Monday, December 5, 2011

Spirit-Led Parenting : Is it ever okay to cry-it-out?

Happy Monday, everyone! Megan was gracious enough to take this week's post again, as our household was busy preparing a Buzz Lightyear birthday party for a sweet, hilarious four-year-old.

This is a subject that can heat up message boards and comment sections in both constructive and destructive ways. We hope that you truly hear our hearts today, and we look forward to an honest discussion!

We're continuing our series on infant sleep today, and I think you knew this was coming: the sleep training question. We aren't strangers to this conversation, difficult though it may be. Back when we were doing the As He Leads Us series, we shared our concerns on sleep training, and I've spoken more of my own opinions on it in my series on Babywise. This is a conversation we've been engaged with for several years, and we know that after the book's release next spring, the conversation will continue. One question that pops up again and again is whether or not we believe it is ever okay to use cry-it-out sleep training.

We are hoping to reshape the conversation a little bit with our response.

1) We want to encourage more realistic expectations for both baby and parents:

As you may have noted from our first two posts about sleep, we really want to emphasize a developmentally appropriate view on infant sleep. In doing research for our book, I came across a book devoted to getting baby to sleep solidly through the night in the first twelve weeks. The author implied, as so many baby care books do, that if baby is not sleeping through the night by twelve weeks, it's because of something the parent is doing wrong. She even made the puzzling statement that most babies would be sleeping through the night by twelve weeks on their own if it weren't for the interference of parents. I'm still trying to figure out her logic on that remark.

I feel so frustrated when I come across material like this because the first three months of baby's life are a critical time for both meeting physiological needs as well as building trust. As we talked about last week, there are legitimate reasons that babies wake up so often at night. If we can let go of this inappropriate fixation on twelve weeks as the standard for ten to twelve hours of sleep at night and embrace the idea of parenting our new babies through this critical season of their life, I think there would be so much less mental stress on parents in this stage.

And on that note, maybe we could start treating those first three months as a sacred time for the entire family. Our culture is not geared toward a slowed-down pace for an extended period of time, but most every new mama can testify to the fact that the first three months of caring for a new baby are a very fuzzy, survival mode period of time. What if we created some meaningful space in our lives that acknowledged that sleep would be sketchy during that time and focused primarily on caring for ourselves and our families? I wonder if that would take some of the pressure off of everyone when it comes to baby's nighttime sleep.

Ideally, I would love to see our culture honor that entire first year as a sacred time when families are given a little more grace in general before returning to the full swing of life, but I suppose that may be a bit too much to hope for. But even if our culture doesn't honor that first year, it doesn't mean that you as a family can't agree that you'll cut yourselves a lot of slack as you nurture your little one through those all-too-fleeting months of infancy!

2) We want to emphasize that one solution won't work for every family.

It's so difficult to have a general discussion on CIO sleep training. Some of the most popular baby care books make zero distinction between CIO for a two week old, for a two month old, and for a ten month old. As baby grows out of those critical first months of life, parents may feel that a different direction is needed. This is where we want to emphasize again that seeking God's direction on how to respond to sleep issues is going to result in different solutions for each family. God views the unique blend of circumstances, personalities, and other factors and offers wisdom for the moment for your family.

I can say that for our family, I have never felt the freedom in my spirit to do any kind of cry-it-out. I mean, I tried with Dacey, and it was obviously traumatic for both of us. Once I learned about the nighttime parenting approach, I had so much more peace about the sleep question. But my children don't have temperaments that would have responded well to CIO. Also, I have not worked outside of the home when our girls were babies. I have a husband who encouraged me to rest above having a spotless house, and when Aliza Joy was a newborn, Dacey had been sleeping through the night for almost two years. My circumstances are not the same as yours, and so the direction given to me by the Holy Spirit may very well look different from the path He shows you.

3) We encourage you to pursue the most gentle response first.

One of the reasons we advocate nighttime parenting so strongly is because it speaks to us so mightily of how we feel God parents us. In meeting the needs of our babies no matter the time of day or night, we feel we are reflecting the ever-present love, attention, and care of our Heavenly Father.


We do realize that there may come a time when it's just not working for anyone in the family - including baby. Again, our approach is not about laying down new rules to follow. On the contrary, we want every parent to have the freedom to seek the solution about which you have the most peace. In considering approaches to nighttime sleep, our heart for your family would be to start with the most gentle solution and go from there.

Some resources to consider:

The No-Cry Sleep Solution. Elizabeth Pantley has gentle sleep ideas for both babies and toddlers. Laura has used her approach in the older-baby months (with some modifications) and found good results.
The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight: Though we haven't read this one, it looks like from the reviews that she helps parents find non-CIO solutions.
Co-Sleep and Nighttime Parenting Forum at Gentle Christian Mothers: This is an open-to-the-public forum for reading. (Only GCM members can post.) You can read threads from other parents working through nighttime issues and you may find the advice given to another parent works wonderfully for your family, too!

So, I suppose that's the long answer to the question of whether or not to cry-it-out. The conversation that follows is always interesting and we look forward to your feedback today!

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photo source: skycaptaintwo

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