Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Lie of CIO

Last week I attended a local mom's meetup at a coffee shop. Sleep was discussed. Sleep is always a hot topic in my mom groups--I think its the number one issue. Does your child sleep through the night? How much sleep are you getting? Does he nap? How long? 

We were all sharing our stories, moms whose babies sleep six hours, moms whose babies sleep two. It felt wonderful to be around other mothers of young children who were going though the insane sleep deprivation of raising babies. Reuben has slept through the night three times in his entire life. Each time I made a facebook post about it!

But one mom said her baby always sleeps through the night because she leaves her son in his crib for six hours, walks away, and closes the door. I was shocked. How old was he, three? He must be older. She confessed she'd been leaving him alone in his crib since two months. He was eight months now, and "proudly slept or played in his crib the whole night" allowing her sleep through the night without fail or interruption.

She went on to explain that it had "only taken him three days of screaming to learn to be quiet". She used words like "sleep training" and when asked, said he needed to "learn to self soothe" and that his crying was only "being manipulative". He'd been changed and fed. What more could he need?

I mentioned to this mom that an infants digest breast milk quickly, causing many babies to wake to feed during the night. I also told her that sleep is developmental like walking and talking, causing all kids to meet the milestone at different times. I even told her that babies stomachs are really small and that is why they need to feed more often as little tummies just can't hold much as adults can.

She pointed to her son sleeping in his stroller. "He's fine." She said, "and I need sleep. His pediatrician says he should be sleeping through the night by now, so I'm doing what is best for me."

I turned back to my friend at my table to discuss other things, but this conversation has haunted me for weeks. She's doing what is best for her? What about what is best for him?!

I don't believe mothers should let their babies or even children cry it out or "self soothe". I don't even self soothe and I'm an 31 year old adult woman! I'm upset right now and here I am complaining on the internet, not soothing myself in my own room alone. When I am upset I still call my mom or my husband or a friend. Interpersonal relationships--the closeness of people and friends and family is what is soothing to me. Not being alone in a room with the door closed, shut away from the people I love. If I was crying at night and my husband just left me to cry, it would be devastating to me mentally!

That's what I think mothers are missing here. The mental needs of their children. I believe that infants, children, adolescents and adults have mental needs. Feeding and clothing a baby meets their physical needs, but our offspring also have mental and emotional needs that need to be met. Leaving a young child in a room alone when they are distressed and crying is not meeting their mental and emotional needs.

And how can a two month old baby be manipulative? Am I missing something here? If you let your kids cry it out for nighttime, why not other times? What makes nighttime so special? When my kid gets a booboo on his leg I don't let him "self soothe". When he falls over I don't let him "self soothe". When he gets afraid I don't let him "self soothe". So why would I suddenly feel he needs to "deal with it on his own" when he cries just because it's night time?

My toddler can be selfish. He can be whiny and cranky and a handful. But I don't put him in his room alone to deal with that. I teach him by example how to deal with his emotions. By picking him up when he cries I can teach him to pray when he is afraid, to talk to an adult or a friend, or I can simply just be a shoulder to cry on. This does not mean he gets everything he wants or is spoiled. I simply am there for him the way my husband is there for me, or my mom is. We teach our children little by little how to eat: they don't just "get put somewhere self-eat" do they? We teach them how to navigate the world little by little. Why would sleep be any different? (it's just because it's hard for us Mom's isn't it! It's about US, not about them. But they are the ones who suffer, alone)

We have lowered the parenting bar to the point that everything is acceptable because we don't want to judge. But we need to inform mothers of what they are doing to their children and the possible consequences. I think it's no wonder we have huge mental health issues as adults when we don't even go to our kids when they cry. These babies need to be taught how to soothe, how to seek soothing in others and how to work through their own emotions and mental issues. They need to see good examples of this put into practice from loving mothers and fathers and friends and family, not put in a room for 6-7 hours to "cry it out" and "self soothe". They need to know they can come to us. How can they know that unless we show them? How can they feel safe enough to come to us if we don't come to them? I do think cio plants seeds of mistrust and doubt in our kids. It tells them they have to deal with their mental issues on their own. Of course there are many factors behind mental health issues, but abandoning our infants and children when they are dealing with stressful situations definitely could lead to mental and emotional trama!  

If you need sleep as a parent call on your community to help you. Call on your friends and family. Let husband stay up every other night. Try gentle sleep training methods. Cosleep, or bed share. Room in with the baby! Do whatever it takes to mentally and emotionally meet your child's needs. You are their mother. If you or another parent does not meet their needs, there is NO ONE else to do it. They are alone.

We are doing mothers across the nation a disservice if we are not there for them and they have to resort in desperation to letting their kids cry it out.

Don't like my philosophical argument against cio? Here is a great article, and this links to some scientific studies. Cry-it-out is defined as leaving your infant or child to cry alone for longer than 15 minutes.