Our biggest mistake in parenting…
If you haven’t watched our latest video on our second YouTube channel, the McClure Algorithm, you may be surprised reading our title: Our Big Baby Mistake. If you did watch it, just like a couple of our other blog posts here and here, we’re going to continue the discussion and share a few more thoughts.
You may have been surprised to hear us so openly state what may be our “biggest baby mistake”, but if it is, for us co-sleeping with our son, Jersey Tayo McClure, (now ten months old) feels a whole lot better than the alternative. Like Justin said, the cry-it-out method exists, but for us, we think it’s cruel. If you’re a parent, you know that for the better part of a year, babies don’t understand what experts call “object permanence.” To them, if you’re not visible, you don’t actually exist. It’s the very reason that “peekaboo” is so fun for them.
So, understanding that, being in distress is extra, well, distressing when you don’t necessarily know that your parent is coming back. While yes, some research says that ultimately the “Ferber” (cry it out) method doesn’t impact the quality of the baby’s sleep. They came to that “conclusion” after measuring an infant’s stress level (cortisol) the next day, but what they haven’t answered, at least for us, is how stressful the actual “falling asleep” process was. Before or after kids, we’re about common sense and intuition and we parented the same with our five year old twin daughters, Ava and Alexis. We trust our gut. Logic.
We all know that babies are incredibly vulnerable, cry when they’re distressed and can’t tell us exactly what’s wrong. So now, what are scientists saying that they’ve talked to the baby the next day and that they’re magically doing “okay”? That’s too anxiety provoking for Jersey — and us! In that sense, they’re just shooting in the dark with no real understanding of the long-term risks and how they will impact them later. This is all making us very anxious.
We get it. There are many ways to parent. And with sleep alone you’ve got a ton of different opinions flying around parent circles, books, pediatricians, etc. If you decide that crying it out or co-sleeping isn’t for you, there’s even more options to confuse yourself with. There’s fading, the pick-up-put-down method, the chair method, graduated extinction and the funnier of titles, the sleep lady shuffle. Frankly, this is all making us even more exhausted. While these are all on the sleep train spectrum of less gentle to more accommodating, with varying levels of patience and rigidity required, to us, all of these methods involve tears that could be avoided.
Taking the controversy out of it, and you still might think we’re crazy, but it just doesn’t jive with us that we would let our son cry, knowing we could do something about it but choose not to. Then there’s the research that suggests that “cry it out” babies end up falling asleep quicker than parents who co-sleep. Even if that were true — and for Jersey it’s the exact opposite — we’re quality over quantity type of people. There’s going to be a bunch of people who say that we’re not teaching our son to self-soothe.
We disagree. He’s a baby. And isn’t the “cry it out” method just conditioning your kid to stop thinking that you’ll come? Like Justin said, they have no cognitive ability to discern that you’re trying to “teach them something.” This isn’t a mental long game for them, you’re just being cruel. Eventually, yes, they stop crying but aren’t they also eventually giving up hope that you’ll attend to their needs? Are they really learning to “self-soothe” or aren’t they just learning, through stress, that it’s ultimately every man for himself? Aren’t they a little young to face the brutal, cold realities of life? And besides, we know that stress impedes on growth, health, and brain development for adults, a thousand fold when it’s a newborn or infant.
We don’t want Jersey to feel insecure or distrustful in our attentiveness toward him. We’re running the parenting marathon and not the sprint. We’re building a foundation. We want him (and our girls, Ava & Alexis) to come to us with anything and everything. How can kids be secure in our relationship when we’ve taught them so early that we can’t be trusted or relied upon. Doesn’t Jersey have his whole life to learn how to comfort and soothe himself? Why does this lesson have to be taught within the first year? And is it even developmentally appropriate to do so? It’s imperative to us that our kids innately know that we’re dependable, reliable and trustworthy. These lessons — the type type of parents we want our kids to know us as — start during pregnancy and within hours of becoming parents.
When it’s come up that we’re doing a modified version of attachment parenting, there’s the eye rolls and assumptions that we’re somehow “hipster” or “helicopter parents.” If you’ve watched the video where Justin (Dada) is coaching the girls in soccer, we think you’ll quickly see that that’s just not who we are. We’re openly flawed, make lots of parenting mistakes and we definitely don’t think we’re the “experts”.
Now, we’re not so privileged that we don’t understand that some things just don’t work for every family. Whether you want to or not, not every family may have the “luxury” of doing what we’re doing with Jersey. If you’re working two jobs outside the home (we work from home, but also don’t have a nanny) you may not be able to get the kind of sleep you need to thrive. Nor may your child. After all, “happy wife, happy life” or whatever they say (why isn’t there something like this for dads?) It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know happier moms (and dads!) make happier babies. But, when situations allow, what we don’t get is why happy babies and happy parents are considered to be exclusive of each other?
We’ve been told that babies get more rest when they sleep independently of their parents. And that parents get more rest when they sleep independently of their babies. With our son, if he sleeps by himself, he wakes up after ten minutes crying. Are we trading restfulness for stressfulness? How’s that for dysregulation?
And, if you’re nursing or reasonably cautious, how can we really sleep by getting up in the middle of the night to nurse or check and see if you’re baby’s still alive? For us, this is all about what choices we are comfortable with for our marriage and our family. It’s what works for us. We would never presume to tell you that this is the only way or that you’re doing it “wrong.” There’s not a “one–size–fits–all” method of parenting. Which is exactly why we started the conversation by suggesting that to you, co-sleeping may be our biggest baby mistake.
When the girls (aged five) got to be a year, I (Ami) began to gradually transition the girls into their cribs. I didn’t necessarily pick them up every time they cried (which wasn’t a lot after the first couple of days, but I did always go into the room and let them know I was there. Kids pretty much depend on us for everything, so why have we arbitrarily decided that they can’t depend on us when they’re falling – or staying – asleep. I had already emotionally prepared myself that if the girls were going to cry for longer than about five minutes, even with me coming in and letting them know I was there, I knew that program wasn’t going to work for my bleeding heart.
All in jest, but I had decided that Ava and Alexis might very well sleep with me until college and I’d ultimately have to accept it. I had to be realistic with myself, if I was not comfortable with my children being in distress, then I also had to accept that the girls would make the transition into their cribs in their own time. Thankfully, after a couple days of transition, they became sound, independent, sleepers!
Speaking of this, people say that they’re worried that their, um, “love life” will suffer if the baby’s in their bed. While it may take some, um, “creative thinking” when it comes to sex, it’s ultimately a year in the scheme of life. And who says creativity is bad… Another topic for another day. Sure, it’s a child-centered approach compared to old-fashioned ideals that say kids shouldn’t get in the way of their parents lives or be too “in the mix.” Children used to be expected to “be seen and not heard” and not “cause” too much of a change in a parents day-to-day lives. Cry it out or not, if you’re a parent you know that your life changes DRAMATICALLY when you have kids — there’s no getting around that. For us, we choose to revel in the joy that is parenthood, changes and all, rather than focus on what we may be giving up — sleep? “Freedom”? Money? We’re fine with less!
Ultimately, what do you guys think when it comes to research versus practicality with getting your kids to sleep? Has what’s worked with one of your kids worked with the others? Have any of you had a drastic life change that prevented you from going with your first instinct? How did you figure out what method you were going to use — what it planned ahead or a decision that organically happened? Are any of you in differing opinion than that your partner? How did you resolve it? For those of you who co-parent but aren’t together, how does it work for you when your child transitions to the other parent’s household?