I have a confession to make: I let my kids cry it out.
Before you makes assumptions or judgments, please hear me out.
First, let me start by saying that how a parent chooses to help their child sleep shouldn’t be open for judgment. Yet here we are. Just mention the words “sleep training” or “cry it out,” and mommy-shamers are quick to remind you just how much you’ve failed as a parent and how much you’ve screwed your kids up for life.
Let’s be clear, there are plenty of ways I’ve failed as a parent and possibly screwed my kids up for life, but sleep training is not one of them.
Now, let’s talk about what sleep training actually is. Contrary to what some might think, it isn’t letting your baby cry for hours on end. Basically, it’s a way of teaching your child get to sleep on their own. There are lots of methods of doing so, but one way is to let your child cry for a little while before you pick them up or soothe them.
Like most parents, I had ideas about the kind of parent I would be – most of which fizzled out even before my first child was born. My birth plan basically flew out the window, and the delivery was borderline traumatic. Recovery was very slow and painful. And something felt “off” almost immediately, though I didn’t quite know what.
By now, I know that this was the cloud of postpartum depression. It was as if the lights went out – on everything – and I was simply surviving by groggily meandering my way through the haze.
Making matters worse was the extreme sleep deprivation. Of course, every new parent struggles with sleepless nights, but this was next-level exhaustion. I wanted to cry all the damn time, and I hated pretty much everything – including myself.
But I was managing, so things couldn’t be too bad, right? I was surviving, and wasn’t that what the first few months of motherhood were all about? Didn’t I just need to suck it up and deal? I was a mom now and, in my mind, “mom” was synonymous with “selfless martyr.” My needs didn’t matter anymore.
At least that’s what I thought, until one night that still haunts me to this day.
My son was crying. Again. I was trying to soothe him. Again. And I was growing increasingly frustrated. Again. I tried shooshing him. I tried bouncing him. I tried shooshing and bouncing him. All to no avail. After a few minutes, I realized that my anger and desperation had risen to an unhealthy level that terrified me.
Fearing I was about to really lose it, I put my son down in his crib and left the room. Nothing awful happened. Thankfully. But I was scared enough to do something about this dark cloud I was living in.
Something had to give. I couldn’t do it anymore – at least not in the way I had been doing it. So after that I made some changes.
First, I quit breastfeeding, pretty much cold turkey. (My reasons for doing so are another issue entirely, and no, I’m not looking for any shame or judgment on that decision either.) Second, my husband and I came up with a plan to share the night feedings. And third, we decided to rely on some good old fashioned sleep training.
Now there are some pretty aggressive sleep training methods out there, but we did our research and found a reasonable method that felt comfortable to us. Basically, when we put our son to sleep — in his own crib — we let him cry for a few minutes before comforting him. If he woke in the middle of the night, same thing. Each day we increased the amount of time before we went in to soothe him. And you know what? It worked.
Pretty soon he started falling asleep – alone in his crib – more quickly, and sleeping longer. By the time he was four or five months old, he was generally sleeping a solid 11-12 hours without waking. Or at least without crying loud or long enough that we heard. Sure, there were exceptions to our sleep training. The plan changed whenever he was sick or we were traveling. But for the most part, it worked, and we were all better for it.
Sleep training – and crying it out, in particular – is a hot button issue these days, and everyone has an opinion. Most of which are that you’re a horrible monster who is causing an attachment disorder by not soothing your baby immediately. How can you just let your baby cry?, people criticize.
Well, let me tell you … it is not easy. In fact, it’s downright brutal when you’re watching that clock tick by to the predetermined time when you will either hear the crying subside, or go in to soothe your baby. But you know what’s a lot harder than sleep training? Mothering while in the midst of a mental health breakdown.
Becoming a parent rocks your world, and growing a child does a number on a woman’s body and mind. Add in raging hormones, sleep deprivation, and other risk factors and you’ve got a recipe for some serious mental health vulnerabilities. I chose to sleep train my child because having a healthy and safe parent is the most important thing to a baby, and I have no regrets. NONE.
Not only did my mental health improve once my baby was sleeping, but he has been a rock star sleeper ever since.
I’m not telling you sleep training is the answer to all of life’s problems or that it is a one-size-fits-all solution. If co-sleeping, bed-sharing, or other sleep habits work for you, by all means, do what works. And that includes doing what you need to do to be a healthy, happy, and safe parent for your child.
Being a mom is not synonymous with martyrdom. We need to take care of ourselves in order to take care of our children, and we shouldn’t feel one ounce of guilt about that. Nor should we let others judge or shame us for the choices we’ve made so that we can be the kind of parent our child needs.
Besides, before long, they’ll be sleeping through their alarm on a school day. Trust me.