I have spent most of the past month sharing with you the safety concerns that come along with sleeping with our baby and what we have done to make this sleeping arrangement safe for our family. While safety was my biggest concern about co-sleeping…the thing I love most about it is the way it enforces a different set of values, and more properly aligns our lives with the way my husband and I believe God created us to be. THIS is where I get passionate about our decision against a separate nursery and crib for our baby. This is also the part where we get into beliefs and values and parenting philosophies and I may step on some toes. If self-soothing and independence are high-priority values in your home, values you have worked hard to promote…you will probably not like what I have to say very much…but I do hope you’ll hear me out.
A major argument that I have heard in favor of employing a “cry-it-out method” when putting children to sleep is that it is actually very good for your child: because they need to learn to “self-soothe.” I am pretty sure that the term “self-soothe” did not exist until recently, but it is now a common concept in parenting philosophies. I have used this term about once a week over the past few weeks when previewing the posts in this series…but after writing this post, you will probably never hear me use it again! I think it is a silly term and–to be perfectly frank —a ridiculous value to force upon my newborn baby.
He lived in my womb for 9 months, and relies on me for food, warmth, shelter, protection…his very life!
Why is it so bad that he should rely on me fully for emotional comfort as well?
Why do we see this as a problem to be fixed?
Yes, there is an extent to which babies (all people ) can and do learn to soothe themselves. Thank goodness God hardwired us with this ability, because some babies are born to parents who are drunk, high, or physically absent for long periods of time…such children are incredibly resilient and go on to lead perfectly normal lives because of their own strength and the grace given to them to soothe themselves and adjust to their circumstances. This strength and ability exists both inside and outside the child, but it all originates with a God who loves them. I praise God for this gift of resilience he gives to his children…in no small part because I know that some of these children will also be mine some day (see this post about my prayers for the future children we will adopt). Besides these adverse circumstances, however, I do not believe that a human being’s ability to self-soothe is one that we should take advantage of. I honestly believe it is a coping mechanism or survival instinct that does not reflect God’s moral intention for human interaction…it is not living as we were created to live.
Independence is a HUGE value in American society. But this value is relatively new one when looking at the history of the world and is still rare when you compare American culture with others around the world. Even more significantly, independence is not a value I see reflected in the Bible or promoted by God. Contrary to popular opinion, “God helps those who help themselves” is absolutely, positively NOT a verse in the Bible. Therefore–as much as I can avoid it while living in America–independence, especially in the form of self-soothing, is not a value that will be pushed in our home for family members of any age. God–who exists himself in the company of others–designed humans to live in relationships. God created people in the plural: from the very beginning, he said “it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Babies are created to need their parents. And are given parents to fulfill that need. There is absolutely no problem with the fact that my baby just needs me sometimes…and not just because he is hungry or has a dirty diaper. I am glad that sometimes he just needs ME.
Part of the “self-soothing” trend is enforced through the introduction of various “loveys.” This can be a blanket, stuffed animal, pacifier, or other object that a baby clings to. I’ll admit I think it is adorable when kids have their special little “thing”…in fact, this is part of the motivation I have behind making customized Peek-a-Boo Blankies and Tag-a-long Blankets…that these special items can truly be special. Josiah has had his phases with a few key stuffed animals (like this monkey and a little stuffed bear that used to be his father’s)…
It always passes as a phase, and he has never really cared about a particular blankie, even when I was intentional about always having the same one around for naps and feedings. In the end, I am more than OK with this…I am glad that no object has provided the comfort for him that his mom and dad have.
I am certainly not arguing that attachments to a particular object always represent unhealthy parental “replacements”…but I am saying they might and we should be careful to avoid this. Think of it in adult terms: if an adult were lonely, we would probably think it a problem if they clung to a blanket or stuffed animal or went shopping for some new material object to fill the void rather than calling a friend. On the other hand, we can understand that a person who just lost a grandmother would feel comforted sleeping under a special quilt that she made. I think the same principle stands with babies: a baby might take comfort in a special item…but it is a problem when these items are meant to replace the comfort of human company. Conditioning our son to associate a blanket or stuffed animal with (and, in essence, to replace) mom’s touch is something we have actually been personally encouraged to do! …and for some strange reason, the problem I now see with this did not click for quite some time. As I have already mentioned, I DID try to encourage attachment to a special blanket…it just never took. Josiah must have thought I was crazy to think he should love a blanket as much as he loves me. What a sweetheart 🙂 . Have you ever tried to look at the world and/or consider your parenting practices through the eyes of your baby? It can really change things.
(As a related segway, I am very curious to see if our new baby girl “takes to” any particular blanket or toy…the perpetual nature vs. nurture question.)
(One more note: Babies who begin going to daycare at a young age may represent an exception. I think what I mentioned about a grandmother’s quilt providing comfort in her absence as an understandable and healthy attachment applies to this situation. By the same principle, a child might bring a special toy or blanket to daycare…its not exactly replacing mom or dad, as the child should still be excited and ready for the real thing when mom or dad arrives to take him/her home…but the blanket or toy might be the next best thing when mom and dad truly have to be away. We never had to deal with such prolonged or regular separation, as Josiah has never been in daycare. And obviously, since it is the topic of this whole series, I do not believe bedtime represents “necessary separation”.)
Now, does that mean we have a little boy who is obsessively clingy? NO! He is actually VERY social depending on his level of comfort in various circumstances and environments (the same is true for most adults!). At home, he is very comfortable playing alone in a separate room for prolonged periods of time. He has also been known to cuddle up on the couch or bed with a blanket and a book or movie (or both) and “put himself to sleep” entirely by himself. For the most part, however, Josiah does not go to bed unless there is a mom or dad arm wrapped around him, or his own pudgy little arm wrapped around our neck. Yes, there are times when I wish I could tuck him in, close the door, and get on with my own thing. But when it really comes down to it, I am thankful for the twice daily opportunity (naptime and bedtime) to stop completely whatever else I am doing and re-align my priorities. It is against my nature to stop…I have no trouble keeping myself busy and feel great satisfaction in crossing completed items off a list. But these quiet times lying awake in bed with my son have been a great gift to me: A time to pray, a time to think, and a time to–literally AND figuratively–just hold on to that which is most dear to me and allow myself to be filled with gratitude.
I know that my description sort of falsely makes it sound beautiful and glamorous…and I feel the need to confess that sometimes the arm wrapped around my son as he falls asleep resembles a restraint a bit more than a hug. He doesn’t always treasure these moments, as he would prefer NOT to go to bed. I’ll admit he can make it difficult for me to treasure the moment as well. There have certainly been times when I have found myself re-considering the option of letting him cry in a crib instead of in my arms. It helps to sing this song…and just lying there thinking the whole matter through is enough to change my mind right back again. While my son has certainly been known to cry himself to sleep, I still take great comfort and pride in the fact that he has never cried himself to sleep ALONE. And I pray that he never will. As he grows, he’ll face greater disappointments and challenges and experience greater “hurts” than having to go to bed when he doesn’t want to. He is learning from a very young age that in our family we go through these things together.
In short, I do not agree with the philosophy that children need to learn to soothe themselves. I believe they need to learn that their mom and dad love them and that we will be there for them–emotionally and physically–not only when we determine that they need it, but also when THEY feel that they do.
Obviously, not everyone agrees with me. The more common value is independence: developing the ability to take care of yourself. If it is this value that guides your parenting, there may be nothing I can say to sway you otherwise. HOWEVER, please DO ask yourself if it is a value of yours or if you are letting the infamous “they” supply your values for you. If you have decided to do things differently than us, fine…but if you have made this decision because you have never thought through it yourself…please take this opportunity to do so.
What might you be teaching your child with your chosen bedtime routine?
Is this what you want to teach them?
Is this what God wants you to teach them?
Is there something else God wants to teach YOU?
If you are new to my “How I Got My Baby to Sleep Through the Night” Series, I welcome you to check out these other posts:
I’d also welcome you back over the next couple of weeks as I address Sleep-Training and Sex.