We’ve reached the hard part of parenting. Instead of jumping to make everything perfect for Gabe, we’re making him learn how to help himself the hard way. And it’s no fun for anyone.
This is the third day of our “Ferberizing” experience. My darling precious son can’t put himself to sleep without the help of (pick any combination of these): car rides, rocking, singing, white noise, nursing, the TV, swaddling, and a pacifier. Every night, the combinations grow more elaborate and the time it takes to get him to sleep gets longer. All three of us are sleep-deprived and cranky. On the advice of our pediatrician (and with support from friends who’ve done this as well), we’re attempting to help him “cry it out.”
Richard Ferber wrote a book called Solving Your Child’s Sleep Problems, in which he advocates an incremental cry-it-out routine. The theory behind CIO is simple: an infant needs to learn how to soothe themselves, both for their own good (when parents can’t get to them immediately), and the good of their parents (we need some time when we aren’t dancing attendance upon the small dictator). We worked out a bedtime routine and a naptime routine, and we follow them at similar times of the day. Once the routine is done (each routine culminates in our shaky and hopeful rendition of “Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby” from O Brother Where Art Thou), we tell him we love him and to get some sleep so he can become a big healthy boy. We then leave the room.
Then the crying starts. We set a timer in gradually-increasing increments, and when each is up, we go in to soothe him and tell him we love him. Thus far, we’ve only used the suggested first day increments: three minutes, five minutes, then ten minute increments as long as necessary. We sit anxiously in the living room and try to go about our evenings as we listen to our perfect and beloved baby sob and scream on the monitor. As soon as the timer goes off, one of us rushes in to soothe him, and we both feel like terrible people.
But there’s hope. He cried for less than an hour the first night, and then slept for ten hours straight. It was from exhaustion, but it meant that he was happy the next day, and went down for his naps with less than ten minutes of crying each, and slept for an hour. To parents with babies who routinely took or take two-hour naps, this sounds terrible. To the mother of a child who thinks that ten minutes napping on the boob is an acceptable nap, this sounds like heaven. I ate lunch with both hands! I did homework during the day! I can function (sort of)!
Today is the third day of his trial by fire, and my sixth round of forcing myself to not rush in and try to fix it all. This is the part of parenting that sucks, the part where you have to watch your kid learn the hard way. We keep telling ourselves that it gets better, that we’ll once again be able to have an hour or two each night where we’re a couple and not just parents. What makes it bearable is that every time he wakes up from that hard-won sleep, he gives me the best, gummiest, happiest smile in the whole world. He still loves us, and we can’t stop loving him.