Tag Archives: sleep

in which i leave the cult of attachment parenting.

There is kindness in Love; but Love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness…is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt of it. Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object — we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled; the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished. It is people for whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms; with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes. If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.

-C.S. Lewis, The Intolerable Compliment, The Business of Heaven

This post  has been a long time coming. I normally try to keep things as light and airy as angel food cake over here, but for today I’ll make things a bit more like pound cake. I am not sure where the cake metaphors are coming from, except that I just had cake, but it was a birthday cake and neither angel food nor pound cake. I like cake. Anyway. I digress.

You may be wondering what I mean with my title and the C.S. Lewis quote. Before I explain I want to say that I have many friends (in real life and over the internet) who subscribe to an attachment-style philosophy of parenting. When I call it a “cult” in my title I mean my adherence to the “letter of the law” of attachment parenting, and the guilt I felt when I strayed. I do not mean to imply that parents who choose this style of parenting are in a cult. OK. Disclaimer over.

Before I had Sam, I told myself I’d never do certain things with my kids. I’d never let him have a crusty nose. I’d never let him wear Crocs. And I’d never let him cry himself to sleep. Well, he has had a crusty nose on more than one occasion, he’ll likely wear Crocs this summer, and last night he did cry himself to sleep.

Before you start sending me links to all the articles about how horrible cry-it-out is, and recommend I read No Cry Sleep Solution, let me first say to save it. I know. I’ve read everything about cry-it-out, and I think it is far from the best “sleep solution” out there. On some level it does seem cruel and heartless. I’ve read, and re-read, dog-earred, and highlighted, and done NCSS. We did see some improvement when we did what it said; a bedtime routine and set bedtime helped Sam go to sleep predictably and easily. We transitioned him from sleeping only in bed with us and while touching someone to his own crib and his own room over a matter of weeks with the helpful suggestions of the book. So, NCSS wasn’t a total loss.

However, nothing we have done has helped Sam not wake up every 2-3 hours all night long, even though NCSS said he would.

We took it a step further and tried the somewhat gentler version of Ferber in Jodi Mindell’s Sleeping Through the Night. Didn’t work, even after doing it for 2 months. Sam had simply learned that if we cried for long enough, we’d eventually come in. And after an entire year of never sleeping for more than 3 hours at a time (or, very rarely when he randomly would go 4 hours), things were not good. Not good at all. I was a wreck. My house was a wreck. My marriage, dare I say, was a wreck. And I knew that something needed to be done. I really did not want to do cry-it-out. Please let me reiterate that I had read everything about it and had set my heart as dead-set against it.  But, over time, I started to question a few things about attachment parenting in general, and specifically, in regards to sleep.

I tend to be pretty baby-led in most things. Sam has always nursed on demand, and we did (and are doing) baby-led weaning with him. However, it’s not like he was able to do whatever he wanted with those things. If he bit me while nursing, I’d stop the nursing session and put him down. When we offered him solids, we’d offer him healthy, nutritious foods.  So, it wasn’t truly baby-led, in the truest sense. I took charge as his mom because as an adult, I know better of what he needs than he does. I can listen to his desires, but it is up to me as his parent to determine whether those are legitimate needs or not.  The overwhelming sense I got from attachment parenting philosophy was that infants and children knew what they needed better than anyone, and it was our job as parents to listen to what they needed and give it to them. Over time, I started to doubt the truthfulness of that approach.

Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” I started to think about that in terms of Sam’s sleep. If I placed a framework around him in terms of nursing (i.e. no biting, we lie still, we don’t pinch, we don’t twiddle, we don’t put our feet in Mama’s face, etc), eating solids (i.e. healthy foods, as opposed to, oh…cake), and life in general (we don’t touch the lamp, or the electrical outlets even with plugs in them), why wouldn’t I create a framework with sleep? If folly is bound up in Sam’s heart (which I believe is true, as he was born with a sin nature), then can he really know what is best for him when it comes to sleep? Maybe some kids just sleep when they are tired. I did. My mom and dad would be like, “Where is Alissa?” and look around to find me in my bed, voluntarily taking a nap, at age 3.  Sam, it seems, is not a child who will just go to sleep when he is tired. He needs an adult who cares for him to step in and tell him when it is time to sleep.

I know some might argue that there are much gentler ways to teach Sam to sleep other than cry-it-out, and let me just say that we have tried them. All of them. I thought maybe he was sensitive to something in my diet so I cut out dairy to see if that helped him sleep longer (it didn’t). I thought maybe his pajamas were uncomfortable so we switched to cotton to see if that helped (it didn’t). We put a cool mist vaporizer in his room because I thought maybe the air was too dry to see if that helped (it didn’t). We tried giving him a big dinner to see if that helped (it didn’t). We created a bedtime routine and a set bedtime, which helped him go to sleep initially but didn’t stop the night waking. We tried putting him down drowsy but awake, which all the books said was the trick to stopping night waking. We tried chiropractic adjustments. We tried graduated extinction (i.e. Ferber, Mindell, et al) We tried literally everything, everything all the sleep books could throw at us, everything the internet could suggest, and nothing, NOTHING, helped him sleep longer than 2-3 hours.

Nothing, of course, except hardcore cry-it-out.

The very thought is repulsive to me. It is. But, I had to ask myself, which is worse: a few nights that really, really suck, or having a crazy, sleep-deprived mama who yells alot and bursts into tears randomly? A few nights of crying, or having his parents’ marriage fail because they were so tired and overextended and sad and grumpy all the time? It really was coming to that, folks. Things were not good around here.

In the end, we decided that we had exhausted all other options. Well, besides just continuing to function on 2 hours of sleep at a time for years until he decided to just sleep through the night magically.

I realize that deciding to do cry-it-out with my kid pretty much excludes me from the attachment parenting lunch table from now on. I’ll have to sit by myself in the mommyblog cafeteria and eat my organic, free-range chicken salad on sprouted whole wheat bread sandwich in isolation. It makes me kind of sad, being somewhere between the crunchy mamas and the not-so-crunchy mamas, because this is far from the only time in my life where I have felt I didn’t quite fit in any group. I liked belonging to something, which I think was partially my attraction to attachment parenting anyway. But it took me a while to realize also that my adherence to attachment parenting was an idol in my life.

Was I more committed to attachment parenting and what the moms on MotheringDotCommunity thought of me than I was to the well-being of my marriage and family? Was I out to prove to the world that I had “figured out” this whole mothering business and that everyone else was doing it wrong? It took me a while to realize that I was sticking with a failing experiment, something that attachment-parenting guru Dr. Bill Sears advocates against himself! All because I was too proud to admit that I didn’t have all the answers, didn’t have it all figured it out. As my friend Catherine points out on her awesome blog,

Methods are useful when they help you achieve your greater goals for your family. They are harmful when you find yourself serving the method rather than your family, or relying on a method more than you rely on God. It takes humility to admit that you’re on the wrong course and make a change.

I was relying more on a method than on God. And what’s funny is that God knows and loves my child even more than I do, and He made me Sam’s mama, faults and all.

At the end of the day, I do care about how Sam turns out. I don’t want him to suffer (to go back to the C.S. Lewis quote I mentioned, oh, eons ago), but I think he will suffer more having an insane mom and a grumpy dad than being left to figure it out and go to sleep on his own for a few nights.

As Sam’s mom I am called to more than mere kindness. Which means, of course, that I will have to make hard choices. I have a feeling that this one won’t be the last.