I tried something new with Dominic on Friday – a little bit of tough love. Here is how that went:
Dominic wakes up from his afternoon nap after only thirty minutes of sleep.
I decide that he is still tired and that he needs to go back sleep. He doesn’t look like he stands a hope of doing that in his crib so I pick him up (can’t you already see how tough this love was?), bring him into the bedroom, lay him on the bed so that he can see me sitting at the desk, and tell him (nicely) to go back to sleep.
Dominic starts to yirp (this particular sound most closely resembles the offspring of a chirp and a yowl) in a way that let’s me know that he thinks this is not the best idea I’ve ever had.
I pet him and reinsert the pacifier (and reinsert the pacifier and reinsert the pacifier and reinsert the pacifier… repeat times 100).
Dominic starts to get increasingly upset.
I determine that now is as good a time as any to let him try to cry it out. I lie down right beside him on the bed, stroke his cheek (again, how tough is this love?), and decide that I will let him cry for five minutes before I pick him up…
I lasted for four.
And in that four minutes Dominic had worked himself up into such a shrieking, thrashing, red-faced, sweating, howling screaming mess that it took him 29 more minutes of holding and walking and soothing (29!!!) for him to calm down enough to suck on his favorite object in the world – the one that delivers milk unto him. Every time I tried to offer him a nipple before that magical twenty ninth minute he would take one brief suck, throw back his head, and scream with renewed vigor. He didn’t glare at me, but that’s only because his eyes were firmly screwed shut in order to allow him to better concentrate on broadcasting his sadness and rage as loudly as possible.
“JULIUS CAESAR HAD NOTHING ON THIS!!!” he seemed to be howling. “YOU DID NOT PICK ME UP THE INSTANT I LET IT BE KNOWN THAT WAS WHAT MY LITTLE HEART DESIRED. THIS IS TRUE BETRAYAL! THIS IS TRUE PAIN! THERE IS NO ONE IN THIS WHOLE SAD, BAD, WORLD WHO LOVES ME! NOOOOOOO OOOOONNNNNEEEEE!”
You would have thought that I covered him in honey, staked him out under a tropical sun and left him for the ants to find (stay tuned for Tough Love Take Five).
It’s a little funny now but it wasn’t at all funny on Friday. No matter how objectively ridiculous you think your baby is being, there’s no humour in watching them cry so hard for so long. I’ve only seen Dominic do that once or twice before, and then only ever because he was in physical pain.
Finding myself over the last couple of months unable to bear the prospect of leaving my child to cry himself to sleep has surprised me. I honestly thought he’d be sleeping in his own room within two weeks of birth and that we’d be putting him to bed alone and letting him howl himself to sleep on a nightly basis by now. Yet here I am still happily placing him in a travel cot beside my bed every night, holding him to sleep on those nights (about 30% of the time) that he doesn’t drift off without fussing, reaching down when he stirs and whimpers at 2AM to hand him back his dummy, getting up at 5AM to feed him well before he gets to the actively crying stage.
This issue of how to “best” help children sleep can be a contentious one in parenting circles. Emma Tom summarizes this well in The Australian:
“Like the other great baby debates of our time… controlled crying attracts extreme detractors and supporters whose polarised views leave little room for a sensible, midground approach. Critics claim these sorts of sleep regimes break babies’ spirits and cause irreparable long-term damage. Hardline advocates, on the other hand, have the disturbing habit of framing babies as deliberately manipulative, saying tough love is necessary to get the better of the calculating little buggers.”
I know the day may come when I decide that I want or need to be slightly less responsive to Dominic’s every cheep, but after yesterday’s performance I’m dreading that day. There was nothing controlled about Friday’s misery extravaganza. I don’t think he would have stopped without comforting before he screamed himself into a hoarse and desolate sort of exhausted.
So, parents, I’m interested in hearing about your approach to getting your kids to sleep. I’m not particularly interested in hearing your advice on the subject (no “shoulds” on this topic, please) but I am very interested in hearing your stories. What worked for your kids when they were young babies? What works now?