My Mama Never Heard Of Sleep Training.
The idea is, you put your baby in the crib awake. They will cry at first, but after a few days they no longer cry; they just fall asleep. The gist is, you are teaching them the skill of falling asleep on their own.
My 13-month-old daughter, Eve, has a hard time falling asleep. Our sleep ritual has consisted of me luring her for hours with books, bottles and singing, while she tornadoes around the bed deliriously laughing at me. Her sleep schedule has not been ideal comparatively.
Our pediatrician said it was good. She said, “Wear headphones when she screams. Leave the house if you have to.”
People I love sleep-train their kids. “You don’t want to have to rock a six-year-old to sleep every night, do you?”
“No?” I would say. I don’t know, maybe I do?
I wasn’t sure, but I knew Eve’s sleep patterns were irregular, and I was creating stress by forcing a healthier schedule. So I attempted to sleep-train Eve. It lasted three days. The following statements are the mental back forth of my mind throughout the experience.
On one hand, soothing yourself to sleep sounds like an important skill that I would love to teach Eve.
On the other hand, I don’t know how to do this myself. I don’t know many people who do. To fall asleep, I rely upon Netflix, teas, sex, Calms Forte, physical exhaustion, husband having a cocktail and reverberating about some jazz player I know nothing about. There are a lot of people on Ambien talking about how to sleep-train their kids.
On one hand, discipline is important. I do not want to cater to the pusher in Eve, that bullshit salesman who lives in each of us, always at the helm, telling us that if we don’t demand it now, we will be less in every way. That dude’s an asshole, and I don’t want Eve running with him.
On the other hand, I felt like a participant in the Milgram experiment. Trendy discipline run amok has been known to make otherwise good people brainwashed and do bad things. I listened for two hours while she screamed. I went in every 10 minutes just like Doc said.
Eventually, she went from Achilles to the poster child for PTSD, dazed and confused, murmuring the same despondent cry over and over in an exhausted state of sad acceptance that the once impossible horror is now reality.
On one hand, what if, by not sleep training her, I am catering to my inner salesman’s pitch to satisfy my comfort? Sleeping is vital to health, and it’s the mother’s job to make sure hard knocks are endured for the sake of everyone’s well being. End of story. If you don’t take care of your family’s health, you’re a shitty mom.
On the other hand, what if my ignoring her needs teaches her to ignore her own needs? Babies are inextricably linked to the higher self that we all work so tirelessly to get back to. Unless of course we had a mom who knew better than to tell us No every time we did what felt natural, even if — especially if — it wasn’t kosher.
What if sleep training is a culturally acceptable form of disconnecting a human from their own authority in order to place that massive power in the dictate of socially accepted authorities? Like saying, you don’t know what’s right for you, only these types do.
On one hand, what if catering to her ruins her? Turns her into the entitled person making everyone else miserable because their comfort always took precedence? Good people get eaten by pushy salesmen.
On the other hand, what if she learns she can’t trust me, and that’s why sleep training works? Because she no longer places stock in me giving her what she needs to thrive. Isn’t that a break in one of the most primordial, powerful and nourishing bonds of all?
But on one hand, I know plenty of great parents whose kids were much happier after they were sleep trained.
But on the other hand, why did I have Eve? Was it to add another cog to the machine? To raise another person in the reflection of the zeitgeist? Or was it to be an awake participant in the loving force that helps grow a unique life?
In Native American culture, it is the role of the mothers and the grandmothers to watch with keen eyes what each kid is like; to notice each child’s strength so they can create an environment that fosters those natural inclinations. In this culture, children are as revered as elders because they are seen as spiritual beings with gifts to be shared, not as blank slates that do not know what is good for them.
On the third night, I fell asleep and dreamt I hurt a horse by slicing the flesh on its back.
I woke up thinking about a lesson I had taught on the Milgram experiment, a social test in which people hurt other people because authority told them to.
I wear a Year of the Horse Chinese zodiac charm around my neck because Eve and I were both born in the Year of the Horse.
Ultimately, what I have found to work for us changes daily. It’s fluid, like we are. Some days we nap, some days we don’t. Some days we sleep for 17 hours, some days she goes down for only eight. Perhaps I am feeding the salesman in the eyes of some, but I will risk that if it means I am also bolstering the connection she has to her. And in doing that for her, I think I am doing that for me too.
I asked my mother about sleep training, she had never heard of it. Apparently it wasn’t a thing 37 years ago. I wonder why it is now.
Valerie Shively is a writer, Yoga teacher, and more than anything else, a partner-in-crime to her daughter Eve. She’s had a shanty past, and predicts a shantier future filled with doubt, certainty and that beautiful space in between where we feel free and maybe even obligated to be who we are. She believes doing what you love is your ticket up, and a little bit of chocolate and faith goes a long way when you’re down. She lives in New York, and runs a small batch herbal bitters company with her better half, called Old Stones Bitters. You can connect with her at her fledgling blog.