We used to indulge our older child’s sleep quirks, which meant sometimes up to an hour of rocking her to sleep. But when we had our second baby, shit got real, fast.
We went right to the experts of the latest trend, who everyone recommended – well known and well regarded authors of a book and a company that advertises a no cry method for getting your baby to sleep and stay asleep, through the whole night. But when we sat down with said-experts, we found out it’s about getting your child to sleep…by letting them, essentially, cry it out. You can go into their rooms after 5 or 10 minutes of crying, but you can’t pick them up, you can only say, simply, “We love you, go to sleep, it’s okay.” And then you have to leave the room again. Brutal.
My husband doesn’t help at all in this department. In fact, he hurts the movement. “I just don’t want her to think we’re abandoning her,” he says. He makes it sound like we’ll be leaving her at a train station with nothing more than a blanket and a bottle, or tying her up in the backyard, her crying like a dog barking until the neighbors call the police and tell us to bring her inside.
I remind my husband that we’re not neglecting her, we’re leaving her in a perfectly quilted safe place, a throne practically, so that she sleeps, which we all need. This teaches her to self-comfort, a valuable quality in life. Even though I’m only half-sure myself, I hope that by trying to convince him I will fully convince myself.
I was raised in a house where, I can safely assume, my mother came and got me every time I cried. I can’t recall that far back, of course, but it seems about right. My parents were overprotective, but their hearts were in the right places. (Sure, they broke up with my high school boyfriend “for” me – read: against my will and not to my knowledge – because they didn’t like the fact that we’d had a small tiff earlier that day over lunch, which I had made the mistake of telling them about over dinner.)
Ultimately, their overprotection and fierce love didn’t do me any favors, especially once I was an adult. Everything, every little loss or failure or rejection, shattered me.
My husband, on the other hand, sees us letting our daughter cry as abandonment or neglect. Eventually, my husband agreed we should give the No Cry Sleep Method Which Totally Involves Crying a try. All he asked was that I start it on a night he had to work late. Translation: “Do it while I’m gone.”
I nodded. Though I would have loved some support throughout the process, I knew he couldn’t handle this.
And now, the night has arrived. He is working late. I put the newborn down to bed, and then take our older daughter to her crib.
7:30pm – I hand her her animal friends one by one as she asks for them. “Doggie?” “Meow?” “Bear?” She carefully places each in different corners of the crib, then points to them, counts them 1-2-3, taking a census. Poor thing has no idea what’s coming. “Up!” she asks, reaching for me. This is the point where, once her animals are all placed, she gets rocked to sleep in my arms. I feel a pang in my chest. I want to grab her and forget about this stupid hacky method. “Up!!” she says again.
7:32pm – I follow the method to the letter. Thank God they have written me a script because I am frozen in her stare, the longing in her eyes.
“Okay, sweetheart,” I say. “Now it’s time to go to sleep. I will be right here. We love you so much and you have everything you need.”
I dim her lights, leave the room, then shut the door.
She screams. She screams so loud I worry that she will wake her sister, that windows will break, that it will set off our security system. This will not do. I immediately break the rule and peek my head in, repeating from the script: “Everything’s okay, sweetie. You have everything you need. I love you.” I retreat to the master bedroom to wait out the storm.
7:35pm – I am the worst mother ever. What kind of person lets her kid cry like this? A sadist, clearly. A blackhearted, soulless, hateful sadist.
I watch my baby on the video monitor. She’s jumping up and down in her crib. She alternates between screaming and crying. The cry kills me. It’s a heartbroken cry. A full-body cry. My goal as a parent was to raise kids who’d never cry like this, yet here I am, witnessing it and not doing anything to make it better?
7:38pm – This is the opposite of Attachment Parenting. This is Abandonment Parenting. Sidenote: the actress who played Blossom is totally going to breastfeed her kids all the way through puberty, isn’t she.
7:40pm – The crying has slowed but she’s still standing in her crib. She calls out to everyone she knows – appealing to anyone who might help her. First, to her newborn sister, then Daddy, then the dog. Then she moves on to each of the grandparents, the little boy who lives next door, our cleaning lady. Even the contractor she met all of once makes the list.. Everyone but me, the evil meanie who put her in this dungeon in the first place. I suddenly become wistful, find myself longing for the days when I’d rock her to sleep or rest her on my chest, our breathing in sync. She will only be this young once, I start to reason. Eventually she’ll work out her sleep issues but now, I think I need to stop this. She is my first born, it took so long to have her, and it’s inhumane to put her through such trauma. Someday, she’ll be a teenager who won’t let me hold her hand in public. Now is the time for cuddles. To hell with these “No Cry” maniacs. I get up and look at the monitor, about to turn it off.
7:43pm – She has stopped crying. She’s still standing there, but she’s silent. It’s the moment when she realizes no one is coming for her. She has a choice: she can keep crying or she can surrender, to our will, to sleep, She stands there, in the center of her crib, mulling the options. Then, she turns around and looks directly at the video camera, directly at me. She lets out one more howl, as if to say ‘you win this round, but not the next.’ And instantly she hunkers down, butt in the air, a ladybug on a tree stump.
She’s like me in so many ways it scares me. She’s stubborn, willful, won’t take no for an answer, a fighter, born with clenched fists. And also like me, she fights sleep until the last second, then as soon as she drifts off, she tucks her hands under her cheek like a pillow, lets out the most delicious contented sigh. It takes everything in me not to tiptoe into her room and quietly climb into her crib with her.
7:51pm – Am I going to do it again tomorrow? I don’t know. I don’t care. Exhausted, I, too, surrender to sleep.