Tonight my almost 2-year-old toddler cried herself to sleep.
Well, cried doesn’t really cover it. She screamed and banged on the door and yelled at the injustice of being sent to bed.
OPEN. THE. DOOR!
OPEN. THE. DOOOOOOR!
For weeks I’ve regressed to laying patiently (or not so patiently) while she diddled around for an hour or more after bedtime (GO THE F TO SLEEP), until she finally acquiesced to curl up on her pillow with Bear and close her eyes. At which point I would continue to lay there, frozen by the fear of waking her up and having to repeat the process all over again. Finally, with the stealth of a desperate, sleep deprived ninja, I would creep from her room, praying that she would stay asleep for at least a few hours.
How did it come to this?!
The First Time We Had to Cry It Out
For months Little Bit has been a wonderful sleeper. Bath, jammies, nursery rhymes, kisses, books, and bed. She would flop on her pillow, clutching Bear, and pop her thumb in her mouth, pausing only long enough to magnanimously declare “Mommy OUT.” And then she would sleep through the night.
We’ve been extremely lucky, I know!
But right now I’m having flashbacks to the night I decided my sanity wouldn’t survive the pacifier. Sitting by her swing, still as a statue, ready for the moment that sucker popped out of her little mouth. Grabbing it up and maneuvering it back into the moving target that was her mouth before she roused enough to start bawling again. Then sitting and waiting again, until the moment I could tell that she was too deeply asleep to notice if the pacifier was gone.
Then one night I had enough. As I stared at the discarded pacifier in my hand, something inside me cracked. I dropped the pacifier and walked out of the room, numbness washing over me as my 4-month-old baby screamed. It lasted for less than 20 long, torturous minutes, and then she was quiet.
And yes, I did have to go check and make sure she was still breathing.
That (obviously) wasn’t our last round of sleep training, and I doubt this one will be either.
It Turns Out Sleep Training Is Never “Done”
That’s something none of the sleep gurus ever really seem to mention. The fact that sleep training of any kind isn’t a one-and-done deal. Every time something throws your kid’s sleep routine off, you get to do it all over again.
And I do mean anything. Teething, full moons, travel, daylight savings time, mysterious sleep regressions, learning new skills, too much day sleep, not enough day sleep, room gets too hot, socks came off… You get my point, right?
The sleep training gurus just call it consistency.
And they always say it in a way that hides the fact that you will, once again, have to listen to your child scream and cry. That you will, without doubt, feel your heart squeezing painfully with the weight of your child’s despair. And that you will, inevitably, face the wrath and judgment of sanctimommies everywhere, for allowing your child to suffer.
Oh, that’s why you co-slept for 23 years? I’m glad it worked for you. I hate sharing a bed with anyone but my cat, who seems to understand my introvert ways. Nighttime is when I get to unwind and be wonderfully, magically alone. So co-sleeping has never been a viable option for me.
Plus, my kid won’t sleep in my bed. She lays there and talks and sings and pokes me if I try to fall asleep (Wake UP, Mommy! Wake UP wake UP wake UP!), and does pretty much anything but sleep.
And as for all the no-cry-sleep-solution parents out there… You have about a zillion times more patience than I do. And probably a much less stubborn child. Count your blessings.
I’m prone to offensive hyperbole. I am not trying to say that co-sleeping or using a (supposedly) no-cry sleep training method makes you a sanctimommy. Being an asshat toward those who do differently, on the other hand, absolutely does.
It’s Okay to Cry It Out
I’m writing this for one reason: To remind anyone out there who is nearing the end of their rope that it’s okay for your baby to cry. It doesn’t make you a bad parent, and it doesn’t mean you love your kid any less than the next person.
I’ve let my kid cry herself to sleep more times than I can remember. And while that makes me feel like the shittiest parent in the world to say, all evidence points toward her being just fine. She’s a strong, independent, stubborn little person, who also happens to be my incredibly loving, affectionate little barnacle.
And, for the most part, she’s grown into an amazingly independent sleeper. And that’s allowed me to continue to be a night owl and independent sleeper, which has allowed me to be a much happier, saner mama.
P.S. Little Bit slept through the night for the first time in weeks the night that I wrote this.
P.P.S. If you want to know more about the sleep system we’ve used since (almost) the beginning, check out the website Precious Little Sleep, as well as Alexis Dubief’s book Precious Little Sleep: The Complete Baby Sleep Guide for Modern Parents. She doesn’t call it “crying it out”, and explains it so much better than I ever could. These resources have saved my sanity on multiple occasions, and I can’t recommend Alexis’s advise enough!