And that is "controlled crying" or "crying it out". Leaving a child alone in his bed or (worse) his cot to cry himself to sleep. I feel the same for little boys and little girls being left to cry at night and I have two boys so I am going to refer to babies as male for ease and clarity's sake.
So that said, controlled crying. Who on earth invented leaving a child to cry alone in the dark as a parenting tool? And why are people still encouraging parents to go against all natural instincts and to leave a child to cry?
Let's look at this from the babies perspective first, shall we?
It's dark. You are tiny and helpless and alone. You wake up. Now as adults we have no idea why that baby has woken up. There are plenty of reasons it could be, right? Let's see how many I can think of right now... He could be cold, or hot. Maybe he had a scary dream or remembered something scary that happened to him that day. Perhaps he has a dry mouth and is thirsty or his little tummy is hungry. Maybe he has a wet nappy or needs a wee and finds it a strange sensation. Perhaps he is teething or has growing pains (teenagers who grow quickly get them so maybe babies do too). Maybe he feels like playing. Maybe he is lonely. Maybe he thinks he has been forgotten or abandoned. The point is we don't often know why our babies cry, especially when we are just learning how to parent them (and I believe for every child we learn anew).
So our beautiful child is crying. And an expert tells the parents that the best thing to do is to leave him to cry. (I'm not talking about a couple of minutes while you finish your shower, calling to your baby that you are there for example. I'm talking about resolutely ignoring a child's cry).
I once watched a bit of a tv programme of an expert nanny healing sleep problems by leaving a child to scream in his cot. It was one of the hardest things I've watched. The child was crying 'mummy', the mother was crying and the expert held the mothers hand. The child was left untouched and ignored to heal his sleep problems.
Just thinking about it breaks my heart. Yes, at the end of the show that family was 'fixed'. The child gave up crying and asking for his parents attention at night. But at what cost? What does it teach the child?
I almost want to stop here and let you decide for yourself what it teaches the child. I have a few more pieces of the puzzle that make up my point of view though and so I'd like to share them. This is of course only my opinion. I do a fair bit of reading and research about parenting tools, techniques and styles because my personality means I only feel I am doing a good job if I am sure I am not alone in my choices and that research backs me up. So while I do encourage relying on your parenting instincts, I find it hard to follow my own instincts without checking it is 'normal' to feel and think as I do.
So instincts. That mother was crying. The nanny followed her instinct to show care for another human who is hurting by holding her hand. What a beautiful and kind gesture, to support a fellow human who needed support. I am grateful to that woman for doing that.
And what about the child? Is the child not human too? Of course. And yet that child was left without physical comfort. The idea seems to be that the child receives comfort from his mothers presence and does not need to actually touch his mother. This is one method, I've heard of other methods where the parents do not even go in to the crying child.
Anyway back to this particular child in our example. The mother was crying presumably for a whole number of reasons that I will never know. I think it is safe to guess the following reasons-
1. Her instinct was crying out to her to touch her crying child, to comfort him in his distress.
2. She was at her wits end needing sleep and desperately wanting her child to sleep for his sake as well as for her sake and the sake of the rest of the family.
3. The usual combination of fear and guilt that mothers in our culture feel (do other mothers know what I mean by this?).
The main thing is that things were really not working in that family and so the expert solution was to break the child's habit of asking for connection at a vulnerable and potentially scary time in that child's life.
Do I have the answer? No. Not really. There are gentler tools available though that I feel respect the child as a person with their own spirit rather than as a thing to be ignored into submission.
I really feel for that family. Things really weren't working for them. I just wish that there were experts with the gentler tools to offer them when they needed those tools. The gentle tools don't necessarily work as quickly and probably don't make such compulsive tv viewing.
Instinct is the last thing I want to look at a bit more. Instinct to me is the primitive urges that come up - many people know about 'fight or flight' when we are afraid or angry; caring for and connecting with infants is another primitive urge. The innate urge in the majority of creatures is to care for young, even the young of another species. And our babies are born with the ability to cry to get attention when they feel something is wrong. Perhaps it is also so that the baby doesn't get forgotten and left behind. Maybe it is to alert any human in the vicinity that they need help and attention. Our babies are still caveman babies. The modern world of safety and security is something they need to learn. Their needs are immediate, urgent and all important. The sense of others needs is not learned til much later.
As a last thought I'd like to leave you with some questions to ponder.
How many times will you ask someone you care about for help if they never come when you feel it is really important?
How long will you trust the person you love if they only come when it is sunny and light and not when your world is in darkness?
How long will you trust yourself to know what you need if someone you care about is telling you you are wrong to feel what you feel?
I would urge parents everywhere to consider other methods than leaving a child to cry alone. There are tons of resources out there that have more gentle methods. The Sears website would be a good place to start, they have written heaps of books, one is a paediatrician and they have raised 8 children.
Thank you for allowing me to share how I feel about this. I hope I have gotten you thinking more about the rights of children. I wish you a joyful, happy and harmonious relationship with your children whatever tools you choose to use. Xx