Thank you for listening to me vent about housing. I felt a release in writing about it, getting it out of my head via my finger tips. And when I read back over it a few days later, it gave me the reminder/insight that I've return to that dark place I often retreat where I spend too much time obsessing and planning for the future and not enough time living in the moment. This is my life now, these are my girls now, this is my marriage now - and it is good. I'm hoping that therapy can transfer to the other giant problem in my life: Eleanor's relationship with sleep.
We are reaching critical mass over here - the maximum amount of pain I can tolerate before I explode. Around 6 months of age, Abigail would regularly sleep through the night and had a predictable nap schedule. Not that life was perfect, but it was usually stable enough. I kept pulling myself through the difficult days with Eleanor by telling myself, "Around six months, this will all mellow out." Well we're six months now, and it's not mellowing.
I could go on (and on and on and on) about the frustrating absurdities of her demands, but I'll just sum them up (without exaggeration) here:
1. Eleanor will not nap by herself during the day. She must be in my arms or a carrier or being pushed in a stroller. If I put her down or get home and wheel the stroller into the bedroom, she'll wake up within minutes.
2. Eleanor spends a majority of the night nursing. A majority. Comfort sucking. I wake up every morning in a decent amount of back pain from staying in a side-lying nursing position.
3. About half of the time, I can nurse Eleanor down around 7pm and she'll stay there until we go to bed around 10pm.
Because of her absurd specificity, Eleanor usually only gets about three 30 minute naps per day. She falls asleep for the night around 7pm and wakes up around 5:30-6am. She's constantly tired, cranky, and always very clingy. Those pictures you see of her smiling? Those are usually taken shortly after her nap and of course, I'm also right there. I've read the Dr. Sears Baby Sleep Book about a dozen times since Eleanor's birth and I've tried everything several times. And I took her to her doctor and she emerged with a clean bill of health and no allergies. I'm loosing it.
If Eleanor was an only child, it would be easier - I could just hold her throughout her naps, take as long as she needed nursing her down for a nap on the bed, but I can't - I also have a toddler who can't be left alone. And I can't wear Eleanor for all her naps. On the rare occasion that Eleanor takes a good, hour-long nap, the change in her personality is very noticeably improved.
Allow me to finish setting the scene before I get to the juicy confession part. Eleanor crying:
1. Pick her up? Tears done. Put her down? Screaming hysterics. Up? Silent. Down? Screaming. As comical as a commercial if it wasn't so deafening.
2. The screaming? About 75% off the time, Eleanor goes from 0 to 60 almost instantly. Imagine how loud your baby would scream if she totally smoked her head on the sharp edge of a table. Blood-curdling, ear-piercing, makes you want to run in the other direction shear screaming. That's Eleanor's I'm not getting my way cry. No joke.
What did I do? I set her down in her crib (which is in the master bedroom), turned on the music and lights, switched the laundry, got the camera, and took her picture. I was gone for all of 180 seconds. One time we were riding in the car with my mom when Eleanor started crying. It freaked her out so bad she pulled the car over and insisted that I check to make sure Eleanor hadn't some how pinched herself in the carseat or something.
So my confession? Sometimes I let her cry it out.
I have to whisper it because I'm totally ashamed of it. I'm part of team Attachment Parenting. We're like the crunchy granola hippies of parenting. Tenets of my parenting religion include nursing (or bottle feeding in the case of Abigail) on demand, co-sleeping, positive discipline, and baby wearing. We think the cry it out method is lazy parenting that results in cruelty to the baby.
And I do think it's cruel! I think I'm cruel! I think I'm a terrible parent and I feel incredible guilt and that's why I'm telling the whole world! *Sigh* Let me start from the beginning.
As even the most ridiculous among us can conclude: I can't possibly wear or hold Eleanor at all times. There are times every single day when I have to take care of Abigail. So one day, Abigail is particularly sick and I just have to give her some one-on-one attention. So I put Eleanor in her crib, closed the bedroom door, and attended to Abigail: A fresh diaper, a nose wipe, a face wash, some medicine, a hair brushing. Nothing excessive. And Eleanor screamed. Boy did she yell. For a whopping 4 minutes. Then silence. She fell asleep. I couldn't believe it! And I spent the luxurious hour-long nap reading books with my attention-deprived eldest.
Over the next few days, I stopped jumping the second Eleanor started crying and I realized that sometimes she just lets out one sole wail and goes back to what she's doing. Like she was about to psych up and then got distracted. And a few times, I repeated the crib + closed door experiment while I got Abigail on or off the school bus and I returned to a silent apartment. Not all the time, not even half the time, but sometimes. And sometimes felt great.
So I think to myself, This is great! It isn't really the cry it out method and she's actually sleeping alone! Maybe we can build on this! Maybe by next month, she'll totally be sleeping independently!
And somehow from there, I ended up on this slippery slope where Eleanor is frustrating me with her refusal to sleep, so I end up plopping her in her crib and walking away. At the time I'm furious, fed up, feeling like I'm at my limit. But when I calm down, I always feel guilty. Like I said, it doesn't always work - more than half the time, I finish up with Abigail or listen to 10-15 minutes of screaming and then retrieve a sobbing Eleanor. I feel guilty when I soothe her red face and wipe her dripping eyelashes. I felt guilty when it does work - tonight, for example, I was fed up and left her to cry in her crib. Within 5 minutes, it was intermittent scream - silence - cry- silence - fuss - silence - cry. In 9 minutes, she was completely out. And once she was out, I had calmed back down and the guilt had crept in.
So why do I personally find the cry it out method so cruel? I have empathy for Eleanor: if I was sobbing in the other room and Matt ignored me so that I could "learn to self-soothe," our marriage would be in a bad way. That's not healthy! If you were watching a movie where one character overheard another sobbing and ignored it, you'd think to yourself, "That relationship is doomed," so on what planet does it make sense to let my infant sob alone in a dark room?! Babies aren't born with self-soothing skills that could flourish if only us smothering mothers would learn to give baby a little space. And my response to the argument that "my baby stopped crying and fell right asleep when I did the cry it out method" would be the Dr. Sears line:
"Baby loses trust in the signal value of his cry – and perhaps baby also loses trust in the responsiveness of his caregivers. Not only does something vital go 'out' of baby, an important ingredient in the parent-child relationship goes 'out' of parents: sensitivity."
After much, much thinking and discussing it over with Matt, he pointed out that there are such things as boundaries, even with babies. And I realized he was right. No one can be everywhere all the time. If I was sobbing in the bedroom while Matt was taking care of the girls, or, heck, even taking care of the cat if she was sick, that would be totally understandable! If you were watching a movie in which one character overheard another sobbing but was tied up and couldn't help at that moment, you'd think to yourself, "That's a sucky situation; man, I really feel for both characters." The difference? Boundaries. So while I think it's totally in keeping with my parenting beliefs that it's okay if Eleanor falls asleep crying in the few minutes it takes me to take care of Abigail, I still feel totally guilty and ashamed of the times she cries herself to sleep while I'm sitting in the living room.
And so I go back and forth - I do need to take a few minutes to cool down and I shouldn't feel guilty about that. But on the other hand, my children are constantly going to frustrate and annoy me and I can't just leave them whenever they do! But on the other hand, I'm not really leaving them, they are safe in their cribs! But I am emotionally leaving them! But I'm returning to help them sort out their feelings! But not if they do fall asleep - now we're going to bed angry!
How can I even be having this debate with myself?! How can I even have let her cry herself to sleep tonight?! I find the cry it out method to be lazy parenting, cruel to babies, and I feel it's my responsibility as a parent to teach my children how to handle their emotions! But, damn, Eleanor being constantly sleep deprived is cruel to babies and it's my responsibility as a parent to keep my child as healthy as I can! And nothing I do is working!
I know parenting is hard and I know babies are clingy. And I'm totally okay with co-sleeping and with Eleanor not sleeping through the night yet. I really am. I have two problems I'm struggling to resolve.
1. I need to get Eleanor taking longer naps.
2. I need to figure out when it's a healthy boundary to let her cry and when it's cruel.
If you are not yet sick of my constant pleadings for advice in my continued failures as a parent, I would again ask you for some. Amelia, Cammie, TB, Mrs. S? You guys are so wise and I always appreciate your advice as I can hear in it your experience and love for your children. Katherine - you had some great advice on my Littlest Bully post. Sleep has got to be the hardest issue when it comes to parenting and babies. And this coming from someone who saw an infant through open-heart surgery...