Reframing Christmas…Or Why I Suck at the Occasion This Year

I caught a little bit of the Diane Rehm show today as I was on my way home from the gym. The conversation was about the holidays–specifically about the breakdown of gender roles and the effects of the stress of this time of year on individuals, their partners and their children. It got me thinking more intentionally about what I want Christmas to look like at our house and what traditions I want to stick with, what I want to create, and how to find balance in the midst of it all.

So here’s what that looks like this year.

There is no Christmas tree. There is no nativity. There are no cookie tins (because plastic containers will do). We have not even opened the attic for Christmas decorations.

Christmas cards aren’t going out…again. But if you’re interested in a birth announcement, raise your hand. I’ll send you one as soon as I make it to the post office for more stamps.

There are presents only because interwebs.

There’s no Christmas Eve service because baby and because we lost our church community earlier this year and have yet to find another.

Most of our lack of Christmas is due to having a 4 ½ month old in the house. We love him to pieces. But this whole working full time and parenting when I’m not working or sleeping is hard. And though this baby is a good baby, he is not an easy baby. And parenting is hard. And exhausting. And I can’t even bring myself to ask someone to baby-sit because it’s exhausting and I can’t do that to anyone else.

I’m sure there are parents who have had babies this year who got their Christmas tree decorated (bonus points for the whole house), presents bought and wrapped, and goodies made well before Festivus. Hell, they may have even attended a party or two by now. I’m also pretty sure many of those folks are at least 5 years younger than me (which is damn near an eternity in baby mama years) and aren’t dealing with twice daily doses of compounded liquid Prilosec with conversations of potentially making an appointment for an ultrasound and barium swallow–on top of the burp cloth/beach towel/snuggie combo we’ve employed to protect at least some part of our wardrobe…and the couch.

I am thankful for a baby who is otherwise healthy and happy and sweet and cuddly and too cute for anyone’s good. I am thankful for the interwebs and how so much of what I need to buy can just come directly to me. I am thankful for people who will come and help me make at least one type of cookie–even while I’m still in my pajamas. I am thankful for Christmas incarnated on my TV in various forms. I am thankful for being able to live vicariously through the decorating of others and that I’m not hosting Christmas at my house.

And that’s how Christmas looks this year. That’s how I’ve been able to find balance. That’s how I’ve maintained my sanity. Because there is no margin for Christmas in the way we’ve done it in years past.

But I hope against hope that next Christmas won’t look anything like this one. In the mean time, I’m working to be OK with what this one is.

Pro Tips from an Amateur Baby Pusher

I know at least half a dozen pregnant women currently. This post really is for those folks…partly because it is and partly because they may wish to stay away from the next couple of posts about Baby W’s birth…not that terrible things happened but because I know I tried to stay away from birth stories the closer I got to the end. Then again, you may wish to read about how things don’t always go as you plan for or envision and it turns out just fine.

But let’s be real, you people are going to do what you will and I’m going to be over here keeping it real like I always do.

Can’t say I didn’t warn you.

In the mean time, here’s my Top 10 Pro Tips.

  1. Food and drink during labor: If they let you have something, load up. BUT…consume things that are soft-ish and you don’t mind seeing again. Because chances are, you will. Maybe don’t pick your favorite flavor of Gatorade or a food that you absolutely LOVE. These things may be ruined for you in this process.
  2. Speaking of food, bake treats for your caregivers. I swear the Sarahs (midwife and day shift nurse) loved me more after we handed over a loaf of homemade banana bread.
  3. Clothes. Wear whatever the hell you want. If the hospital gown is your jam, go for it. I opted for a sports bra and yoga pants (because I didn’t want to feel like a patient). And then my water broke. After that it was the bra and those sexy fishnet underroos they give you until the main event. Before all that, though, I went on the futile hunt for long pajama bottoms. Well, futile unless you’re willing to cough up some change. But I decided it was worth it to have comfy bottoms to wear once I was home. I splurged on some victory pants that I kept in the closet until we got home…then I lived in those jokers for three solid days.
  4. If your mode of birth does not require a C-section, steal plenty of ice packs. And if your partner happens to walk by a cart in the hallway that has a big bag of them and offers to steal the whole lot, seriously consider this offer. The same applies to anything else they leave in your room…including the diapers. Seriously. Once that pack of diapers is opened, they can’t do anything else with it and they’ll chuck it. Might as well have extra at your house.
  5. Stop on the way home for Colace and Motrin. And probably Tucks pads.
  6. Take advantage of the sitz bath…or at least a really long shower with water running over the parts that hurt the most.
  7. Feeding your baby: stay away from Dr. Google. Period. Pick one or two trusted sites about feeding and just go there. If you are planning to breastfeed your baby, have the number to a really good (I mean REALLY good) lactation consultant programmed into your phone and call them as early and often as you need to. Seriously. I cannot emphasize this enough. Because getting started with–and even maintaining–breastfeeding can be tough. Also stock up on some type of nipple butter (or coconut oil). Trust me on this one especially. You may not need much of it, but chances are, you’ll need at least a little in the early days. If you’re planning to use formula right out of the gate, know that that mess smells awful. However, if you have an absurd addiction to Cheetos that you’d like to kick, let me recommend the Enfamil Nutramigen. Also, stock up on burp cloths. At least 45. In the short term, they’ll serve their purpose AND bulk up your laundry so you feel like you’re doing a full load. In the long term, they’ll make great rags for dusting or washing cars. And speaking of feeding, invest in The Blessed Nest pillow…screw the Boppy. This one is worth every penny.
  8. Whatever emotions you feel or however crazy you might think you are or whatever you thought you’d never do but now find yourself doing, just roll with it. And try to get some sleep. It gets better. Promise.
  9. In case no one has told you yet, the second night is hell. You just have to get through it. And high five your partner when dawn breaks because you did it. The same is true for any growth spurt (look for the first round of fun at the 2 week mark).
  10. Be ready for your plans to be 86’ed in a heartbeat. Things may not go as you envisioned or planned, but then, that’s parenting for you. This whole process requires courage–from pregnancy to emptying the nest and beyond. You can do it. You’re already doing it.

Honorable mentions:

You may want a doula. I did not use one as I felt supported throughout my pregnancy in terms of my medical care–and even more so in the birthing process. But there are women who love having that kind of support during labor and birth, and wouldn’t do it without.

Drugs. My plan was to go without. Whatever your plan, consider your options and do what works for you.

Welcome to Holland…Or Sometimes You Need a New Perspective

I have no idea how I missed this all these years, but two people in as many days this week referred me to this little story.

It was written originally by Emily Perl Kingsley who was trying to explain what it is like to parent a child with a disability.

I think it applies to any kind of parenting situation that is different from any kind of experience you envisioned or for which you hoped. Then again, it can apply to any kind of situation in which you thought you were headed down one road and, for whatever region, it changes.

Here it is:

When you’re going to have a baby (or, I would add, becoming a parent in any way), it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip–to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?! I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine, and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills…and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is coming and going from Italy…and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away…because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss.

But…if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.

Don’t Nominate Me for Sainthood Just Yet

In a matter of a few months (this year), hubs and I went from one child to three. Those of you with more than one child know there is a HUGE step from one child to two. Those of you with more children than parents also know there is a HUGE step from man-to-man coverage to zone defense. After that, though, it doesn’t seem to matter how many children are running around your house.

Until you see how much money you spend on food.

Many of you are aware that we currently have three teenagers living under our roof. One was legally adopted from another country. The other two were fake adopted after late Tuesday night phone calls three months apart requesting a safe place to stay for a little bit. All of them have ugly parts to their respective beginnings, brought about by parents who, for one reason or another, just didn’t have the capacity to do that job well.

I can’t tell you how many times we have received praise for bringing these kiddos into our house. Usually we are called saints or heroes, told we are incredibly good or nice people with big hearts.

Maybe.

But don’t put me on the ballot for sainthood just yet.

Because parenting–no matter the form it takes–is hard. It is work. And it doesn’t matter whether you are a single parent (who I think are usually the real saints), have a partner, parent one child or several, parent healthy children or those with significant limitations, parenting is hard work.

And you never get a day off.

On my best days, I hope and pray that all of my children will become healthy, well-adjusted, independent adults. On my best days, I tell them I love them or give hugs or laugh at their jokes and degenerate ways.

Some days I just hope and pray that I don’t maim or strangle them.

I wouldn’t qualify most days as my best.

Many days, I take my introverted self out of the house and put myself in time out because that’s what I need at the moment. Some days, it’s onto the deck with an adult beverage. Just to hear the quiet hum of a neighbor’s HVAC unit. Because that is way quieter than the circus inside.

Eventually, though, I go back into the house and resume my duties, thankful that I have a solid partner by my side.

And maybe that’s worth an award.

Or maybe every parent worth their stuff should be handed an award. Just for showing up.

I am no different (I don’t think) than those of you outnumbered by children. Some days I love it. Some days I don’t. Every day is a challenge and adventure and hard work. I’m not as inspired by my children as other parents are–though, with the stuff they carry around with them, they get points just for getting out of bed in the morning. It’s not the parenting experience I imagined or hoped for. It simply is mine.

It doesn’t make me a saint.

It might mean, however, that I am legitimately crazy.

 

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I had lunch with a friend a couple of weeks ago who asked what I’ve been doing with my time since I haven’t been working.

A fat lot of nothing. 

Riiiiiiight. (You didn’t really believe that did you? Not even for a second.)

What I’ve been doing with my summer vacation. Which basically started with Memorial Day weekend…

Went to ATL for the 2013 new baby tour. It was a road-trip that started at 9:00 PM on a Friday with decaffeinated me behind the wheel. It was touch and go until Suit and Tie came on the radio–and then it was a three hour dance party in the driver’s seat from Gaffney, SC to Suwanee, GA. We rolled in at 2:30 AM. Hey. Whatever works. (Also, WHY ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE ON THE ROAD, TOO?) But those babies are super sweet. And their parents are managing well–all things considered.

Worked on putting documents together and obtaining a passport for my Ukrainian born child to deal with citizenship stuff and learned that bureaucracy is bureaucracy regardless of the nation’s government. When Boy #1 says “This is like being in Ukraine” as you run all over the county in which you live to obtain the right forms and this one government agency only works 8:00-3:00 and you show up at 4:30 and realize you’ll have to make the trek back downtown the next day, you realize that (a) perhaps you picked the wrong line of work (I mean with hours like 8-3, come on) and (b) this mess really is crazy

Took a random, spontaneous trip to the beach with my best friend and her family while the hubs drove my new car home from Ohio and in and around Raleigh until I got home two days later. He hasn’t sat behind that steering wheel much since.

Hubs and I took the East Bloc Boys (our collective reference to the teenage boys living under our roof) to DC to deal with the Ukrainian’s citizenship and–when we realized that wasn’t going to happen without a US passport–proceeded to spend a few days playing in DC instead. Museums, metro stops, and food trucks, oh my!

Attended the graduation of my Hungarian born child (Boy #2 who moved in in April) and sent him off to his first day at a new job

Received the report card for Boy #1 and was more than a little frustrated with the results

Learned that Boy #1 was going to be fired–primarily due to complications with some faulty brain wiring that is beyond his control but increasingly becoming a hindrance–and started planning for the possibility of meds and more testing to see if there’s something more or better that we can do. Also became a little afraid of his options for the future. Meanwhile, he didn’t seem to be too concerned about anything in his world. And then frustration set in.

Interviewed for a job. Was offered the job. Didn’t know at that point where exactly the job would be. But I’ll have a job.

Left the kids at home while hubs and I went to the beach for a few days. Alone. With no agenda. Glorious.

Opened our home for weekly game nights with the youth. Their means of world domination via board game was pretty entertaining. Also, the secret is out about the awesomeness of my cookie dough dip.

I got more creative in the kitchen, making up recipes as I went–often inspired by road-trip snacks and/or food truck experiences. And those culinary experiments generally were successful.

Temporarily found some really good body confidence–long enough to sport a bikini on the beach. For the first time. Ever.

Helped a friend pack up his office to move to a new job after 13 years.

Celebrated a friend’s 30th birthday and another friend’s family adopting a child they’ve tried to bring home for far too long

Opened my home and my dinner table to countless people (we finally had to break out the leaves for the dining room table and USE ALL THE CHAIRS)

Had lunch and/or coffee with people–for more than 15 minutes. Those conversations often stretched over two hours.

Brought a third teenager home to live with us–this time a girl.

Realized once again that my life is a circus and I’m the ringmaster. Until the inmates run the asylum. And then I just leave.

Had beautiful conversations with family and friends

Was truly honored to be invited into some of the most important moments and conversations in others’ lives

Got a job assignment that was totally unexpected but has made me incredibly excited the more I sit with it.

Got thoroughly pissed off with the state government and was ready to junk punch some politicians–or a wall. Supported Moral Monday from afar–lest my anger push me to do something stupid before this job thing really came through.

Started scheming ways to take over the world–in a good way.

Realized that this whole youth ministry thing I started on the summer before college has come full circle. I learned along the way that there are many ways to do youth ministry–and often outside of church. I also made the statement at one point that once I became a youth minister, I’d have a psychologist in my back pocket as a resource. Then I became that psychologist.

Pulled together a stack of books classified as thematic professional reading that I’m slowly making my way through

Seriously considered getting the “Mom’s Taxi” for my car because it’s true. Especially the week of youth camp when I’m the only licensed driver in the house and have two teens to care for.

Tried to let it sink in that I have finished school and have a PhD. Definitely became increasingly thankful for the training, experiences, and opportunities I have had along the way.

Stalked one of my favorite people from a parking lot into a bookstore to make sure it really was her–and then had an hour and a half long conversation standing around another store in the same shopping area.

Became a stand-in on-call fake doula for a baby who was born about two weeks later (and the daddy was home for the whole thing…which meant I could celebrate with the announcement text). 

Consulted on emerging adult male/female relationships

Provided unofficial parenting consultation

Fell madly in love with US Marshall Raylan Givens as I became addicted to the show Justified.

Worked out in the sweatbox that is my garage–sometimes twice a day. Just because I could.

Met neighbors I hadn’t met before because I started walking the dog more after a redistribution of household responsibilities

Seriously considered a new blog about DIY furniture and house projects–to be called pigtails and power tools. This after having to supply my dad with a drill or two after the battery in his cordless died as he was trying to put together a new bed. (Note: one of those drills was the same electric drill he handed down to me years ago when I moved out; also, that old faithful Black and Decker has helped us finish projects the battery packs on the cordless just couldn’t. Moral of the story: well, I think you know.)

Filled up a social calendar like never before

Received beautiful and powerful words of affirmation and hugs from people who’ve watched me grow as a person and professional over the past X number of years

Went back to yoga (kinda) and ate more fresh veggies. (Olives dipped in hummus, y’all)

Loved bigger because hubs does.

Realized that children stuck in rough family situations are my kryptonite

Struggled against having so many people in the house and this basically became my mantra about half the time. 

Saw some movies. In the theater. Even when I kinda didn’t want to. (Side note: Pacific Rim = Godzilla + Iron Man(steroids) + Independence Day speech + Armageddon)

Worked on my licensure application and found that I still had some brain matter that could ooze out of my ears. It’s just about finished though. The application, that is.

Survived monsoon season in NC this year–WITHOUT an Ark of my own

Drank the Candy Crush Kool-Aid (Note to Kool-Aid: new flavor idea!)

Finally was invited to new employee orientation and can for really real get this job thing going.

Ran outside. On some big hills. Early in the morning. And usually thought I was swimming instead. #NChumidsummers

Doled out resources in the form of book titles, notes from books I’d read, links to really great articles, and just putting some thoughts on paper

Read a few really good novels.

Squeezed some babies

Baked. A lot. And apparently even my cookies are therapeutic.

Survived #singleparentweek2013 while Al and Ryan were at camp.

Celebrated some more birthdays. Ran with my girls. Enjoyed some group therapy on a screened in porch. Celebrated new jobs with my people.

Scheduled at least half a dozen meetings/appointments to take me through my last full week of no paid work. What vacation?

And then I went to that orientation, got my shiny new ID badge, signed a bunch of forms and forked over a voided check. This job thing is official. I start Thursday.

 

Father’s Day

Some of you have asked whether I was going to craft a litany for Father’s Day as I did for Mother’s Day. I must confess that I don’t have nearly the same sentiment around Father’s Day as I do for Mother’s Day. I am blessed with a father who is magnificent and with whom I have an extraordinary relationship–a relationship many may find to be improbable or even impossible with their own father. (I was blessed with a mother who was also magnificent and with whom I had an extraordinary relationship. All of which ended way too soon.)

So I was less inspired by my own experiences around Father’s Day and more inspired by the experiences of some of you. I hope this litany does for men, fathers and their children the same things it did for women, mothers and their children at Mother’s Day. Once again, please feel free to use this litany as best fits for you and your context.

God of creation, you have been in the business of fathering children for generations.

On this day, we thank you for the fathers who have desired to do the same, who have contributed to the process of new life through creating children and adopting them. We thank you for the ways in which they teach us to love and care for ourselves and the world around us.

We pray for the men who deeply desire to become fathers but labor to do so. We ask that you provide hope in the midst of distress and struggle and that you remind these men that they are no less of a person because of imperfect biology.

We pray for the men who have loved and lost children–for whom this day is fraught with painful reminders of who and what they have lost. We pray that they may encounter you in new and different ways through other children in their lives and find peace.

We thank you for the men who have made a difference in our lives as fathers, who loved and cared for us in the ways you would. Who taught us how to work hard, enjoy what we do, and get outside and play.

We thank you for the men who have worked to be the best fathers possible but whose experiences of parenting have not matched their expectations. We ask that you bolster these fathers of children who may be prodigals, of children who make choices for themselves that may be different than what we would like. Remind them of the ways in which they lived up to your idea of fatherhood and that love and grace is neverending.

We thank you for the men who tried to be fathers, but who may have failed because they lacked the resources–emotional, financial, physical–required to be present as such. We pray for those sons and daughters who mourn the father they are or were not able to have, that they may find in you, and in this community, the deeply loving and nurturing presence they have missed.

We pray for those sons and daughters who are fatherless because of disease and death, that they may have a sense of your presence in the midst of their pain and the solace and joy that come with fond memories.

We pray for the sons and daughters of fathers lost to war–the ones created by man and the ones that brew within–that we might recognize the complexities of this world and work for peace in spite of them. In the meantime, we ask that you bring peace to these families.

We thank you for the ways in which our lives are shaped by our fathers, by our quest for fatherhood, and for fatherhood itself.

Above all, Creator, may we all work to be the kind of parent for our children and the children around us that you have been for your children for generations. Help us to look to your Spirit as a guide for being parent–for knowing how to love, when to speak, when to whisper, when to stay silent, how to play, how to nurture and comfort, and how to be present.

We ask these things of you, in the name of our Brother, Jesus. Amen.

Babies: Let ’em cry?

Psychology Today recently published an article on the “Dangers of ‘Crying it out.’” I saw some chatter about it on Facebook, but didn’t have time to read the article or engage the topic initially.

And then a parent asked me what I thought.

So I read the article. And I have plenty to say about it. In some places I agree. In others, not so much. If you’re interested in my thoughts, I’m going to provide a couple of caveats and then dive in. Hang on for the ride.

If psychology and research sound like blah blah blah mumbo jumbo did you suddenly lapse into Chinese, this may or may not be the post for you. You have been warned.

Caveat 1: Parenting is an INCREDIBLY hard job. It’s the hardest–and hopefully most rewarding–work people do.

Caveat 2: Every child is different. Every parent is different. You have to find the parenting practices that work for you and your child. ***Please note that ANY form of abuse or neglect is NOT a viable parenting practice.

That said, here we go.

The article was written by Darcia Narvaez, PhD. She’s an evolutionary psychologist. Although there are parts of evolutionary psych I can get behind, most of it gets dumped by most psychologists who aren’t of the evolutionary persuasion.

The article appeared in Psychology Today. Although this magazine has some good stuff at times, a practicing psychologist referring to Psychology Today as his or her first line for empirical information about…well…anything is akin to a sex therapist relying on Cosmo for advice for his or her clients. Psychology Today is not a research publication. It is neither peer reviewed nor refereed. It is a publication in pop psychology.

But let’s not diminish entirely the knowledge of Dr. Narvaez. Here’s where I (and LOTS of good, quality research that has been published in peer reviewed, refereed journals) agree:

  • Babies grow from being held. This is one of the reasons kangaroo care has been incredibly successful for premature infants.
  • Babies are not able to communicate verbally, so they gesture and, if necessary cry to get the attention of their caregivers in order to get their needs met. Once they have gotten what they need, they are calm again.
  • There ARE longterm effects of undercare or need-neglect in babies…and in children of all ages. (More on that in a minute.)
  • Secure attachment IS related to responsive parenting.
  • When a baby–or child…or adult–is stressed, cortisol is released, which can have physiological ramifications.
  • Disordered stress reactivity can be established as a long-term pattern (not necessarily for life).
  • Self-regulation can be undermined when parents don’t respond. But parents have to do a LOT of not responding for this to occur.
  • Caregiver responsiveness is related to a lot of positive child outcomes and positive adjustment.

WE CAN NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE VALUE OF POSITIVE PARENTING BEHAVIOR. These behaviors include warmth, sensitivity to your child and his or her needs, positive interactions with your child.

Narvaez cites several articles/books along the evolutionary psych lines. I didn’t look those up. What I DID spend time looking through was some of the stuff from the journal Development and Psychopathology. One article that was cited in particular is worth noting. I’ll spare you the summary I originally wrote because of its length. But here are the major take home points:

Ultimately, critics agree that our understanding of neurobiology and the effects of early experience on developmental outcomes is still new. We don’t know enough to make definitive statements. Here’s what we DO know:

  • A SIGNIFICANT amount of growth and development occurs in multiple areas of a child’s functioning in prenatal and early postnatal years.
  • These early years are likely a critical/sensitive period for children regarding the effects of exposure to toxins, nutrition and–possibly–stress.
  • If a child has some type of neurological disorder such as PKU or autism, this period seems to be a sensitive period for long-term beneficial effects of early intervention on brain development and behavior.
  • Parental mental health during this period is a significant factor regarding early brain activity and behavior in children, as well as long-term adjustment and outcomes.

Another thing we know:

  • Not every child with a good beginning winds up in a good place. Conversely, not every child with a bad beginning winds up in a bad place. There are lots of terms for these things. About the latter, it’s called resilience, folks. And determining the risk factors that detract from and protective factors that contribute to resilience is the stuff of which careers are made.

A few other issues with the Psychology Today article.

Narvaez NEVER defines “crying it out.”

  • I am not a proponent for neglect or abuse. Letting a child “cry it out” all. the. time. and never responding to his or her needs IS neglect, friends. And prolonged neglect and abuse DOES change one’s neural wiring. It DOES have long-term negative effects. Letting a two year old “cry it out” in a tantrum–assuming the child is not doing anything to intentionally harm him/herself–likely will not have long term negative effects. Letting an infant “cry it out” at bed time–assuming all other needs have been met and the child has not moved in the crib into a position that compromises safety (Thanks be for video monitors)–likely will not have long term negative effects. NEVER responding to your child who wakes up crying in the middle of the night–that’s a problem. NEVER responding to your child when he or she indicates a need–that’s a problem. Because it DOES compromise self-regulation (which children learn from primary caregivers, folks). It DOES increase cortisol, which affects neurobiology. It DOES create a long-term pattern of negative stress reactivity.

Narvaez NEVER talks about balance.

  • Let’s assume for a minute that you have an established bedtime routine with your child–which should start when they are infants. (If you DON’T have a routine, try it out and see if it makes bedtime different in some way.) Let’s assume that this routine incorporates some down-regulating of energy. It may be kicked off by bath time, followed by a soothing rubdown with that Johnson & Johnson or Aveeno nighttime lotion with the lavender smell. How about a book? A few cuddles? Then the child is put in his or her bed with maybe a back rub and a song or two. Then the parent leaves. And the child cries. The child has not compromised his or her safety. All other needs have been met. And you let the child “cry it out.” Let’s also assume that, when the child IS awake, you are positive and engaging with your child, that you meet your child’s needs as quickly as possible. That you create a warm, secure, enriching environment for your child. Is there harm in letting your child “cry it out” at bed time then?

Here’s the other thing about soothing which was NEVER mentioned. Every child is different. Every parent is different. A child’s time to soothe (i.e., the time it takes for the child to calm down) will vary by child. If your child has a difficult temperament, the experience will be more challenging for the parent who feels exhausted, incompetent, and helpless because they can’t ever soothe their own baby for crying out loud. And the parent can become less inclined to engage with the child and less inclined to soothe distress. If this continues to occur over time, it CAN lead to psychopathology (e.g., anxiety, depression, attachment difficulties) (note I did not say psychopath…as in Silence of the Lambs. We have this generic label of psychopathology for ALL disorders lumped together).

One of the leading infant researchers, T. Berry Brazelton, suggests that if parents strike a balance between letting an infant cry for a brief period (i.e., 5-10 minutes) and providing comfort, babies gradually learn to soothe themselves better.

One of the parents who discussed the Psychology Today article on the Facey Face said that she and her husband basically do just that. If the baby cries, the wait a bit, then go in, rub her back and help relocate the pacifier. The baby calms down and they can leave. Sometimes return trips are necessary. The more regularly they do this, however, the less they are having to do it at all.

I know parents who let their baby “cry it out” at bedtime, and the parents found, in the long run, that bedtime became easier over time and that the baby grew into a competent, well-adjusted child/teen/adult (raises hand). I also know parents who respond to every cry or expressed “need” at bedtime and STILL have difficulty with putting their child to bed (i.e., the child is harder to put to bed) 3, 4, 5, or more years later.

Again, this is a practice that will vary by parent. And child. And you have to find what works (within reason, folks) because SLEEP IS IMPORTANT. I cannot stress that enough. But you also have to find balance and ways to engage in positive parenting behaviors with your child(ren). Because ultimately, that’s what seems to make all the difference in the world.