What Sleep Training Taught Me About Being a Parent
In a way, sleep training was one of the first major decisions we had to make, and it taught me one of the most important truths of parenting.
Forget messy diapers, spit up on your clothes, and the inability to do two-handed tasks. The toughest part of bringing up baby has to be sleep deprivation. It touches every part of your life and can turn even the most rational parent—okay, me—into a hot, cranky mess.
For 18 long months, my kiddo wouldn't sleep for longer than three hours at a time. At first, my husband and I took the 2 a.m. wake-up calls in stride. He's only 6 months old, we told ourselves, what did we expect? Then the weeks of interrupted sleep turned into months, until finally, we hit the one-year mark of sleeplessness. And that's when we got desperate.
On the playground, I started seeking out any refreshed-looking parents and quizzing them on how they got their baby to snooze through the night. On the way to get coffee in the morning, I'd call my best friend, Dana, and ask her to tell me (again) about her sleep training strategy. At night, I'd repeatedly Google "how to get my baby to sleep," like some sort of unhinged Stephen King character.
The advice was almost always the same: put my son in his crib, shut the door, and let him cry it out. Which I did—once. And it was terrible. He wailed for 45 solid minutes, piercing right through my supposed noise-canceling headphones. After reaching for the doorknob a dozen times, I finally broke down, scooped up his quivering body and snuggled his tear-streaked face against mine. I figured there had to be a better way for us, even if virtually everyone in my life—and the Internet—was telling me otherwise.
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The solution came a few bleary-eyed months later, when my sister-in-law filled me in on her sleep training strategy. It was based largely on Tracy Hogg's (aka the "Baby Whisperer") and it felt like something I could handle. Finally. My husband and I read Hogg's plan, committed it to memory and tried it that very next weekend. The first two nights were a little bumpy, but we all managed to get more shut-eye than normal. By the third night, we were luxuriating in a full seven hours of sleep, and for the first time in ages, (kind of, maybe) starting to feel more like ourselves again.
I'm not going to lie, that stretch of time was one of the toughest in my life. But in a weird way, I'm grateful for having gone through it. Sleep training was one of the first major decisions we had to make as parents, and it taught me one of the most important truths of parenting: When it comes to raising our kids, there's no one-size-fits-all solution—even if everyone is telling you otherwise. For every cry-it-out advocate, there's another who swears by co-sleeping, or the no-tears approach, or something different altogether. And the beauty of it? There's plenty of room for all of us.
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Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.