Tuesday, January 13, 2015

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Why I’m not letting my baby cry it out




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Our first child wouldn’t sleep more than two hours at a time. He only slept if someone sat up and cradled him in one arm, like a football. I felt like a zombie most days, passing through life, not sure where I was or what I was doing. To complicated matters, my wife and I were both in our early 20s. I was in college and working as a bartender, and Mel worked full time at a hardware store, so there wasn’t much time for napping or sleeping in.

This was in 2006. I complained to my older sister about it, and she gave me this advice. “Just let him cry. It’s rough for a few days, but all our kids slept through the night at 3 months. It works. I promise.”

This was the first time I’d heard of letting a child cry it out, but it wouldn’t be the last. “Let your child cry it out” was the refrain of my first year as a father. I didn’t like the idea, honestly. However, I hadn’t slept more than about two hours at a time for five months. I was tired and miserable and ready to try anything.

I suggested letting Tristan cry it out to my wife, Mel. She was standing in the kitchen of our small two-bedroom apartment holding the baby. She held him a little tighter as though I was about to hurt him. Then she approached me with blood shot eyes, and said, “No. I can’t do that to our baby. I’m sorry.”

At the time I didn’t fully understand what she was so worried about. Everyone said it was safe. And these were people that I trusted. We argued about it for a few weeks. Finally I insisted and Mel said, “I want you to know that I think it’s terrible. I hate the idea and I think you are going to regret it.”

Normally I would’ve heeded Mel's objections. But after not sleeping for several months, I was miserable and desperate.

The first night Mel slept in our bedroom with headphones on, while I slept in the living room. Tristan woke up several times that night. Following the rules of crying it out, I never held him and gave him minimal comfort. I did it for three nights, and I’d never felt such tightness in my chest. My heart ached for my son. Every time he cried, I felt a lump just below my jaw. I wanted to cry with him. After nearly 8 years now, this was the most emotionally stressful thing I’ve ever done as a parent.

As promised, Tristan started to sleep through the night… for one month. Then he picked up the flu, and we had to hold him in the night again. Somehow everything I’d done was undone, and we weren’t sleeping again.

One night, around 4 a.m., when Tristan wasn’t sleeping, and Mel and I were both up in the living room, I said, “I’m so tired. I wanted to let him cry it out again, but I don’t know if I can.”

Tristan was in Mel’s lap, starting to dose off, and she said, “I’m tired too. So I get it. But I don’t want you to.”

Suddenly I was faced with a choice. I could either let him cry it out again and struggle with all the emotions that surround it, or I could suffer through the next several months and hope that he’d figure it out on his own.

I thought about that lump in my throat, and decided that it wasn’t worth it. Going without sleep was less painful than ignoring the cries of my child.

I let out a deep breath and said, “I can’t do it again.”

At the time, crying it out felt like a way to toughen up a child early, and I wondered if I was too lenient as a father. Perhaps I was going to be a pushover my whole life. And when I think back on those thoughts, they feel really silly. At the time my son was less than a year old. Little of parenting during the first year has to do with discipline and rules. It’s about nurture and love and holding the child when they need it.

A few months later, when Tristan was just over a year old, he slept pretty well.

I’m not saying that parents who let their children cry in the night are doing anything wrong. But what I am saying is that when I hear other parents say, “Your baby would sleep through the night if you let her cry it out.” I think to myself, you may be right, but the thing is, I just can’t. I can’t be that hard. I tried it once, and I found out that it’s not in me. So I will suffer the extra few months of sleepless nights until she figures it out.

Tristan is seven now and we have two daughter’s, a five-year-old and a six-month-old.  With my two youngest, letting them cry wasn’t a question anymore. During those three nights that I tried to teach Tristan how to sleep, I was the one who ended up learning a valuable lesson. 


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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter




3 comments:

Lee Rodgers said...

Wholeheartedly agree. A good piece of advice I heard was don't take advice from people who don't have to deal with the consequences. I felt terrible letting the baby cry and cry and it just leads to frustration and the baby picks up on this and gets more anxious and cries all the more. I put my son down in his cot and walked away and tried to make sure he could hear me through the open door. Lights dimmed etc. Then i tidied up the kitchen or did something that needed to be done at the same time. I let him cry a little but tried to lengthen little by little the amount of time I allowed him to cry. 30 seconds a minute etc and tried not to let him get too upset. Like the Beatles sang " All things must pass" at some point he got tired from the fussing and fell asleep and at the same time my chore was done and so I got a little time to myself. Good luck!

Fi Fi said...

I think the biggest mistake most parents make with this one is they assume u just let bubs cry till they fall asleep however if done correctly (or well the way i learnt) it can be successfully without the heart ache, with my babies when they woke, i went straight to them, no talking, no eye contact but simply put my hand on their back, patted a little then left(until they settled BUT not until they were asleep), normally they would grizzle a little but if it again turned to full blown cry i repeated the above, sometimes many many times night BUT it only ever lasted a max of 3 nights for me before i think for them it was just figuring out, ok mummy IS there, if i am really upset she will check on me and well yeah every now and gain they would still wake but it rarely went to a full blown cry and i believe its because they new i was there, they were safe to go back to sleep (above is obviously shortened version) There is a BIG difference between crying it out and controlled crying which is what i and many other mums i know did

Fi Fi said...

I think the biggest mistake most parents make with this one is they assume u just let bubs cry till they fall asleep however if done correctly (or well the way i learnt) it can be successfully without the heart ache, with my babies when they woke, i went straight to them, no talking, no eye contact but simply put my hand on their back, patted a little then left(until they settled BUT not until they were asleep), normally they would grizzle a little but if it again turned to full blown cry i repeated the above, sometimes many many times night BUT it only ever lasted a max of 3 nights for me before i think for them it was just figuring out, ok mummy IS there, if i am really upset she will check on me and well yeah every now and gain they would still wake but it rarely went to a full blown cry and i believe its because they new i was there, they were safe to go back to sleep (above is obviously shortened version) There is a BIG difference between crying it out and controlled crying which is what i and many other mums i know did