Not for the Faint of Heart

Sleep training.

It's a touchy subject. 

And, it's definitely only one battle in the "mommy wars" (Google it.  Sadly, it's real.) that are raging full-force these days. 

Nursery sleeping versus co-sleeping. 
Breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding. 
Working outside the home versus working at home. 
Cloth diapering versus using disposables. 
Vaccine administering on schedule versus delaying.
Crying it out versus being rocked/bounced/held before each nap. 
Public versus private versus home-schooling.

The wars rage on. Mothers pit themselves against other mothers because "they know what's best."  

In my 8 years of teaching and in the 8 years prior to that of babysitting, I saw examples of good parenting and bad parents.  Or what I deemed "good" and "bad."  

See?? Even as a non-mother at the time, I was among those who judge mothers. I, of course, did it with the best intentions.  It was all under the guise of, "How could they think that was a good idea? When I'm a mother, I won't EVER do that.  I'll do (insert mountains of "wisdom" here) instead." 

Why are we so unkind?

As a new mother, I have seen and heard that unkindness (though as of yet, nothing ugly has been thrown my way...although lots of advice has been shared), and I think I know why we mothers blast one another so often. 

I think deep down we're scared. 

We're scared we didn't do it (whatever our "it" might be) correctly when it was our turn before or aren't doing it correctly now.  We're scared we could have done a better job. We're scared we messed up.  We see others going about "it" a different way, and the mommy guilt sets in. Instead of being pleased that something is working for someone else, we sit in judgement to mask whatever guilt we may be feeling.  Because we know what's best.

We do, or try really hard to, know what's best for our OWN kiddoes, but we certainly can't deem someone else's child-raising choices (unless they involve drugs, alcohol, neglect, or violence) as bad or wrong.  We're simply doing the best we can do. We're doing our best with what we know, with what wisdom has been given to us, with the abilities we have. Not one loving, devoted mom out there is intentionally trying to screw up.  

But, unintentionally, we sometimes do.  And, we have to give ourselves, and others, grace when we miss the mark. We have to forgive and learn from those things. 

This week, The Husband and I have been working on creating a pleasant wake, nurse, play, nap schedule for Jack now that he is almost two months old.  It's usually about a three to three and a half hour cycle with him awake for 45 minutes to an hour each time. 

When we put him down for a nap (after watching for his sleepy cues--yawning, relaxed body (or flailing arms if he's overtired), rubbing eyes on our shoulders), we use the 4 S's (set the stage, swaddle, stand/sit, and shush/pat as needed). I have heard and read good things about the 4 S's (The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems) and decided that we would give them a go.  They work best if the baby isn't already overtired, so we really try to be aware of those sleepy cues before it's too late. 

I set the stage by making sure he's fed and has a clean diaper.  We walk calmly into the bedroom and make sure the lights are dimmed.  

I quietly swaddle him tightly (he is SO strong and often gets at least one arm free if I don't do it as tight as I can). This is particularly tough at night in the dark while I'm pretty groggy. We make it work though. Also, it helps that he doesn't fight it too much at night. 

Then, I pick him up and place him against my chest on my shoulder. I hold him there while I quietly sing "You are my Sunshine." When I'm finished, I stand or sit. I don't rock or bounce or move. We just stand/sit like that. He sometimes fights it (he REALLY fought it early on). I've noticed that he fights it really hard when I miss those first sleepy cues, and he's gotten overtired. But after a few minutes, his body relaxes, and I put him down. 

If he stirs and starts to cry, I shush him while I gently pat his stomach. When he's calm again, I leave the room.  

Sometimes, even after being calm, he'll wake from the ridiculously-light REM sleep and will cry. At first, he cried a lot. I would go in and shush/pat him until he was calm. 

The cry-it-out (CIO) method is not for the faint of heart. I can tolerate crying more than The Husband can.  He often has to go somewhere that he can't hear him. But, we both want him to be able to initially fall asleep on his own with minimal assistance and to be able to go back to sleep when the natural REM/sleep cycle of around 45 minutes has ended. To be a happy baby upon waking, his little body needs at least an hour and a half of sleep per nap. Two hours is best for him since babies this age need between 16 and 18 hours of sleep per day.

Sleep-training is TOUGH.  Sometimes, I have to turn the monitor down to where I can just barely hear him because I start to project my own feelings onto him. Maybe he's lonely. Maybe he's afraid. Maybe he's angry. Maybe.  Maybe.  Maybe.  

In reality, he's tired. I know he's tired. I can see it on his face when I shush him after the REM/sleep cycle has ended, and he's woken up too early. If he weren't tired, he wouldn't have trouble keeping his eyes open.  

As I began typing this, he was crying. He was crying because he was having to learn to be able to fall back asleep when he's woken up halfway into his nap. I shushed and patted. I watched him fall back to sleep. I walked out of the room, and as I made it back to the living room, that sweet baby jarred himself awake and began crying again. I heard. I sighed. I took a deep breath. And, then I sat on the couch and listened. He cried. And stopped. Cried. And stopped again. Each time, the crying was less and softer. He was learning how to relax and rest. He was learning that Mom and Dad love him and are there but that they won't pick him up when they know that he needs more rest. They will patiently wait as he learns to fall asleep and to sleep well.

He's learning and so am I. I've made mistakes. Over and over I picked him up when he'd cry. I taught him that if he woke within the first few minutes of his nap, I would rush back in and hold him.  I called it his "extra bit of loving."  But then, when he would wake mid-nap, he would expect that "extra bit of loving" and cry and cry and cry. I saw how that one thing I did made it ten times harder to get him down for the next nap.  

I learned that I have to be consistent. I also learned that if he naps well during the day, he sleeps well at night. If he only takes 45 minute naps during the day, our night is a long and tiring one. 

But, I'm learning something else. Mothering is hard, and I doubt myself often. Mothering takes a strength and courage I never knew before. It takes lots of grace. It takes a forgiving heart. And, having a strong friend- and family-base to support me as I walk that bumpy road?  Priceless. 

We don't have to agree with each other's methods. But let's not argue. 

Let's support one another when we see something isn't working out quite like we expected.  Let's offer compassion and help, not hurled stones. 

And, if we see something is going well for another mother (even if we didn't get the same results or we went an entirely different route)?  Let's offer congratulations, not guilt and ugliness masked by "wisdom" instead. 

Let's choose to not be part of the mommy wars.

What do you say?


  1. You are such a wise and loving mother. I wish I had had your knowledge and calmness when I was dealing with cranky babies. I am in awe of you. Love you.

    1. I'm not always calm--with us living here, you've witnessed my irritability :). But thank you. I had a pretty calm, loving mom growing up ;)


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