New Parents Cry it Out Over Crying-It-Out

Shortly after my son was born I called a knowledgeable new parent friend in a total panic: “So I have to let the baby to cry it out, or put him in my bed??? THOSE ARE MY ONLY TWO CHOICES???” I was enraged. Any piece of advice about sleep seemed to be attached to one of two all-encompassing child rearing philosophies. And these philosophies were at war; no ammo was off-limits.

I heard that letting a baby cry-it-out would lead to anti-social behavior along the lines of, and this is not a joke: Hitler. A simple inquiry into how long an eight week-old might nap could quickly slide into a lengthy investigation of attachment disorders in abandoned post-WWII orphans. Experts warned, “the window is now!” sleep train, or forever share your bed!

If you’re pregnant, you’re probably getting wind of this already. A simple dinner party with new parent friends can turn into an infomercial for a celebrity-endorsed baby sleep program. If you or someone you know is feeling the new parent pressure, you may want to check out what new dad Peter Birkenhead has to say. His essay, Cribs vs Beds: Parenthood’s All-Out War is a wildly accurate, touching and hilarious spoof of parenting culture:

“The Cribs, as you probably know, believe in “crying it out,” “walking it off,” and midcentury modern furniture. The Beds, of course, believe in co-sleeping, home birthing and placenta soup. Both groups believe that I, as a new parent, am a dangerous idiot, and they are not at all shy about letting me know that……when I described the ambivalent, improvised approach Jenny and I take, I was met with the inevitable phrase, “Whatever works for you!” which means, “Have fun visiting her in juvie!”

Early parenthood is a vulnerable time.  Joining a preexisting power group can be alluring, I totally understand. But part of the learning curve is figuring out what works for you and what works for your baby. Stereotypes and one-size-fits-all programs tend to distract us from looking at our own situation. Plus, for every stereotype (the kind so brilliantly spoofed by Birkenhead) there is the unexpected parent: the woman who births in a tub at home and feeds formula; the mom who loathes the  idea of unmedicated labor and breastfeeds for three years; the baby-wearing, cloth-diapering parents who let the baby cry-it-out at three weeks; the working mother who believes the mother should be the primary caregiver; the stay-at-home mom who thinks stay-at-home mothering is culturally constructed hogwash that is not good for anyone’s health. These are all people I know.

So I say, go forth and be judged! Throw away the books if you have to. The battle between the beds and the cribs (or the parent-led vs the child-led) has been going on for over a century and it’s not ending any time soon. It’s your baby. It’s your life. Besides the hardcore gangs are probably too busy and/or stressed out with elimination communication or finely tuned nap schedules to actually do anything to you!

Photo: Brian Sellers/Flickr

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