Prior to having a child of my own, I thought I knew a thing or two about parenthood. I'd look at parents with their children, and I confess, I'd judge. "I'll never yell at my child in public." "Look at them, why can't they control their kids? My kids will be so much better behaved." "Those parents are softies. They let their kids run their lives." Ha. Oh, my naivete.
Thing is, I know I'm not alone. I have read a number of blog posts and articles, written mostly by moms, that have confessed the very thing that I just shared. Many writers frame their posts as an open letter of apology to any and all parents they may have judged in the past. I guess, I'll follow suit.
To the parents with the kid who takes forever to eat, or refuses to eat, that I judged. I'm sorry. To those parents that co-slept with their children, that I looked down on. I'm sorry.
I am learning fast and hard that parenting IS NOT easy. I read books, I tried to prepare, but seriously, I feel like when you're actually on the field in the game, most of that knowledge just goes right out the window.
When I first started out in this world of parenting, I was determined to be the model father - one who walked the fine line of love and discipline. One who would have well-behaved children, who knew they were loved and yet would keep in line and know what to do when and where. I rejected the notion that my daughter would ever be capable of wrapping me around her little pinky. I was the authority, not her, she would live by my direction and not the opposite way around.
Right. Did someone just splash cold water on me, because I am now fully awakened and out of my dream-like fantasy?
The longer I am a father, the more I realize, I have NO IDEA what I'm doing. Half the time I'm guessing at what the best thing to do is. I try to stay strong and maintain discipline, but I fear crossing the boundary and inflicting some trauma or emotional scar on her.
One clear, example, as those of you who are my friends on Facebook know, is the idea of sleep training. Seriously, I thought I knew what I was supposed to do, but truthfully? I don't.
I got into this thing, completely believing in the philosophy that a child needs to sleep in his or her own bed, and they need to learn how to soothe themselves to sleep. If that means crying it out a couple of nights, then that means crying it out a couple of nights. I was determined to have a heart of steel, my child will cry, and I will be immune.
Linda (my wife) and I even had several arguments about the best way to put Alicia to sleep. I felt Linda was being too soft, she felt I was being too hard. And I was angry. I really wanted to teach Alicia to sleep on her own. But it was hard for Linda to hear Alicia crying so relentlessly. I even went so far as to lock Linda out of the room so I could put Alicia to bed MY way. (Note to husbands out there, NOT A GOOD IDEA, unless you really want to see the Mama Bear rear its claws.)
As determined as I was, I quickly learned that I was no superhero. And even if I were, every superhero has his weakness. My Kryptonite? The tear-soaked, snot-smeared red face of my poor little girl as she cries pitifully on her knees with her arms raised begging me to pick her up. I mean, I couldn't. I just COULDN'T just leave her there.
Eventually, Linda and I came to a compromise, and by compromise I mean, I completely crumpled to the pressure and we have been rocking Alicia to sleep and lying in bed with her until she's asleep pretty much every night since she was a few months old.
Oh, don't get me wrong, we've tried, several times in the past year or so to do the sleep training thing. We got into a few more arguments. I even tried to do research to prove that I was right. Yeah, well, I don't know what's right. Is there even a right?
It just doesn't feel right to let a child cry out in desperation and not respond. I mean what does that teach them? I know the arguments. Life is cruel. People are harsh. We don't always get what we want. But really? Are we, as parents, supposed to be the ones to inflict that on them so they can learn?
So often I try to think what God would do? I mean, he's supposedly the perfect Father, so what would he do? Somehow, I just can't imagine him turning his back on us if we're crying out desperately to him.
And thing is, I know the idea of putting them in their crib, leaving the room and letting them cry it out. But again, I just feel wrong about that. Cause I mean, how do I know that it's just she doesn't want to go to sleep? What if I'm wrong? What if she just really doesn't want to be left alone? What if she's scared? What if she's really stressed out about the separation? Am I to just leave her? How does that not create abandonment issues?
Let me take a break here and say that I'm not advocating or condoning one method over another. I am not placing any sort of judgment or criticism on the cry-it-out method or the co-sleeping method. I am simply sharing with you my thought process. So if I have offended, please forgive.
Back to what I was saying. So recently, Linda and I thought it might be time for Alicia to transition into her own bed. She's getting bigger, and so three of us on the bed is getting a bit crammed. And honestly, I don't think I've have one night of uninterrupted rest whenever she sleeps with us. It's not that she wakes up, because on most nights she sleeps through the night. It's just that she moves around a lot, so if it's not a foot in the face, it's a head-butt to the gut - hard not to wake up under these circumstances. So we thought, OK, let's try to teach her to sleep in her own crib.
Right. You'd think I was inflicting some sort of cruel and unusual punishment on the child, the way she carried on. Eventually, I had to tag out. Linda took over, rocked her to bed, and then placed in her in the crib, while I went to do some self-soothing of my own.
The next morning, Linda took Alicia for a routine check-up with a doctor specializing in developmental issues. Linda shared with her how we were trying to transition Alicia into her own bed. The doctor actually recommended that we not rush.
She asked Linda if Alicia when sleeping with us, would crawl over to one or the other of us and insist on some sort of physical contact with us. Linda confirmed that this was indeed the case. We'd place Alicia somewhere between us while we're settling in for the night, and try our best not to to touch her, for fear of disturbing her sleep. But somehow in the middle of the night, Alicia would always crawl or somehow maneuver her body so that her hand, her head, her foot... some part of her body was in contact with either I or Linda.
The doctor explained that since Alicia was born so early, she lost three crucial months in the womb for bonding and connecting with mom. It's also during these last three months that the senses are developed and infants brains learn to receive and organize various stimuli. So now, she seeks out extra stimuli in a way to make up for what she lost in those last three months.
Also, the co-sleeping allows her to build a bond and connection with us that she didn't get in those four months in the incubator. So apparently, her co-sleeping helps with her emotional and cognitive development. And to be honest, I do see a difference. I feel like I've heard somewhere that preemies in general are very irritable, anxious and rather insecure. But Alicia is none of those things. She's actually rather happy, mild-tempered and quite secure. And I do think that part of that is the bond that she gets when she sleeps with us.
So I really don't know. I mean part of me thinks, man it's a lot of work to have to rock her and hold her every night until she falls asleep. There are so many other things that I could be doing. But then the other part of me thinks, well, just suck it up. She's only going to be a baby once. And really, to who's benefit is it for her to "cry-it out?" So she stops crying after a few nights, but is that really because she's learned to self-soothe, or is it because she's learned that crying is of no use, and well, so why bother? I don't know. I mean, I just keep thinking, am i just being selfish and trying to let myself have an "easier" time?
Then there's the fear that we'll spoil her by rocking her to bed every night. But studies have actually shown that kids who co-sleep with their parents for even a brief amount of time, end up being more well-adjusted and more socially adept. And I mean I have also conducted my own non-scientific, non-professional observations. I have noticed that those kids who co-sleep with their parents tend to be more outgoing and less fearful and shy than those whose parents force them to learn to sleep on their own. Again, non-scientific, definitely not conclusive, and for sure there are exceptions to the rule. But for the most part the kids that I know that are more happy and less clingy are those that have done some amount of co-sleeping. I wonder.
Anyway... so, conclusion? I don't really have one. Only that Linda and I will continue to love on Alicia in the best way that we can. And that we will continue to pray for wisdom.
I believe eventually Alicia will outgrow the need to sleep with us. Hopefully she won't, as Linda said today, go straight from sleeping in our bed to sharing a bed with her husband. But, I think for now, we'll just stick with cuddling up with our little angel while she's still wanting to be with us, cause for sure, soon enough, she'll be all grown-up and out of the house and well, it'll probably be me who'll need some rocking and soothing the first night that happens.