to be *that* necessary. The only habit you need to be in is meeting each other's needs and being in touch with those needs. Babies DO get into routines and come to expect certain things, but only to a certain extent. It takes three days to baby-step your way out of one habit and into a new one. So it ended up, for me, being not really worth worrying about.

1 comment:

  1. Quite an insight! Next time when I hear someone yelling will make an effort to have this different perspective. As I'm coming from a lower class as well, during my childhood my parents yelled quite a lot and its on the spot to that they didn't thought about it as something that ruins the children. The funny thing is that I developed myself for some reason that yelling is bad, I guess it comes from all the surrounding environment and social influences.
    I think there is a another category of people that understands this state of persons mentality, and by raising their voice they can a influence someone with less effort than just by saying it in normal tone - as the "normal" person cannot deal with yelling as he never had to deal with it in the past.
    The last thing I want to mention, not sure if its proven or not, but I think yelling helps to relieve stress. Once we are overwhelmed with something and loose it, yelling can be a natural response by letting it out. Thought if we developed in a way to restrain the raising the voice, then we tend to other methods which might be not as natural and even make things worse. Like overeating food or diving into entertainment and being oblivious of ones feelings.
    Thanks for sharing this!