If you've been following this blog, you know I wrote a post about picking up crying babies the other day. Actually, what I said was, "Always pick up a crying baby." One of my good friends, who is the mother of twin toddlers, wrote an excellent response to that post. She questioned my use of the term "always" and if it was a black and white issue. She and her husband had struggled several months ago to make a decision regarding whether they could continue to always pick up both of their babies every time they cried, particularly at night. The mom met her children's needs all day long but she and her husband were running on fumes every night. They needed sleep, and sleep would enable them to continue to be the best parents they could during the daytime. So, after much debate, they decided to let the babies sleep through the night. You can read how she accomplished this within a couple of days, and pretty painlessly, in the comments section of Wednesday, November 3rd's post.
I chose to write about this today because my friend was right. The use of terms like "always" in discussions such as this one push ideas into black and white terms, and there are very few situations I can think of that the answers are as simple as "always" or "never". My friend's comment gave me the opportunity to think about and clarify my previous post and point of view. I did respond to her comment, which you can also read (it follows her comment), and I will probably repeat some of it here, so if you already read it, bear with me.
"Crying it out" doesn't exist only at bedtime. I think a lot of parents get focused on the idea of crying it out at bedtime. Honestly, I'm not a big fan. But I'm also not the parent of newborn twins, or of a colicky baby, or working a full time job and coming home to care for a newborn. I can understand how some parents need to make decisions that best benefit their whole family, and it may not always be what "experts" or even people who know a lot about early childhood believe or think or know or speculate. As a parent, you have to make a lot of decisions based on your own personal situation, and what works best for your family.
I have worked in the field of early childhood for well over twenty years. In that time, I have seen infants left to fall asleep on themselves in high chairs after eating. I have heard babies cry helplessly for hours waiting for someone--anyone--to come by and touch them. I have watched adults turn their backs on crying babies, believing they are somehow teaching an infant to develop independence or self-control. I have seen and read about research that discusses the importance of touch and comfort regarding neurological development, and I have seen and worked with children of varying ages who have not had the foundation of touch and nurture. It is from these experiences (and many more like them) that I was drawing my conclusions from the other day.
Last night, my eleven-year old woke me from a sound sleep. She had had a nightmare and was terrified. I comforted her for several minutes, just holding her frightened little self, before asking if she was ready to go back to bed. You see, my child has recurring nightmares and has for many years. She had a difficult start in life before she came to live with us. I cannot imagine, as her mother, sending her to bed without comfort after one of those nightmares. Her nightmares are real to her, and scary. I'm the adult who's supposed to comfort her. Turning her away in an effort to make her more independent, soothe herself, or whatever--to me, that's pointless. In those darkest moments, when our children are fearful and needy, those are the moments when we are called upon the most. We are truly our children's protectors, their knights in shining armor. It is our job to make this world a little less scary while we still can, and assuring them that yes, someone who loves and cares for them will be there. That's the basis of trust.
Assisting your child in sleeping by him or herself throughout the night so you can function is a totally different issue than turning your back on a terrified baby repeatedly, much as insisting my eleven-year old return to her bed is a different issue than refusing her comfort after a bad dream. Children do not develop neurological deficits or problems with trust bonding when the majority of what they experience are healthy, loving interactions. However, the possibility to harm a baby--or even an older child--exists when needs are ignored.
So perhaps I misspoke in saying to "always pick up a crying baby". Perhaps, as another of my friends pointed out, the phrase, "grow a brain--snuggle a baby" would be more apt. Either way, if you take your responsibility seriously as a parent and educate yourself, you're doing the best you can. And that's all anyone can ever ask from you.