Doing The “Right” Thing Is Never Easy

by Joni on November 5, 2009

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Baby knows best. Really. They are perhaps not scholars just yet but they do know what they need better than any of us and well, we should listen to them . . . and if we did they would probably say . . . that doing the “right” thing is never easy.

Like when you were a kid and were forced to apologize and admit error–it was the “right” thing to do, but it was so hard to say that you were wrong. Or, choosing to skip a party in order to study instead of cheating on a final exam in high school. Studying was hard work, but it was “right,” right?

I’ve come to the conclusion, or even grand epiphany perhaps, that doing the “right” thing as a parent is also not the easier choice. I came to this conclusion after struggling once again following sleepless nights and clingy days with the attachment parenting philosophy that we have adopted as parents. The attachment parenting tenets are simple really and were so appealing to us initially because they essentially support the beliefs that we already held about parenting. To us, AP Principles¬† just seem like no-brainers: go to your child when he cries–he needs you, breastfeed your baby–it’s food that’s literally made for him, sleep with your child–because you are a parent at night too, use positive discipline to teach your child–negativity punishes, hold and wear your baby–it fosters bonding and security, etc.

Even rereading these as I type them, I find myself nodding in agreement–unable to imagine parenting any other way. But problems arise for this gentle parenting scenario not from any inherent flaws in a plan that seeks to parent gently and respectfully, but from other parents who have found an “easier” way. See, this kind of parenting requires a mom and dad who are fully committed to sacrificing much of their own needs for that of their baby’s. In other words, it takes dedication and patience–a lot, a lot of patience–and a great deal of self-sacrifice.

I am specifically talking about the issue of nighttime sleeping. Fewer issues get as much airtime during playdates, mommy groups, or any other gathering of moms and babies–it’s simply at the heart of every discussion. Exhausted, delirious and desperate mommies eagerly compare notes and exchange sleep tricks in search of something that will help them get more sleep. And, no matter how you try and spin it or how much you try to avoid the inevitable final conclusion, the sleep issue comes down to two dismal options: “sleep training” your baby, or not.

Sleep training methods vary greatly from one to another, but the one thing that they all have in common is that they all include some degree of crying. I have written much about my feelings as they pertain to “crying it out” and though the first was many sleepless months ago, I still do have a problem with my baby crying–yes, I’ve said it, I do not let my baby cry without intervening in an effort to alleviate the cause whatever that cause may be. Why? Because I believe that my son is communicating with us when he is crying–I do not believe that babies cry just to cry, in other words. Sometime this communication may be asking for basic needs to be met and other times it may just be a way to ask for a hug, a cuddle, or a kiss. But, you see, one does not surpass the other in importance for me. My baby’s need to be touched is just as importance as his need to be fed or changed. I will respond in either case and at any time. And that is where myself and my husband diverge from the parents who try to sell us the success of sleep training and tout the amount of sleep that it has brought them. But, at what cost, I want to ask them.

I believe family bed advocates when they claim that co-sleeping raises independent, confident and secure children–I also believe that leaving your baby to fend for them self during these times of nighttime need may produce children who are more dependent, anxious and insecure. I also know that these one or two or three years dealing with his sleeplessness as a baby is small in scale when compared to the number of years that we won’t have to. I will be old and he will no longer by my baby–I will look back on these years with a tender heart yearning for the moments when I was able to hold him in my arms to return.

I do, however, from time to time grow weak–very weak. I do whine and fuss and complain about exhaustion and the need for a moment to myself. During these times I do momentarily wonder if we should not also “train” Noah to self soothe, to sleep alone, to quiet his need for love, comfort and affection just because it is the moon, not the sun, that has risen above the horizon. Those parents are convincing and proud. They’re confident and I suppose, maybe even some look rested.

But, then I give it a second thought. I listen to my heart and am reminded of why I have chosen the more challenging path. When I grow weak and weary, I turn a listening ear to my instinct, my mama gut–and find that I know deep down in my heart that parenting this way, for me, is the “right” way to parent. And, like all things that are “right” it is most certainly the more difficult choice–it may continue to be for a while still to come. But . . . doing the “right” thing is never easy, right?

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Joni (5 Posts)

Joni is a first time mommy (with another on the way), former teacher and lover of all things writing and cooking. She enthusiastically blogs about the pleasures and perils of natural mommying and wholesome organic cooking for your little family of foodies over at: www.mamamilieu.blogspot.com and www.feedinglittlefoodies.blogspot.com.


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

tjwriter November 5, 2009 at 12:37 pm

My three year old still ends up in our bed many nights, and I don’t really mind. My heart tells me that this is what she needs and I do it. I’ve gotten grief over it and the state of Indiana has these PSA commercials that use dramatic tactics to say sleep sharing is dangerous. Of course it is if you practice unsafe habits. Many things in our lives are.

In a humorous twist, I was all prepared to sleep with our second child (thank goodness for king-sized beds) and we did the bed/bassinet thing for the first three months. After that, she decided that she liked sleeping in her crib with her puppy blanket and her music. And if you could keep the light far, far away that would be great, too.

Whatever works. She is her mother made over and enjoys her personal space. I have memories of making my own parents shove a blanket under the bedroom door because the crack was letting a little light in and it wasn’t pitch black.

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Lara November 5, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Wow, tjwriter, I am so sad to hear about those PSAs! What a shame.

My two-year-old is still always welcome in our bed and she knows it. And while she sleeps in her own room most of the time, she ends up plastered right up against me several nights a month, breathing into my face and with an elbow jammed into my side. I don’t sleep much those nights (and I’m pregnant, so I feel it the next day for sure!) but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t imagine denying her that closeness if it’s what she needs and wants.

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ali November 5, 2009 at 8:24 pm

words taken right out of my mouth—except for the “being forced to apologize is the ‘right’ thing to do” part. i am very opposed to telling kids, “now say you’re sorry!” Because i dont believe in teaching kids to BS their way through contentious situations! recognizing mistakes, yes. forced/insincere apologies – no way!

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Maria November 5, 2009 at 11:36 pm

I agree that cry it out is a very poor choice that leads to negative outcomes. However, I have found that you can use gentle, no-cry techniques to get your baby to sleep longer. The No Cry Sleep Solution (one for babies, one for toddlers) is great. For us, we make sure our daughter is full before bed (offering a healthy snack 30 minutes before bed), making sure the room is completely dark (using tinfoil on the windows behind the curtains), playing a CD of white noise all night, and making sure she was warm enough. These were the magic 4 changes for us that led to dramatically longer sleep for our daughter (now 2 years old).

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Eric November 8, 2009 at 9:48 pm

The sleep issue never has an easy answer. Best to find the right answer for you and your child, which it sounds like you have.

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Cave Mother November 9, 2009 at 3:32 pm

I agree with what you write, and I share your sleepless night induced pain. It can be hard to maintain your belief that you are doing the right thing when so many people do it so differently.

I do believe I am doing the best by my daughter, and I would feel I was cheating her out of love if I made her “cry it out”, or even if I denied her the comfort of my presence at night. When my resolution wavers I find it helpful to surround myself with similarly-minded people.

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m a m a :: m i l i e u November 9, 2009 at 9:22 pm

Thanks Mamas and Papas for the kind and encouraging words. It is nice to find peers on this subject.

Maria, we purchased and read Pantley’s “No Cry Sleep Solution” and it did not work for us. We have not found any non “crying it out” method successful. We have just recently accepted our fate and are finding ways to cope with the situation as it stands: work together as a team during nighttime wake ups, rotate allowing one another to sleep in, etc. until it passes.

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