Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cry it out

Cry it out... it's one of those controversial parenting topics about which everyone seems to have an opinion, and expresses it! Loudly! With conviction! Sanctimoniously! Defensively! There is no shortage of online debates schoolyard brawls about its merits and evils. For those who don't know what "cry it out" is, I have two things to say 1) in a nutshell, it's a method for helping a baby to learn to fall asleep and sleep through the night in which they are essentially left to cry themselves to sleep and 2) don't read this post, you'll reach new depths of boredom!

Anyway it always seemed to me, based on the amount of venom & defensiveness surrounding "cry it out" that it fell into THAT category which most parenting methods seem to - "right for some, not for others, not likely to do much good or much harm". Generally it seemed like something I would rather not do (while honestly not judging those who did) but with Thing 1 I didn't give it much though because right as I was starting to get antsy about her not sleeping through the night as well as getting ready to go back to work, she obligingly learned to sleep through the night on her own.

Along came Thing 2 and although her sleeping has always been much worse than Thing 1's, I just assumed that she too would learn to sleep through the night at around 1 (because of course that's how siblings work... they grow, develop and react in exactly the same way). I resisted any form of sleep training despite the brutal nights waiting for that magic one year mark...which came...and went... without any perceptible improvement in Thing 2's sleeping habits. I won't go into the gory details in this post because I think I have done so in several previous self indulgent posts. Suffice it to say, though it was highly variable, I was getting about an average of 6 hours of sleep per night with the longest stretch typically being less than three hours... for a year and a half and things were starting to look pretty black.

Finally on the advice of a friend (who had urged me to sleep train Thing 2 at 6 months) I consulted a sleep expert whose advise was detailed and specific but boiled down to "let her cry it out". Hubby and I decided the ideal time to do this would be in the summer when he did not have to teach; unfortunately we found ourselves having that conversation at the tail-end of Labor Day week-end right before the start of the academic year. Ideal the timing would not be... Being the slow moving procrastinators we tend to be, we sat on the decision a bit longer and then hubby left on a business trip. I don't know what allowed me to finally overcome my inertia but last night, day 2 into hubby's trip I suddenly worked up the courage to give it a try.

I parked Thing 1 in front of a movie, nursed Thing 2 lightly and then put her, still awake into her pack and play. Whereupon she immediately, apparently moving on raw instinct, sprang up and began screaming... we're talking - I had not even left the room yet! Thinking that this was never going to work, I closed the door and went to join Thing 1 who compounded my already crippling guilt be repeatedly asking me why I wasn't going to comfort Thing 2. The next 20 minutes were agonizing for everyone... the following 15 saw the wailing ramp down to protesting and finally silence. 35 minutes total to fall asleep. I waited another 15 and then went to check on her and found that I could not open the door. Feeling somewhat sick and franctic I reached my hand in and sure enough the door was being blocked her Thing 2 who had, for the first time ever, busted her way out of the pack and play and taken up camp in front of the door. Yes, I felt pretty damn wretched. But dammit... Thing 2 slept through the whole night and I am talking until 6.30 am when I actually went in and woke her up.

Which was encouraging enough to not persist on night 2 (tonight). I had heard from everyone that the first night is the worst. So I was pleased but not surprised when she fell asleep after only 5 minutes tonight (this time I added music-playing night light that probably helped).

I don't really want to wade into the "cry it out" debate; I can only speak based on my experience and my comfort zone and I am certain no expert in child psychology but here we go... I agree with the opponents of cry it out that it is probably not the best experience ever for a small child to be left to cry themselves to sleep (and believe me "probably not the best experience" is highly euphemistic compared to some of the phrase-ology out there). I think it is probably downright traumatic. But you know what? It is also probably pretty damn traumatic for a child to see their mom or dad crying because they are just so f**king tired. It is probably pretty damn traumatic for a child to be injured or killed in a car accident caused by their exhausted or sleep deprived parent and I will admit to getting behind the wheel on a few occasions and thinking that what I was doing was tantamount to drunk driving. At my lowest, I actually found myself one morning in the wee hours crying as I nursed Thing 2 saying to her "please, please, please let me get some sleep, I am begging you" ... that's probably not so good for baby either. So if this whole "cry it out" thing continues on its current trajectory and our entire family (Thing 2 included) finally starts getting proper, uninterrupted sleep than as much as I hated hearing her cry for so long the first night or for that matter for any amount of time on any night, my only real regret is that I did not do it sooner.


  1. Great news for you! I have read of so many people struggling to "meet their baby's every need" and avoid letting them cry too long...only to find at 10mths or more they are at their wits end and CIO works very well (albeit very stressful for everyone). We did a bit of CIO after around 3 months, but only for "non serious" crying. C has turned out to be a great baby though so we got lucky with our sleep (til this most recent month) although there have been recent nights where she WILL NOT return to sleep after waking at midnight...and we struggle to work out the issue (pretty sure it may have something to do with eating something different eg sugary which amps her up) until she finally gives in after 3-4hrs! Ugh! Here's wishing you 8hrs of uninterrupted peaceful dreaming for a while!

  2. I know it sounds pretty bland, but you absolutely have to do what works for YOU and makes YOU happy. I never enter into parenting debates because all familes have different systems and unless downright abuse is going on, there is no point in questioning someone else's system, right? By the way, Christian just introduced me to a woman here in Duluth by saying the following "This is my mom. She cries a lot." You are not alone!! :o) We should have a new type of PR battle-- most days without crying? Are you guys still taking turns sleeping with the girls? You need your sleep!! (but I don't question your system!)

  3. We did things with our 2nd that would have appalled me with the 1st. 2 was just so different, and I liken driving after 2 hours of sleep to driving drunk, so how is THAT better for my kids? The last battle was when she transitioned to a bed. It was amazing to watch... which we did, on the video monitor. That kid sat against the door and knocked on it for 2 ENTIRE nights... passing out every few minutes, only to bonk her head on the door, or fall completely over. Seriously. But finally on Christmas eve (she was 2 months past 2 years old), we put her in a bed with her sister, and she slept through the night. (After about a month of sleeping on the floor next to the door.... knocking, still, every few hours.) I don't know if it was the threat of Santa coming, but she only needed about a week in the same bed, and then she was able to go to her own bed. (In the same room, which they still are, and love it.) My parents once said that they treat all of their children equally, but differently. It just must be so.

  4. Oh great news - that she slept through the night once she settled obv, not that she cried. Fingers crossed it continues. Once you start getting enough sleep you'll start feeling like Mary Poppins for a while, you'll be so light by comparison.

  5. So my situation is/was the opposite. Zach is the terrible sleeper and we had to let him cry it out, Landon is an amazing sleeper and we've never had to let her cry it out. You have gotten thru the worst of it and I feel like as long as they still wake up happy then you've done no damage. Zach still gives us trouble with sleeping and now that he's older is much more manipulative yelling super sad things like "Why are leaving me alone in here? I just want you to come snuggle with me because I love you." David is much, much better at not caving in on this stuff than I am. I almost always end up falling asleep with Zach or letting him sleep in our bed. I know I need to toughen up but it just seems easier for me to get some sleep to go to sleep with him than to fight him on it. Bad mom, I know.

  6. SLG - congrats on your huge victory & PR!! we are occasionally taking turns sleeping away from the children but I think we are at the dawn of a new good sleeping era!!

    Beefy - have been meaning to tell you forever that your suggestion of lunchtime running has been working out really well.

    Angela - Yes, you are definitely a bad mom! That's pretty much what I think every time I read your blog :) Seriously I think SLG said it best, we all have to figure out what works for our family. I seriously wonder sometimes if having #1 be a bad sleeper helps #2 be a good sleeper bc #2 almost senses that there are not enough bedtime/nighttime resources available so they just go to sleep!!

  7. PPC, so glad that "cry it out" is working for you. And good work gutting out the first night. We didn't for kid #2 and he ended up sleeping in our bed till he was 2 1/2. I don't recommend that. (And definitely not if you want to ever have a third child!)