Friday, June 4, 2010

Different Strokes (Or Why I Hate Crying It Out)

When you're encased in your happy little attachment parenting bubble, it's easy to forget how differently some other babies experience their first few years. So I have to admit that I was shocked when I spent the weekend with a family who err on the stricter side of things. My thoughts on this are all in a bit of a jumble, but I wanted to get my reactions down while they're raw. These are my opinions - they may be right or wrong, but they are mine.

First of all there is the discipline issue. This other family seemed to be overwhelmingly negative in their approach to discipline. If their baby girl (just over 1 year old) did something unwanted, like put something in her mouth, their first strategy was to say "No". If that didn't work (and of course it didn't because she was only just 1) then they punished her by removing her from the place of interest or picked her up so she couldn't do anything. There was no attempt to interest her in a safer or more desirable activity - it was just "No, that's it, no more fun". To me it just seemed so joyless.

Our family's approach to discipline is to first consider whether the activity really is undesirable. For example, should I really tell my daughter off for digging in the flowerbeds? Should I accept that she's copying me and learning? Should I direct her to a bit of the garden where I don't mind her digging? If something is unsafe or I really don't want her doing it then I say "No" and direct her to an alternative activity. I am not one of these parents who refuses to tell their children off, but I just think we need to give them a bit of space to explore and learn in their own way. That's just my opinion and it fits with my personality and upbringing. Different people do things different ways.

The thing that really shocked me was the crying it out. There I was, trying to nurse Cave Baby to sleep, while across the hall this other child was screaming her lungs out trying to get her mum to come and comfort her. I fucking hate crying it out. What's so bad about giving the baby a quick cuddle and sitting with it while it dozes off? The particular parents in question are not totally insensitive bastards and they did eventually relent, at which point the baby went to sleep quietly, easily and calmly. But I could not understand why they were so reluctant to sit with it in the first place. How have several generations of parents been persuaded that they should forget all their instincts and ignore their quite plainly desperate babies?

Don't get into the whole "I was at my wits end and I was about to break down and so I left him to cry" business. I understand that, and I understand that sometimes you just have to shut the door and take a deep breath. What I despise is systematic, repeated crying it out. It's not necessary. It stresses babies. Done frequently, it could harm their mental health as children and adults. Why are we, as a society, so afraid of admitting this? We are afraid to say out loud that formula feeding kills babies and we are similarly petrified of saying that crying it out harms babies' brains.

There, I said it. I put my cards on the table. I fucking despise crying it out. It troubles me more than any other parenting issue. I was almost crying myself when I had to listen to that baby's pleas. As my lovely partner himself said, "That baby is such a free spirit, I hope they don't damage her".

I know there are many people out there who are going to disagree with me. But this is what I think. If you are interested in this issue, I would suggest reading "Why Love Matters" by Sue Gerhardt. In the meantime, do tell me what you think about discipline and sleep training.


Rosie said...

Crying it out goes against my instincts as a mum but I seem to be on my own round here. I cuddle my babe to sleep every night and even my partner has started to hint that it might not be such a good idea. HVs, friends and random mums that I chat to all seem to think it's the Best Way and so I once, stupidly, left her to cry. The result? She was bawling, I was bawling and bedtime was delayed by about two hours as I nursed, cuddled and rocked her back to calmness. Contrast that to our normal evenings where the babe is quickly and calmly cuddled to sleep and I get a quiet evening to myself.

Cave Mother said...

Keep the faith, Rosie. As you say, if your baby goes to sleep quickly and calmly then what's the problem?

Anonymous said...

The whole crying it out thing is just torturous to me - absolutely torturous! I can imagine how difficult it was to have to listen to it happening and be unable to wave a magic wand so that those parents could suddenly have their hearts and minds opened - must have been heartbreaking :(

MamaEm said...

I'm with you. To think that when crying it out works, the child is really just learning that mom won't respond, is heartbreaking. I want my children to know that I will always be there for them, 24/7. I could go on and on, but you know. Hope you saw this weekend as reinforcing your own parenting decisions!

Olivia said...

I'm with you on systemic CIO. Sometimes my baby is left crying because I am in need of getting something done, like using the restroom, but for sleep? Hell no.

Discipline is tricky for me. My first reaction is usually to say no, but I try to follow up with redirecting her. And I try very hard to remember she is just curious about everything and not willfully misbehaving.

Last night my husband and I had a great example of needing to slow down to understand our daughter's behavior. He was getting frustrated because she was throwing her snack, a mix of cereal and fish crackers, on the floor. But when I watched closely, I could see she was after the fish crackers. She was throwing them out of the bowl to seperate the items. Really pretty smart for a one year old!

We got her a bowl of only crackers and no more food was thrown.

Lauren said...

This is my big issue too. I can't STAND CIO, and I usually swear about it too :( Makes me give my LO an extra hug every time I hear a CIO story.

Lisa C said...

I believe anything that teaches us not to follow our intuition is a false teaching. This would include crying it out. From my own observations, mothers who use this technique, in general, seem to be less sensitive toward their children in the daytime, too. I don't think it is their nature to be insensitive, but rather that regularly ignoring their instinct to comfort their child causes them to be less in touch with their child. I hope that doesn't sound judgmental, but that's my theory. You have to heed your intuition in order to keep it strong.

My biggest issue with parenting, aside from not listening to one's intuition, is when a parent doesn't hold their child enough. Crying it out fits right into this. The parent is refusing to hold their child. Touch is very comforting and stimulating in a good way, and nothing can replace it. To deny a child your loving touch is to deny them something that is essential for their proper development.

And who says those CIO babies are actually asleep in there? They've learned that nobody is coming, but that doesn't mean they just go to sleep. They might just be staring into the dark, terrified, not knowing what to do. I've done plenty of babysitting in my day, with babies who were made to cry it out, and I would check on them, and sometimes they'd be wide awake, just laying there in the dark.

Bullajabbar said...

I totally agree with being against "crying it out". I would never leave the Sprout with his British grandparents for a late night visit because they would totally let him "cry it out". I am glad my mom isn't that way, too bad we live in the UK.

Cave Mother said...

I totally get what Deb the Turtle said about waving a magic wand and making the parents understand what they were doing. That's exactly what I wanted to do.

Pickle said...

I love the way you write. The way this reads is exactly how I feel sometimes. It's like I could just scream I hate cry it out sometimes.
going with what Lisa said, whos to know if they are actually 'sleeping through the night' maybe they are crying buttheir parents aren't hearing their cries.
I also like to wanna say too... If your husband saw that you were upset and couldn't sleep, wouldn't you be pretty upset if he left you in a room to cry to sleep? Most people think that is ridiculious, then why do we do it to our kids?

carol b said...

I couldn't agree with you more...And what really makes me angry is the attitude of health visitors on this matter, so often recommending harsher methods for sleep 'problems'.

When oh when are books like "Why love Matters" going to get the wider audience they deserve? HV's should be suggesting these books to new parents and helping change society's attitude.

I feel for you in this situation I've experienced it myself too and ended up reduced to tears myself.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you.

Earthenwitch said...

I'm with you too; the small girl is just two, and we still feel that CIO and CC are just things we're not happy to do - as you say, it's damaging, and I wouldn't want to risk her trust in us, particularly as there are other, more natural-seeming-to-me ways to encourage sleep.

Amanda said...

Crying it out = tortured baby, tortured mama/papa, tortured neighbors.

Crying it out = royal waste of time.

lisa.debbage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa said...

I agree, its a sad, sad thing that it seems to be the answer these days to every sleep related issue....I even got a email from pampers, of all people, advising me to do this for 35mins :-0 if my child didn't sleep disgusting if u ask me, i emailed them back to complain...

Jessica said...

I agree 100%. It's amazing how much our world has changed with the advent of the belief that babies are manipulating us. It can be applied to just about anything and its effects are all negative: Baby isn't exploring the garden, she's being headstrong and not listening. Baby isn't really scared, she's just spoiled.

With a 2 1/2 year old I've had to start thinking about the way in which I'm giving direction. Instead of, "If you don't stop squirting the cat, I'm going to take the water bottle away" I try to say instead, "You can keep the water bottle if the kitty stays dry." I'm surprised at how easily the negative statement comes to my lips. But I'm working on it!

And even now my son doesn't CIO. I couldn't live with myself if I ignored his needs. Plain and simple.

Keda said...

Different strokes, like you said. Personally I can't understand why people use the CIO system... No. I lie. I do know. It's because we believe baby should be in a routine and a routine is nice because our lives are then plannable. Although we never used the COI system (or any other system - first thing I learned was that the best laid plans all go to waste once little one is there), our child fell into her very own routine from the word get go and today this routine is hers, but we are able to use it for ourselves as well. We never forced her, or anything.

It's personal and personally, my heart breaks when I hear a child left alone to cry, or a child scolded for trying to find out how the world works. We have also had the NO! moments, but that's when face with her safety rather than her desire to throw food on the floor to find out what sound it makes.

Leela's Mum said...

I'm in total agreement too. A good friend of mine lets her children cry it out and whenever I visit her it breaks my heart, but feel unable to speak to her about it. Isn't that sad?... She is always very quick to explain and justify her overly strict parenting methods ('they'll be spoilt', 'I need adult time in the evenings so they have no choice about going to bed').
What's worse is that recently she has started tying the bedroom doors closed so that now her young children not only scream themselves to sleep... but they are trapped in their rooms too. It kills me inside.
She has never understood my style of parenting and is so shocked that my 18 month old still sleeps with me and breastfeeds. For me, I have barely had a single sleepless night because I nurse her to sleep and give her plenty of cuddles at night. I guess I could consider myself lucky that my little one sleeps well, but something tells me that it must be to do with how we co-sleep. The ease with which I sleep with my little one has got to be better than all the nighttime 'battles' that my friend experiences...

Thag said...

I have a 21 month old daughter. She nurses and sleeps with us. My husbands' relatives try to understand, but they are subltly verbal about this disagreement. All their grown children have anxiety problems.

In 21 months, I have never gone without a full night's sleep. For the first few months, I felt like I had to lie when people asked the inevitable question, "How are you sleeping?" They seemed to want to hear how bad it was. But we were sleeping--all of us.

My child has never once cried to sleep. At 15 months, because she was in our bed, I was able to slowly, but calmly, help her learn to sleep without my breast in her mouth.

I feel like those facts speak for themselves.

My sister's husband who is from Mexico was incredulous when she brought home a crib. "What's that for? The baby is going to sleep with us." He had never seen a baby sleep on its own. It seemed cruel and unnatural to him. And indeed, their child ended up in their bed. They all sleep great. The crib is home to the baby's stuffed animals.

mama p. said...

I totally agree, I can see a bit difference between myself and some other mums I know

I felt quite pressured to go down the 'cry it out' path
Most mum chums made out that their babies slept like angels and were shocked that I was feeding/cuddling my bubs to sleep
One sleep depraved month, I attempted it once. I burst into tears 5 minutes in, swept him up and didn't put him down for hours
He was really distressed and I felt like an awful mother
It all felt completely against my instinct and what we'd been used to
I've since discovered that the 'cry it out' mums are still having to leave their babes to cry themselves to sleep for at least 10 minutes every nap and night

In the end my little t sorted his bad sleeping out himself
Now we do a feed then a cuddle on the sofa/in his room til he's almost asleep, then he's popped in the cot, he slowly drops off without a fuss
I find that if he stands up and cries then he's not tired enough to sleep and I either let him 'play it out' or we cuddle longer

Steven said...

I'm not sure if it is available in the UK, but I'm a big fan of "Unconditional Parenting" by Alfie Kohn.

A lot of the way parents treat their children is related to the perception that the child is primarily a problem. Here's how to control the sleep problem. Here's how to make your kid want to obey you.

But where's the long-term thinking? Where are the concerns about how their behavior will impact the child after the child moves out of the home?

How many parents manage to make their kid "well behaved" only to find that after they put their child through college (with a nice degree in something "agreeable") their child is listless, unhappy, and has no idea what they want to do with their life? Then these same parents become unhappy when the kid doesn't particularly want a job using the expensive degree.

It is possible to make all the important decisions for your child and to raise the child in a way they will accept your choices. It doesn't lead to happy adults, though. It leads to a lot of expensive therapy.

It isn't different strokes so much as it is emotional abuse.

Hyman said...

I hate crying it out too!

I never was aware of anything "baby" pre-mommy-me ... but now I am. Thankfully, I have not encountered this situation. Or else you might find me comforting the baby. LOL. Yes, your baby is quiet now. Stay in your room .... :)

My son shares our bed with my husband and I. He has since birth and ... I cannot imagine ever leaving him to cry and not comforting him.

I slightly remember a time when my son (he's 6 months old now) would cry and even though he was in my arms, me trying to figure out every possible thing to do to soothe him and see why he is crying .... would not stop the crying. He was in my arms though, safely crying.

Now if he cries I can stop a cry in a matter of seconds just by comforting him in my arms. I think he learned to trust that he is safe and secure in my arms. and other times maybe he needs to let his emotions out. Either way... never alone.

I agree with you. How sad. :(

I'm not afraid to say out loud that CIO is wrong and harmful.

Lily said...

Hi, just came across your blog and so agree with your perspective on crying it out. I don't know for certain how stressful it must be for a baby but I sure as hell know that it's far too stressful for me to leave *anyone* crying! Hey, I can't even ignore my cat's crying without getting tense and itching to help!