A few weeks ago I was at the Olympic Park in Park City, Utah waiting in line for the Alpine Slide ride, and I couldn’t help but overheard the two young mothers in front of me discussing how they succeeded in making their babies sleep through the night. They used phrases like, “He only cried for an hour the first night” and “Mine cried fifteen minutes and then I went in and patted his back for a while” and “It took several nights, but he sleeps all night now.” They expressed both guilt for letting their child cry and gratitude for their now-uninterrupted nights.
I didn’t join the conversation. Why? Because I wouldn’t have known what to say. My children never slept through the night as babies. I nursed them on demand, and they slept in our room until they were weaned (between 14 and 24 months). Even after they slept in their own rooms, I would go to them if they cried in the night and stay with them if they wanted me, or take them back to my room. I simply wasn’t capable of allowing them to cry, especially as tiny babies who didn’t understand why they were suddenly alone. By answering their calls, I felt they would know that I would always be there for them.
That idealogy continued into other areas. If they didn’t feel comfortable in the nursery at church or in their class, I stayed with them until they wanted to go alone. I never sneaked out of a room when they weren’t looking, or left without telling them I was going and when I’d be back. I told nursery leaders to come and get me if my child cried and once when they didn’t, I refused to take my child back until they were replaced. I didn’t us dentists who insisted on keeping me out in the waiting room while they worked on my children. Or to preschools who didn’t encourage parent visitors. At times I endured criticism, but what I saw at commitment to my child came first.
I also had little time for myself. There were a lot of days that I was groggy, irritable, and annoyed. I sometimes felt that my sleepless nights would never, ever end. At one point, I couldn’t ever remember sleeping all the way through a night in a solid decade. I craved sleep as a drowning man craves air. But I still couldn’t let them cry.
I chose other ways of setting limits. I made my children do their chores, we held them responsible for their homework. We always tried to know where they were and who they were with. We taught them the gospel and the commandments. We taught them to care for and love each other.
So did my method work? Well, my children sleep all night and have since they were two or so. None of them have sleep disorders. On the rare occassion if they are awakened by a bad dream, or feel scared at night, they know they are welcome to come to my room for comfort. (As opposed to my husband as a little child, who would shiver alone in his room at night because his father would get mad if he came into his parents’ room.) All my children attend school without any issues, they excel in academics, the two oldest have received college scholarships. Some have pursued sports and acting. They have friends and are well-adjusted. I’m convinced I made the right decision for my children.
But do I believe these young mothers ahead of me in line chose the wrong method for their children? Of course not! I remember how the exhaustion weighed on me. I remember how our children’s need sometimes came between me and my husband. I remember people outside our family pressuring me to create a sleeping and eating schedule and make my children adhere to it. This method didn’t feel right for the person I am and the way I was raised, but these mothers chose the way they felt was best for them and their children. That it was the complete opposite of my path absolutely doesn’t mean their children will suffer negative effects.
There are many different ways to parent. My belief is that mothers should follow their instincts while raising their children. Don’t let popular opinion, friends, or family pressure you into doing something you feel is wrong for you child. On the other hand, don’t let anyone guilt you into not doing something you feel is right. Yes, study out all sides of the issue, discuss with your husband what you should do, making any compromises necessary, and then make a plan. If it doesn’t end up working, rethink the plan. Nothing should be set in stone. As I’ve found with my six children, what works for one child, may not work for another.
For all those young mothers out there battling those sleepless nights. I want you to know that looking back now it seems as though those sleepless 15 years went by so fast! And the moments I spent alone in the middle of the night with each of my children during their first few years are memories I now cherish. So take heart and love your child, and remember that no matter what sleeping method you choose, as long as you love and care for them and set limits in other important areas, your child will be just fine. And one way or the other, you will eventually sleep all the way through the night like I do now.