The Gift of Sleep Stories: A Respectful Follow-up to my Post on Sleep Learning.

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“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.” 
― Eleanor Roosevelt

My most recent post about my respectful sleep learning journey has received more attention than any other post I have written. Good attention as well as some scary attention. At first I was tempted to run in fear and close down my Facebook page and blog as conflict makes me nervous, but after reading the good comments again I remembered why I wrote this post in the first place: to help mothers! I had a greater number of mothers who were THANKING me for sharing my story. Excellent! That was exactly what I was hoping for. I was hoping that by sharing my story mothers could feel free to share their own and all of us ‘sleep-training’ moms could have some support for this against-the-grain choice.

My secondary hope was to show that this type of sleep work with babies is often misunderstood. People imagine that we put our babies in bed and then walk away for hours refusing any help, food, soothing, and love of any kind. I know many mothers who have sleep trained and have never heard of such a thing. I don’t call this CIO because it’s not at all. We followed a method in the beginning and then adjusted as we listened and learned more about our son and his different cries. Once we learned to listen, our reactions changed to fit his needs. Most of the negetive comments were about mis-informed mothers who were fearful of crying infants. I think this is the heart of the matter; we all have different views on crying. I believe that crying is not as big of a deal as some of us think. It was this mis-information and fear-mongering about crying that actually stopped me from listening to my instincts about my son in the first place.  It’s very important that that is heard so I’ll say it again: fear-mongering about crying actually stopped me from listening to my own instincts. Once I tuned out this mis-information I finally knew what my son really needed: sleep. He needed sleep and I was getting in the way with all of the interventions he did not want or need. When he cried before sleeping, he was simply expressing that he didn’t like the change. He adjusted in 3 days and that showed us that this was what he needed. To those who fear crying and want to judge my journey I will say this: after the third night of sleep training my son cried far less during the day and the night than he had in his sleep deprived state. We went from literally 8-10 hours a day of crying, fussing and screaming to under 2 hours which is more in the norm for his age at the time! What a better confirmation than that!

What I mostly got from the many, many varied comments was that there are so many moms with stories they wanted to share. Moms that felt safe that I had opened up in a world where ‘babies-crying-to-sleep’ is a very taboo phrase. There were also a few mothers that were SO grateful for my story as it helped confirm their own instincts  So I want to share some of those stories with you now.  I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that this is a course of action for you. I’m ALL for co-sleeping (read my post about it) and Attachment Parenting (read that post here.) it’s just that babies and mothers are different and we all must choose what is right for our family life. My hope is simply to increase the support for mothers who do choose this path. I am suggesting that if you choose to do something like this that you talk to your baby about it then LISTEN. Really try and objectively listen as they will tell you so much more than you can imagine. Their cries are not just problems to be fixed; they are stories that they want you to hear. There will always be those who judge, so hopefully you can tune out those fearful voices and listen to you own. As Janet Lansbury so eloquently put, “Trust your babies and trust yourselves.”

Supportive Sleep Stories:

~”Thank you for sharing your journey. This is such a hot topic and it can be hard to open up to others about it, I find. I did not sleep train my first daughter until she was over 3 years old because of all the worry of trauma I would do to her. Now I realize what a disservice I did by sticking a boob in her mouth every time she cried rather than listening to her and helping her to learn to sleep. Now with our second daughter, I am doing things differently, but old habits die hard! I really like how you laid out what you did with your son at what age. Though I know our journey will be unique, it’s helpful to see the guide-posts of others who’ve traveled ahead. :)”

~”You have no idea how happy I am to read this. I did sleep training with my son. He began sleeping like a champ. He would wake up elated every.single.morning. I felt fantastic! But then I read these articles about CIO. It began to stress me out, and I was so angry at myself for not having researched this more. I worried whether I damaged my little guy. THANK YOU for posting this.”

~”Sleep Training was an integral piece of my recovery from PPD. I too had horrible insomnia and was completely incapable of falling back asleep after my son woke me during the night. My life and family was falling apart due to the insanity brought on by self deprivation. I was so out of it that I didn’t feel comfortable driving for fear of harming myself and my passengers. We were ALL better off after the family started sleeping through the night.”

~”Thanks for sharing your story on this controversial topic- I agree wholeheartedly, my son was sleep-trained at 4ish months and it made such a huge difference in his demeanor during the day- he was so much happier, and napped so much better! (my non-scientific opinion is that if true damage was done, he wouldn’t be smiling more, ya know?), and my second-born has been a dream sleeper since the beginning- pulling 8 hrs at 3 wks old with no effort on my part. But future children will be taught to sleep, and our family will be happier for the effort. Thanks for being brave and taking the flak that will come for sharing your story!”

~”When my daughter was first born we tried to do co-sleeping. Soon into it, it became clear this wasn’t for us. My husband resorted to sleeping in the guest room and baby L was up every few hours. So we made the decision to move her to her crib at one month. She immediately slept better, but I still had a terrible time getting her down for naps etc. So in desperation I went to my doctor because I thought she had reflux or something. The doctor’s advice? “Let her cry.” I wasn’t sure what to think after reading forums online where mothers said anyone who let’s their baby cry is doing irreparable damage, but I felt in my gut this is what we should do. Turns out a little crying before bed is exactly what she needed. She cried (fussed really) for ten minutes and was out. And slept for 11 hours. And has slept 11 hours or more every night since. Naps are a breeze now too. She will fuss for 5-10 minutes prior to 1-2 naps a day. Otherwise she goes down without a sound. It’s her “normal.” She’s an incredibly independent baby and if I try to rock her or go in to soothe her, she just gets angrier. She really wants to be left alone to work it out. Everyone marvels over what a happy baby she is. She is content to play on her own for an hour or more. She never cries other than before sleeping. And greets us with giant smiles when she wakes up. Even more important … I am well-rested and able to enjoy motherhood!”

~”This sounds quite familiar. Quite. Familiar. I could have written it (but you are far more eloquent) We still “work the program” as we call it at 15 months, putting her down in her own space, after a certain bedtime routine, at a certain time with black out curtains and white noise and occasionally if we try to push our luck and keep her out past her bedtime it takes her a few minutes to “work it out” but for 99% of the time she is quiet as a bug when we lay her down. We still might wake up a couple of times with some extra cuddles and rocking when she is teething/sick/traveling but with “the program” we have any issues usually work themselves out within a few days.”

~ “Yes, thank you for sharing your experience. We had a very similar situation in our house (my daughter was waking every 1.5 hours and I thought I was losing my mind), and it took a huge toll on her, myself and my husband. We too decided at four months to sleep train her. By the third night, she feel asleep in 5 minutes, and our lives (all of our lives) were forever changed as everyone was finally getting the sleep they needed. Change is hard for everyone, and no-one that loves their child wants to hear them cry. But we too believed that good sleep was as essential to our daughter as good nutrition and we realized that we were getting in the way of her good sleep. She is now a well rested, very happy, well adjusted toddler (and I do think a HUGE part of that is b/c she’s not tired and can better regulate her emotions). In any event, thank you, as I too have had people criticize us for what we did, but ultimately I truly believe it was what was best for her (I would never have done it otherwise), and I wish more people understood what a struggle it is to come to that conclusion, do what you honestly believe is best, and then have people tell you you are cruel. If we don’t arm our children with the stills to obtain their needs (and in fact continue to get in the way of their needs, if that is what we have concluded we are doing) then what are we accomplishing as parents? My mother always said, you raise your children to leave you. In otherwords, your job as a parent is to arm you children with the skills necessary to be successful in life without you around every second. This for us, was the first test of that reality. Thank you, again, and I applaud you for doing what I know is so very hard. I know for us, it remains one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. And sleep well.”

~”I did this with my son as well and it worked. Just like their situation both baby and I were miserable because neither of us were getting good sleep. We were also nursing every hour and co-sleeping. I moved him into his own room with white noise and soothing music. It took us 2 nights and ever since then he has slept 11-12 hours straight every night. I have no regrets and if I have a second child I will do it again if necessary. Unlike the author of this post my son doesn’t cry to sleep at all anymore. I do still rock him to sleep and when I put him down in his crib he rolls over and snuggles in for the night. When he wakes he coos or ‘sings’. But no more crying at all.”
~”I’ve been there and done the exact same thing  Thanks for sharing it in such a beautiful way, Sydney.”

~”I was left with my newborn only 21 days old and had no help. My family is no where near and my fiance’s work forced him to travel to Korea. In that instance my son was getting the worst of me and he wasn’t thriving either. Now, after the sleep training he is happy, healthy, well adjusted and rested.”

~Sydney thank you for sharing your sleep story. Its such a huge deal for us as mums and in my case became an all consuming and miserable nightmare, being up every 2 hours rocking my 10 month old to sleep because I was worried about the effects of crying and the vitriol on the Internet about CIO. The thing is, he cried a lot. Every time he woke up, until I had rocked him back to sleep. During the day he cried because he was overtired. I cried a lot as well. It was ridiculous and once I finally made the decision to stop all sleep props and let him sleep without needing me we had rapid success. I was hindering him, and not being respectful in allowing him the ability to put himself to sleep which is what he needed. Go you for working at giving your baby this gift of independant sleep at a young age and recognizing your own limits!”

~”What a brilliant point about not letting him CIO but respecting his cries. We struggled with 1-3hrly waking for 18 months and through a similar process are now enjoying 11ish solid hours of sleep. More importantly, we have a happier, more attached little boy. He knows we will go to him if he needs us but that we respect him enough to allow the space to settle alone. It is the greatest thing we’ve ever done and it was a joy reading this article and hearing another mums perspective. Thank you.”

~”My eldest was the same we used the same method- when you can distinguish between cries. My middle child always went to sleep awake from 8 weeks and happily went to sleep, my youngest at 4 weeks (sleeping in our room) currently needs winding down to sleep as he is so alert- and right now has a blanket draped over his head to assist while I hold him or sling him. Each child is different. And what works for one mightn’t work for another.

~”I applaud this mother for recognizing that she was unable to continue healthy parenting with the continuous night waking/night feeding. I really want to stress here that every person is different. There are Moms who can wake up/nurse all night long, and seem to be totally fine and jolly the next day. I was not one of them. I was like this mother. At 9 mos. I had not slept more than 2 hours in a row since labor…Our son was absolutely CLUELESS about “how” to sleep. I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Now who does that serve to continue if that is how I was feeling? Would my son have been better off if I was hospitalized? Was I just a weak human who never should have had a baby in the first place? We did “sleep teaching” at 9 mos. and it was the best thing for him and us. He is 24 now and he was not “damaged” by it whatsoever. Everything transformed after that — and for the better. I began to heal physically & mentally, he was not fussy and out of sorts every day. He started taking wonderful daily naps so we could actually take outings the next day and do fun things together. It was like a darkness lifted and we let the light in. I’m a Chinese Medicine Practitioner and I cannot emphasize enough how important the yin time is — night…Quiet, sleep, restoration. We need this for the yang time — day….Active, awake, creating. I saw this as a health issue for me and our baby. I am NOT a supporter of letting a newborn cry it out — not at all. But at some point for many of us there comes a breaking point, and we have to honor and respect that we have reached it and do what is right for our health and wellbeing. Please, please don’t judge or call me a bad, “mean” mother. The way we did it was very similar to this family’s version. There was some crying, yes, but we talked to our son every step of the way, comforted him, shed our own tears when he cried, and ultimately triumphed in creating a sleep schedule that kept everybody happy, healthy, and sane!”

~”I can relate to this story and went through a similar process. I found The Sleep Easy Solution (sleepyplanet.com) to be better than both books mentioned in this piece, it brings all of the scientific information together, addresses the emotions of babies and parents and gives you a clear way to make a plan. Friends have found it helpful too. Sydney is generous to share her story, thanks for sharing.”

~”This was very similar to how we sleep trained (I prefer sleep aided) our first son. Our second son has been harder work as he is much more vocal and I feel that he is more needy. However my first born, who slept through the night at 5 weeks is now a terrible night sleeper. We’ve gone through lots of changes in our life recently though and we will be moving into a new house this month (so more change) but this post has reminded me that I am not being a horrible mother by thinking that both mum and dad NEED sleep as much as the boys! I am a monster without sleep and everything else falls by the way side if I am not rested. Once we are settled in our new home I will be applying some sleep aiding techniques for both my boys. Thank you for the read and the reminder. On another note Sydney, thank you for being courageous and sharing this. I wish people would appreciate each other and everyone’s life experience more than they do. We are all different and that is what makes the world go round. You are making the world go round Sydney.”

~ “Sydney – I did the same thing with my daughter after trying everything else co-sleeping, rocking – yes, everything, and it was the only thing that worked! AND you know what, I’d do it again! So people can be as judgy as they like. My daughter is a happy, healthy child who doesn’t feel abandoned or unloved.

Don’t agree? That’s okay! Here are some great comments that I felt created a great space for respect during disagreement.

~”Thank you Janet for creating this space to share and learn. And to every parent who is honest and vulnerable enough to share. It takes courage to speak our truths, especially in a social media forum. We are in the thick of a nap strike all day long with our 10 month old, though he sleeps beautifully at night, so I was curious about this article. Although after reading the comments, I’m inspired to share about the comments themselves. What I like most about conversations and online communities like this one, is the large variety of experiences and stories. I respect that we, as parents, connect to certain philosophies or methods that resonate with us. Let’s also remember that our own inner wisdom might be the best handbook of all. It’s moment to moment, we know all of the history and variables, only we know our family values and feel our intuitions. None of that can come from a book, a study or research. Parents, through sleep deprivation, blossoming into new individuals and being in complete service to this tiny being, have perhaps forgotten just how powerful our inner knowledge can be. All of these philosophies and methods sometimes just instill self doubt when followed like a recipe, as they remove the most important ingredient which is YOU and YOUR CHILD! I’m grateful to all who have shared. I learn as much from things that resonate with me as things that do not, and I happily read them all. This mum realized she needed to listen to herself as well as listen to her baby and then respond as best she could. Yay! Let’s cheer each other on, instead of slamming each other.”

~”My little guy was a frequent night-waker for a long, long time. His napping helped everything balance out, so he got adequate sleep, but indefinitely didn’t for a while! CIO didn’t feel like an option for us because he went straight to a panicked cry when he woke and we didn’t come to him. He needed me in the room for a long while before he could settle himself to sleep. I think he was 18 months when he started truly sleeping through, or at least no longer needing my presence when he woke during the night! I think listening to baby’s cries is key. A mother (or other devoted caregiver) knows the difference between those cries, and knows what an appropriate response is. The method you chose may not be what others chose, and it may not have worked for those families anyway! But if you feel confident you did what was right, and you and your baby are happy, take comfort in that. Best of luck to you!”

~”I had 3 kids under 35months and my 3rd was an atrocious sleeper. But still, I feel I was blessed in that I avoided PND! I know how impossible life was with a tired baby and tired mum. I would never judge another parent – as the baby, the mum, and the circumstances are different for all of us. I do believe that this woman did the right thing for her. I love that Janet not only respects babies, but their parents too. This may not appear ideal to some parents – but get a grip. The child was not subject to abandonment, war, disease or many of the true tragedies that occur in our world. Just a mother trying to cope in the best way she could.”

~”Janet and Sydney- thank you both for sharing this. I didn’t use this method with my son, and going back in time I still would not, but I always love to read how other parents parent and what works for different families.”

Well, I hope these stories are useful for you. If they are not then I hope you find peace with the fact that others believe that this is a healthy path and that mothers everywhere the world are getting the support they need so that their family may thrive. I would love to hear more stories so that others may read them.

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Praise or Acknowledgment?

Lately, I have been thinking about how I should address my Son with all of his growing skills, like crawling or waving. It IS amazing to watch him do these things, but is that a sentiment I should share with him? I watch him crawl around all over and act in developementally advanced ways for his age, and listen to people around me tell him how “super” or “amazing” he is and somehow, all I feel is the need to protect him from this pressure. I just want to scoop him up and tell him I love him no matter what he does! When he crawls, or if When he throws a fit when I wipe his nose, he is still amazing to me.

In Magda Gerber’s book, Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect, she has a chapter on this very subject. There is a chapter on Praise or Acknowledgment in which she says: “Occasional reflections reassure the infant of our full attention and show our empathy. Rather than to give praise, the adult can be a broadcaster and describe the child’s actions.” Children do not have a need to be “amazing” or “wonderful”, they have a need to be SEEN. Instead of “Look at how great you are standing up all by yourself,” we can say “Look at you, standing all by yourself.” It is such a subtle shift by a paramount one for your little one.

“The commonly used “good girl” or “good boy” often becomes mechanical and subtly demeaning. It implies the child’s value as a person is contingent on his “performance.” It can create a conflict for the child. He may think he acts “bad” if he acts differently from whatever has just been praised as “good.”” What starts as a well-meaning and innocent show of love for our children, becomes, later in life, a complex of which much counseling may be needed. There are so many adults these days that feel inadequate when they hold normal, “boring” jobs and perform mediochre life tasks. Our value does not have to be in WHAT WE DO, but WHO WE ARE. Perhaps, with practice, we can learn to acknowlegde the good AND the bad, get rid or praise and reprimand, and simply help our little human being feel “seen” in the world.

Lisa Sunbury gives some great examples of how to acknowledge your child in her post Praise Not: “I suggest if you really want to convey your love, and let your child know you really see, hear, and appreciate his efforts and achievements, you say things like this: “Wow, I really like how you are remembering to stay near me today instead of wandering off.” Or, “Thank you for waiting so patiently while I paid for the groceries. That really helped me.” Or, “You remembered to walk while we were in the library today, and I didn’t have to remind you.” Or, “You worked really hard to put your shoes on all by yourself and you did it!” “Wow, look at all of the different colors you used in that drawing. You worked on it for a really long time. Tell me more about it.” “You were patting the kitty so gently. I can tell she liked it, because she was purring.” “You tried, and you tried, and you did it!”  ”I noticed you shared your snack with your friend today.” Say thank you, and give specific, meaningful feedback about what you see, what you hear, what you appreciate, and what you notice, especially when your child has really persisted in a task, has acted kindly, or has co-operated with you in some way. It’s always appropriate to thank your child when they co-operate with a request.”

What do you think of praise vs. acknowledgment? Do you feel that criticism and praise affected who you are as an adult?