Damage (Control) *edited for clarification

Before we started TTC, we hesitated for a long time. For years, actually. Gimli was afraid that once we had children we would never have fun anymore, never have adventures, never explore distant and exotic locations across the globe (which is in part why we’re in the Balkans right now – and he’s in Armenia – it’s in part to prove a point, I think, to himself if not to anybody else). I was afraid that somehow I would incontrovertibly damage my children – for a time I was convinced that if I had kids, they would inevitably commit suicide before they were 21. Because life on earth is that painful.

During that (admittedly dark) time, I wrote this poem:

Marbles

Here is my dark baby son (who might be)

playing with marbles in the dust

of a thousand unlived days.

Dust bunnies scud across the floor

tumbled by the wind from an opening door,

to hide in panic under the bed.

I scry only thick boiling clouds

in the marble rolling endlessly through my mind.

Marbles in my mouth click against my teeth.

In the sky, a marble moon, black and round,

with a fingernail crescent of light

tipped like a shallow bowl

pours – what? – on the cold world

Here are the cracks in the earth,

where silent water has disappeared

into subterranean bunkers,

where the long shafts of engineers

have probed and penetrated,

sucking like the insatiable mosquitos

of parasitic cities.

Clouds scud across an iron sky and hide

my baby boy, kneeling in the dust to play,

rolling his marbles all around

over the swells and hollows of the ground,

marbles rolling out of reach and into cracks,

gone, one by one.  So much to lose.

So much to bruise.

Even in moonlight your eyes are clear,

a cloudless sky where I intently stare,

waiting for an honest portent.

But your focal point is forever shifting,

a reed in uneven winds.

Here is the endless ledger of our indecision.

These are the tumbleweeds under the bed.

These are marbles spilled like water over the earth.

This is the empty moon sinking slowly into the west.

Here is the balance.

It sort of blows my mind, reading that now, and thinking of the face of my beautiful little boy – my son – my joyful, dimpled, happy boy – and how different motherhood feels right now from how I felt about it then.

And yet…

I read this article this morning or last night, I can’t remember now, linked by Doctor Grumbles on FB, and I want to curl up and cry. What have I done to my beautiful boy? Here’s a quote: “… letting babies get distressed is a practice that can damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term. We know now that leaving babies to cry is a good way to make a less intelligent, less healthy but more anxious, uncooperative and alienated person who can pass the same or worse traits on to the next generation.”

When Illyria was 9 months old, we were doing the whole AP nine yards – co-sleeping, breastfeeding on demand, baby-wearing, and she started waking up every 45 minutes at night to nurse. I was losing my mind. I was also leaving her with a babysitter for about 5 hours a day so I could do PhD work – at the time I was preparing for my comprehensive exams. (I don’t know; perhaps these two roles truly are incommensurable – mother and student. Mother and anything else, really. Or maybe it’s because of electricity. Maybe if we truly lived as hunter-gatherers, we would be living in a manner commensurable with our biological hard-wiring. Maybe I and my children would be getting enough sleep.) Anyway, we turned in desperation to CIO. It… sort of worked. It worked temporarily. Travel undid it all, and we went back to co-sleeping until she was almost 2, when we discovered sort of by accident that she would fall asleep on her own and stay asleep all night if and only if she was left to do so alone in her room. She still falls asleep much more easily if she’s by herself.

Any time I’ve tried co-sleeping with Oscar, it’s been disastrous for me. I really only sleep well if Gimli handles all the night parenting. Right now, as he’s out of the country, I’ve been bouncing back and forth between the two children all night and have been getting around 5 hours (not continuous, either) of sleep every night. With the grandparents here, I’ve been able to nap in the mornings while O naps which helps a lot. But still. We are so very, very far from being well-rested.

We’ve let O cry it out probably 5 or 6 times over the course of his life [*What I meant by this was not 5 or 6 isolated occasions, but 5 or 6 times when we’ve implemented a CIO structure for at least a week, until we ended up backsliding after things got better, or he started teething, or we went on a trip, or he got really sick] although I dragged my feet as long as possible in the face of Gimli’s insistence; by the third night he’s usually sleeping better, waking only once or twice. We go and check in on him after 10 minutes or so, 40 minutes at the longest. He is night weaned. But what damage am I doing to my beautiful boy? What have I done?

I just don’t know what to do. I don’t think there is a solution, really. I think that the only thing that would make a difference for us would be to move off the grid and live by the natural cycles of light and darkness, abandon our iPods and laptops, breathe fresh air and listen to the sound of the wind in the trees. But that’s not really an option at this juncture…

I don’t know. What do you think? I really want to know what you all think about this. I’ve read Sears, Weissbluth, Hogg, and Babywise. I’ve skimmed the No Cry Sleep Solution. I’m not really interesting in reading anything more, but I want to know what you personally think – if you have children, what have you done or tried? What do you believe is true about attachment? How did you arrive at that point of view? What has worked for you in practice?

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9 Responses to “Damage (Control) *edited for clarification”

  1. Rachel Says:

    We are deep into AP (while also being a grad student), and even I read that article with horror. It seems to massively overstate any number of points. Sure, a certain degree of attachment is necessary but so is maintaining your own sanity. I am quite sure that my decision to work will benefit my children in the long-run when they have not only a happier mother, but also the chance to go to college with their parents footing the bill. Let alone the fact that most intense AP families I know have much bigger spacing between children because of the cosleeping/extended nursing/being exhausted phenomena, and I really think that my children will benefit from siblings close in age to play with/take some of the school pressure off of them/learn to adapt to this crazy world with. I do AP because it makes it so much easier for me. I love to nurse wherever we are, to reconnect with the baby by cosleeping when I’ve been gone all day at work and then to an evening seminar, but I certainly don’t think it’s the only way to parent.

    As for the “trauma” to children, I really think it depends. And certainly if you are parenting with love during the day, it doesn’t mean that you cannot have a different goal/style at night if that works better for you. We co-slept with my daughter until my son was born, but I am quite sure she sleeps better on her own and would have got more sleep if we’d moved her out of our room sooner. It’s too early to tell for the baby, so he’s still in our room. I think that most of the adults our generation were raised with limited AP (if at all). My mother nursed on demand, but also put us in our own cribs and did CIO by 6 weeks. I know plenty of families who have adopted much older children from orphanages who were truly neglected for years, and they have grown into wonderful, loving children. My husband was not only not even parented by his own parents, but frequently locked home alone/hit/etc and he still has a wonderful relationship with his parents and his children (although I do think he is particularly resilient). I know that anecdote is not the answer to methodoligical studies, I just wanted to say don’t despair, I think that there is a lot more flexibility than that article suggests.

    • Elizabeth Says:

      Rachel, thank you so much for your words and insights – It’s so true that CIO or not is just one piece of a much larger puzzle in terms of attachment and emotional well-being. Nursing on demand and baby-wearing have continued to have a really big place in our parenting. I’m still nursing our 17-mo and I’d like to continue to do so for as long as he wants to! I place a very high premium – perhaps my highest priority as a parent, even – on being in tune with them emotionally throughout the day, being in rhythm and intuiting what’s going on – and I find that of all their caregivers I’m definitely the most in tune with what’s going on with them – so that’s a comfort to me. They seem to have a healthy attachment… my daughter is very sensitive, though, and kind of anti-social so I wonder if she might have an ASD. Which is neither here nor there, just that she does often seem very anxious, uncooperative, and alienated in social situations outside the family (although she’s also really blossomed in the past year or so).

      It bothered me that the article kind of painted in very broad strokes.

  2. Rachel Says:

    I don’t think there is any one right way to parent or raise a child. We have all seen families who did everything exactly the way the experts recommend, whose children end up being messes. We have also seen children become extremely successful and personable people in spite of desperate circumstances. In my own family 6 different children responded 6 different ways to the same parenting. I see a lot of things my parents “did wrong”, a couple of my brothers think my parents were stellar parents.

    I think there can be dangers to CIO, but I don’t think letting your child cry themselves to sleep when all other needs have been met will lead to damaged children later on.

    A newborn must cry in order to get needs met, they have no other option. They cry because they are hungry, cold, tired, scared, getting too much attention, not getting attention, etc. That is the only means they have to let us know they need a change. If from the day you bring them home from the hospital you feed and put them down to rest on your schedule, ignoring their cries, you teach a child that it does not matter what they think, their needs will not be met. I have a friend who has done that with her children thinking that is what Baby Wise teaches (it doesn’t). I think it is disturbing that her 4 month old does not ever cry out when he wakes from a nap and he does not ever cry out when it has been 3 or 4 hours from his last bottle. He has been conditioned that crying doesn’t matter. In fact I have only heard him cry once and I watch him every week.

    I misunderstood CIO when I was a new mom. The first week or two of motherhood were a breeze but about week 3 or 4 I was exhausted and confused. In an effort not to teach him to be a “crybaby” I was ignoring the cries of my son who actually was hungry and it stressed me out. It took a few days but I began to use my instincts and only ignored his cries when I knew all his needs were met. In a very short time I began to know what his needs were and there was much less crying involved. When he was around 5 or 6 months old he had dropped all but one night feeding and I knew he was getting enough food during the day without that feeding. One day out of sheer exhaustion when he woke we did not go to him immediately and he went back to sleep. We quickly learned that he was waking out of habit not because he was hungry. My mom had explained to me that older babies do not wake up just because they are hungry and I didn’t believe her until then. I did a better job with my daughter because I was more experienced. She slept through the night at a younger age but also had fewer night wakings prior to that.

    If you chose to do CIO, it needs to be consistent. If it is sporadic, you do it one night and then not at all for a few nights, you are confusing the child. I also thinks it needs to change over time. I (now) don’t personally think it is appropriate to use until a baby is 5 or 6 months old (even though I made that mistake with my son). Our kids are now 4 and almost 2, if they are struggling to fall asleep at night or wake during the night, we no longer do CIO with them. We know that they can put themselves to sleep so if they are struggling we know something else is wrong and comfort them.

    During the day if my 2 year old is unhappy because of some perceived injustice, we do allow CIO. She is told she may cry but she needs to do it in her room. My son had lots of trouble with tantrums over every little thing and this technique cut way down on them since most of the time it was a plea for attention. It is very effective because the crying is now mostly limited to actual hurts (a stepped on toe, a toy taken unfairly) instead of getting the white socks instead of the blue ones.

    Do I regret attempting CIO on my newborn son? Yes. Do I think he is permanently damaged? No. I made my choice out of love and I did my best with the knowledge I had. When I realized I was not making the right decision I changed. He knows he is loved and I think that ultimately that is the most important thing a child needs.

    So sorry for the book, I just didn’t know how to respond succinctly.

    • Elizabeth Says:

      Rachel, thanks so much for your long response – I do appreciate your insights as I respect you a ton! With the CIO that we’ve done, I know we’ve not been as consistent as we ought to be – part of that is that I don’t think my husband really appreciates how important that consistency is, and his approach to things tends to be more experimental – let’s try THIS! Oh, that didn’t work – let’s try something else! I like Moxie’s rule, whenever you change something in how you’re putting kids to sleep, do it for a week the same way before you try something else. You have to give it a chance to work. So usually when I do something new with sleep training I wait until Gimli is away on a trip and start it then. The problem there is support – I rely on his help for survival which means that I have to let go of some of the control while he’s here. On the other hand, when he’s away I have control but I don’t have the help.

      Another thing that has kept us from being truly consistent is how much teething bothers Oz. Way more than it did his sister. His teeth take much much longer to emerge and seem to hurt a lot more – he is miserable for like a month with EACH TOOTH. So then we end up soothing him a lot more.

      So it’s like we’ll be doing really well for 3-4 weeks and then either sickness, travel, or teething will derail us and then a couple months later we’ll be back in the same boat of waking every 1.5-2 hours through the night and will re-initiate CIO.

      This sleep thing has been by far the hardest thing about parenting for me – it’s my evil dragon-beast with 1,000 heads.

    • Elizabeth Says:

      Thanks also for mentioning using your instincts and common sense. I think I often don’t trust my instincts because I’m so fixated on doing things “right” by some external measure, but there are so many different and conflicting measures that I get all tied up in knots.

      You said something once on your blog about how you liked the phrase “parenting philosophy” that I had put in the comment box – I come back to that in my mind often, as I am still trying to figure out what my parenting philosophy IS! Maybe if I tried to write it out I’d see that I do indeed have one, and would have more clarity instead of being pulled every which way by what all the different experts have to say.

  3. Rachel Says:

    I was laying in bed this morning thinking about this when I remembered an important piece of information. My son was colicky (how did I forget?). He cried whether being held, rocked, walked, swaddled, etc. It is a little easier mentally to do CIO on a baby that has screamed for 2 hours straight despite your best efforts to calm him down.

  4. docgrumbles Says:

    I am beginning to regret linking to that article after the questions I have gotten from some other FB friends. I knew it was poorly done ion some ways (Hello! Infants do cry and never crying is a ridiculous goal AND I had a colic queen who cried for 3 months straight, sometimes the crying just cannot be stopped). I posted the article in reaction to CIO extremists (some in my family or social circle) who think all holding, soothing, rocking, etc. is a road to “spoiling.” A few of my students with kids also voice such a view when I teach about early childhood development. Being exposed to such extremists, I have come to grasp for any and all evidence against letting babies cry. That being said, babies will cry.

    Mine cry… A LOT! I think I am a wanna attachment parent, but going the whole Dr. Sears-style route is impractical for me and, in the case of JAG’s temperament, potentially frustrating for mother and baby. Taking the babies out of our room was WONDERFUL for us… because they starting sleeping more, not because we could ignore them better (which sadly, I am afraid some CIO hardcore folks do). Babywearing was essential for JAG, but actively rejected by Banana Slug. Breastfeeding… well, I never could make enough to meet demand, no matter who determined I was to do it “right.” Both babies were half-bottle, half-breast.

    I do not think any one approach is right for all or even most babies.

    The extremes do bother me. To hardcore APs, I am a cold distant mother. To hardcore anti-“spoiling” types around my community, I am a crunchy coddling mother.

    I think parents should do what they can to prevent crying, WITHIN REASON. Most CIO books, to my knowledge, so say to go in an check on the infant if they do not calm down.

    I also think we all have mommy guilt about something. I beat myself up over not being able to breastfeed fully or for longer. When Banana Slug gets ear infections, I blame my failure to BF and his exposure to germs at day care that he has to go to because I choose to work full time.

    • Elizabeth Says:

      DG, thank you so much for this long response – I can see better where you’re coming from and why you posted the article. My sister is an AP extremist – seriously, it’s her new religion and she’s quite rigid about it – so I tend to feel that if I do anything short of that, it’s harmful to my babies. But like you say, it’s impractical in many situations and not by any means the only way to parent.

      Thank you for your measured point of view 🙂

  5. tara Says:

    i saw that link on a student’s facebook page. while I liked what DG did- an article that says CIO may not be the ‘fix-all’ solution that many say it is. I was struck by how it imitated scholarly work (citations of real papers!) while doing subpar summaries heavily peppered with agenda. you know that i err on the side of AP but I also believe that crying is unavoidable. In practice, I’ve never found crying to be an effective way for a child to go back to sleep… but maybe I lack commitment.

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