Betsy Hart 9-23-12 - For crying out loud! This is new?

By BETSY HART hartmailbox-mycolumn@yahoo.com Published:

So a new study says parents can now let their babies "cry it out" at night instead of having to be comforted to sleep by Mom or Dad.

The study, in the journal Pediatrics, found that babies who cried themselves to sleep at night without a caregiver were, well, fine.

This is news?

In this study, a group of parents were trained in so-called controlled-sleep methods like "parent fading," in which parents leave the child's room earlier and earlier each bedtime, even if the child is crying, until they don't have to stay at all for him to quickly fall asleep.

Alternatively, they go in to comfort the child at longer and longer intervals as the baby cries, until she falls asleep without them. (Another group tended to their babies as they chose, typically comforting them until they fell asleep.)

Me? Once I knew my babies were getting enough food during the day, I put them to bed, kissed them good night and went to bed myself. For all four of them I did that by the time they were a few months old. I think I owned a baby monitor, but I rarely used it.

It's not that I'm some sort of tough mom -- as my kids get older, I find the less "tough" I am -- it was more just survival. I couldn't get up in the middle of the night and function the next day. That's about the long and short of it.

But I also figured out that the babies would survive. Usually it took about three nights of crying themselves to sleep before they went down and stayed down without a whimper.

I guess I did it the cold-turkey way. So, what if, by not using a gentler controlled-sleep method, I did something wrong? Well, I guess I would have to say, "Add it to the list."

We parents today give such huge importance to every individual decision we make in our child's life instead of considering the whole picture.

That's why this study made news, of course. What if we are too pushy about food, or not enough? What if we don't orchestrate successful play dates, or what if we do too many? What if we get the preschool wrong, or don't insist on naps? What if we do let them figure things out on their own sometimes when they are little, and then they think we don't care enough?

I have opinions on a lot of these things, and sometimes those opinions change depending on the circumstances. But I wrote a book on all of this (It Takes a Parent).

I know that we parents don't want to consider that we might just blow it sometimes. Our kids will probably be OK anyway! Yes, there are some big things that matter when it comes to building character and children who are resilient and other-oriented. But even there, I think it's the process of our commitment over time, not any one do-or-die practice, that matters.

In other words, what if we let our babies cry it out at night, and then a study comes along, making a splash, saying that was a really bad idea? It probably isn't going to matter much if the overall context of our parenting is being lovingly committed to our kids, and the things we believe are important in raising them over the long haul.

I have a feeling that if we really internalized that truth, we parents would start sleeping a little more peacefully at night ourselves.

(Betsy Hart's latest book is From The Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports). Reach her through hartmailbox-mycolumn@yahoo.com.)

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