Raising Richmond: Crying it out

Sleep training is one of the biggest hot button issues in the world of parenting, often bringing with it a much debated question: to cry it out or not? Today we hear about two very different experiences… and hope to learn about yours as well.

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the newest installment of our parenting column written by two sets of Richmonders: Jorge and Patience Salgado (veteran parents of four gorgeous children), and Ross and Valerie Catrow (parenting rookies who have only been doing this “raising a child thing” for a little while). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

Babies and sleep: quite the recipe for controversy in the world of parenting. But if we’ve learned anything in doing this column it’s that controversy brings conversation, and with conversation, you get perspective. So here we go…

Today’s question: How do you feel about babies crying it out?

The Salgados

There was just one goal when our kids were infants: to try to solve all crying. It wasn’t always as easy as it sounds. We kept our babies close, we shared the same bed, I breastfed on demand — all the traditional attachment parenting practices. I’m not sure it was so much that we adopted the philosophy, but rather it just happened to jibe with our intuition. Intuition is a powerful part of parenting, and when that part was rocky I found the baby helped me out, many times teaching me how to listen.

The truth is babies still cry for reasons we don’t always know or can fix; it’s part of their development and growing process. There are moments when we all need to cry, but I always struggled with the whole idea of putting my child in a position where I would abandon his need for a response in order to teach him something. It felt so incredibly counter-intuitive on so many levels, mostly way down deep in my bones.

It wasn’t long into our journey as parents before someone asked us about sleep and promptly suggested we read Baby Wise by Gary Ezzo, what some see as the Bible for scheduling feedings and sleep training babies. It takes about two seconds of research to discover loads of controversy surrounding Mr. Ezzo and his advice. Babies failing to thrive, a lack of credentials, history of dropped publishers, new editions released softening language and tone, all of it instantly had me feeling skeptical. A peek closer into the book revealed this was not the method for us, and I was surprised that so many were drawn to it. As I got a little further into my parenting, I realized a highly prescriptive method gave parents security and something to do — it normalized their lives that had been completely turned upside down, it was a solution for returning peace and order for everyone. I think there are serious holes and problems with his work but understand some of the logic behind it.

If I am completely honest, early in my parenting I held judgment in my heart for parents who chose this path. I researched brain development in babies and effects of the levels of cortisol release. I wondered if we are resistant as a culture to the surrender that parenthood requires. I found myself deeper into an attachment parenting world. It was hard for me to understand or imagine how anyone could do that to a child.

Life eventually required me to travel outside my bubble every now and then. I started to mix with different kinds of parents and kids. Conversations on playgrounds and playing with kids who were products of everything under the sun started to shift my perspective just a bit. Thoughtful parents who sought connection with their babies AND lead pretty scheduled lives seemed ok. They weren’t stunted or insecure; they were thriving and happy. My assumptions had been checked and my heart was opened just a little.

Almost all of those lovely parents I respected and kids I met had gleaned from the advice and books, altering when needed, and found a balance just like I had to do. I still worry about new parents and infants being left to cry. I’m not sure I can personally ever sign on to that idea but I am aware that parenthood is full of twists and turns for all of us. We all have to find our own way.

The Catrows

I think when people hear the phrase “cry it out”, they tend to imagine one of the following scenarios:

1. A couple is snuggled up in their living room while their poor infant child is alone in her dark, desolate room. As the child’s screams intensifies, the couple turns the baby monitor down while simultaneously turning the volume up on the television up.

2. A couple is huddled outside of the nursery door, gnashing their teeth at the sound of their child’s wails as they clutch a dog-eared copy of Fool-Proof Guide to Helping Your Child Sleep and mutter to each other, “But the book says… but your mother said… but that person we talked to at Target said…”

My mind clearly works in extremes, but I don’t think I’m alone in that fact, hence the bad rap that each and every parenting philosophy gets in at least one circle or another.

I’m very much an Early-90s-Real-World-Cast-Member when it comes to parenting philosophies: I don’t feel the need to label my choices. I think doing so sets yourself up for all kinds of expectations and criticism. Parenting is hard enough, for Pete’s sake.

So! Would I call my husband and I “Cry It Out Parents”? No. Did our child cry from time to time when going to sleep? Yes. We also read and used Baby Wise as a guide to getting our son on a schedule which was necessary due to my return to work and the very specific circumstances of our chaotic life. But I don’t consider us “Baby Wise Parents” either, and I don’t feel like it dictated our response to his cries — that, like most facets of our parenting experience, came from knowing what made our child tick.

With our son, we learned pretty early on that there was (and is) a distinct difference between the “fussy” cry and the “something is very wrong” cry. Nine times out of 10, when bedtime came around and the crying started, it was the fussy cry. Nothing was wrong (and believe me, we checked), he just cried. At those times, there was absolutely nothing we could do to stop him from crying: nursing, holding, rocking, swaddling, singing, walking, more nursing, you name it. In fact, any time we intervened, we made things worse, probably because we overstimulated the poor kid to the point of no return. There were just some nights where it seemed like he needed to release a little energy before settling down and going to sleep, and crying was how he did that. Is this the case with your kid? I don’t know, but it was for ours. And here he is, 19 months later: totally happy, as healthy as can be, and loved to itty bitty bits. He also sleeps like none other.

Despite my tendency to fret with the best of them, in the end, I trust my gut. I trust my husband’s gut, too. We have good guts, you could say. And we trusted those guts when it came to the issues of sleeping and crying and the relationship between the two. For us, we never set a date saying, “This is the day that we will let him fuss a little.” We followed our son’s cues, watched his behavior, and paid particular attention to how our behavior was affecting him. Then we went with our instincts. Some nights we just knew that we needed to back off a little and give him a minute. That course of action actually embodies what we have discovered to be the most effective approach to parenting our child overall, not only when it comes to sleeping. So now we’re circling back on a point I brought up earlier: Is this the case with your kid?

I can’t sit here and say that the way we did things is The Way. It worked for us, but parents should never, ever (ever, ever, ever) do something just because a person or book or website tells them to. If the advice you get lines up with your instincts, go for it. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t — even if everyone else swears up and down that it will “work.” Talk to your partner, discuss it with your pediatrician if you feel led to, listen to your baby’s cues, be willing to change your approach if needed… and trust your gut. I bet yours are pretty good, too.

Ok, your turn

What are your thoughts about crying it out?

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Patience Salgado

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