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    Go to Your Baby





    Don't stand unmoving outside the door of a crying baby whose only desire is to touch you. Go to your baby.

    ~Peggy O'Mara

     

    The latest article from Time magazine on baby sleep has me upset. (Of course, it does seem that's what they're aiming for recently. Remember the skerfuffle they caused over the "scandalous" breastfeeding cover?) The thing with this particular article however, is that it goes a step further than just ruffling feathers, or causing a stir. I'm afraid it may take what many parents may be on the edge of doing, and give them that little push over. What am I talking about? 

    Crying it out.

    Crying it out, or controlled crying, is the practice of leaving your baby to cry herself to sleep - usually at gradually increasing timed intervals - in an effort to "train" her to sleep on her own. Forced independence. There are myriad books and websites and doctors and parents and websites that will help steel you against your babies cries, encourage you to "be tough", and "not give in", leading you to believe that overriding your natural, instinctual NEED to GO to your crying baby, is the right thing to do... in order to "prevent spoiling your baby".

    (photo source:http://www.flickr.com/photos/iskir/)

    Have you ever listened to your baby cry, when you couldn't get to her? Maybe you were in another room, helping an older sibling, or driving your car. It's uncomfortable, physically difficult, painful even. If you're breastfeeding, your breastmilk may letdown, you start breathing faster, your heartrate picks up, you sweat, feel nervous, uncomfortable, unable to focus or settle down. You have those responses because you NEED to go to your baby - it's biologically part of your make up, that connection with your infant. She needs to communicate, just like you need to listen. She's not manipulating you, and you're not giving in, you're both just doing what you're supposed to do to help this tiny human thrive and survive. Without that inadvertant response, our species might be in danger. So, why does this Time magazine article suggest that it's OKAY to leave your baby to cry?

    Because I believe as a society we've come to lose faith in ourselves as baby interpreters. We don't trust our baby's ability to communicate, nor our ability to respond. We don't believe that they'll learn how to sleep unless WE  "do something" to get them there. And yet… we don't actively TEACH our children to talk. We don't TRAIN our children to walk. We trust they'll come to do that on their own. I believe it is time to start trusting that our babies will learn to sleep just as they learn to walk and talk - with gentle encouragement, empathy, guidance, honor, and love.

    It comes down to trust. It's time to start trusting yourselves again, parents. Trust your baby. She knows how to communicate, and you know how to listen to her. You know deep down what FEELS right. Honor that feeling, don't ignore it! You WILL learn each others' language, and baby WILL sleep; it doesn't take training or timers or turning a deaf ear.

    (photo source:http://www.flickr.com/photos/dianabeato/)

    Believe me: this short time when she's not sleeping as much as you'd like…It WILL be gone in a flash. And you will feel SO GOOD to know you LISTENED to her when she cried for you, that you HONORED her feelings, that you TRUSTED yourself AND her. Don't let "studies" sway you.

    You want to go to your baby. So, go to her.

     

    Posted: Oct 23 2012, 23:39 by kelly | Comments (12) RSS comment feed |
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    Secular Bedtime Prayers for Children





    As a child I went to sleep every night “saying my prayers”. The repetition of familiar words every evening was a calming ritual for me; helping me settle into the business of sleeping.

     

    Now, as a (non-religious) adult, I no longer say these prayers at night, though I recognize the benefit of having a routine in the evenings. Sometimes I miss having a “prayer” of sorts to say at night, but somehow, “Now I lay me down to sleep… if I should die before I wake…” doesn’t seem quite appropriate anymore (actually, wondering if the mention of death before sleep was ever really an appropriate prayer for a child), so I resort to tea and television or books or the internet as my sleep aid. 

     

     

    I’ve come to recognize, over my years as a parent, the need for routine for children at bedtime. Adam or I still lie down with our kids each night, oftimes we talk about our favorite & least favorite parts of the day.  Sometimes we say what we’re thankful for.  Occasionally we’ll sing a song, tell a story, or math quizzes (all at our children’s request - they naturally love math, thank you Maria Montessori!). And while the spontaneity of our before-sleep ministrations has a certain appeal, I also sometimes wish we had a more regular routine. I’m not saying that we need a prayer before bed; yet, I think repetition can be a calming lead-in to relaxation and sleep. And, as my children get older, a prayer of sorts could be a comforting reminder of home, and of childhood.  


     

    So to that end, I went out into the vastness of the internet (even calling on my Twitter friends for help), and located a few non-denominational poems/songs/prayers that could fit the bill for a calming night time routine. Here are a few of my favorites…(I've adapted/edited a bit; sources are below each)

     

     

     

    Goodnight Earth

     

     

    The earth is big and fat and round.

    I love the sky, the sea, and the ground.

    I love the birds and dogs and sheep,

    and all the animals that fall asleep.

    I love the flowers and rocks and trees.

    I love the earth, and it loves me.

    (Source:  http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/pagankidsbedtimeprayers)

     

     

     

    We Love the Earth  

    For the golden corn and the apple on the tree,
    For the golden butter and the honey from the bees,
    For the fruits and nuts and berries we gather on our way,
    We love the earth and thank it everyday.

     

    (Source:  http://www.beliefnet.com/Prayers/New-Age/Meals/In-Gratitude-To-Mother-Earth.aspx + a special thank you to @resident_hippie for pointing me in the right direction for this one*)

     

     

    Count Your Joys

     

    Count your joys instead of your woes;

    Count your friends instead of your foes.

    Count your smiles instead of your tears;

    Count your courage instead of your fears.

    Count your full years instead of your lean;

    Count your kind deeds instead of your mean.

    Count your health instead of your wealth;

    Love your neighbor as much as yourself.

     

    (Source: http://www.naute.com/inspiration/count.phtml)

     

     

     

    The Earth Mother

     

    We are thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us

    all that we need for life.

    She supports our feet as we walk about upon her.

    It gives us joy that she continues to care for us

    as she has from the beginning of time.

    To our Mother Earth, we send greetings and thanks.

     

     

    (Source: http://ancient-pnevma.blogspot.com/2011/05/humble-yet-wise-native-american-prayer.html)

     

    *A thank you to @DianaIBCLC & @BeingMama for their fabulous before-bed ideas too

     

    So what does your bedtime routine look like? Do you have a specific prayer or poem or song you recite every night; or is each bedtime different?

    Posted: Jun 06 2011, 18:52 by kelly | Comments (12) RSS comment feed |
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    Thoughts On Crying (and Crying It Out)





    Today, Kathleen at A Moment to Think wrote a thoughtful post on babies, crying, communication, and the Cry It Out method today – aptly titled Hear Me Out. Her messages are important: that babies deserve to be heard. And, that sometimes (often) what we’re hearing from babies is crying - and that while that might make us uncomfortable (because negative emotions do tend to make a lot of people uncomfortable), crying isn’t always bad.

     

    I agree with all of these things. Additionally, I believe examining our reactions to baby’s and children’s cries is worthwhile. Are we truly listening to our children when they cry? Or just desperately trying to “fix it”, so they stop crying? And if it’s the latter, why? Isn’t it okay sometimes for a baby to cry, just like we, as adults sometimes cry?

     

    Crying in babies and children isn’t inherently bad. I also agree that children need to be heard. Children, like all people, need to be able to express their emotions in a supported environment (as Annie at PhD in Parenting eloquently expressed in her post, I’ll Hold You While You Cry) – whether they are tiny babies or toddlers having a tantrum or young children having difficulty expressing all the grown up emotions they are starting to feel within their still-small bodies and inexperienced brains. Crying isn’t bad, and doesn’t always need to be fixed, (and certainly doesn’t need to be punished).

     

    However, as much as I agree with children’s need to be heard and allowed to express all of their emotions, I strongly disagree with the example used in her post that the Cry It Out (CIO) sleep training method (in case you aren’t familiar, CIO is leaving a baby to cry deliberately, usually at increasingly lengthened intervals, often without physical contact, as a way to get baby to sleep at night without assistance) is a valid way of doing this.


    (Source: Flikr Artist: Brian Baunach)

    Crying is normal. Crying can be okay. But an infant crying alone, without a caregiver to comfort her, as is the key of the cry it out method of sleep training, is not normal, and is not okay. While there are many variations of the CIO method; the essence of the method is giving a parent the okay to ignore baby’s only option of communication – crying – in an effort and in anticipation of a “better night sleep” (whether that “betterness” is for the parent’s “sanity” or the baby’s “health” depends on the book you read/follow to apply the CIO method).

     

    To quote Kathleen: “I do not accept that a parent that gives a infant the opportunity, in a loving and compassionate way, to feel the full range of emotions is causing harm.” I absolutely agree; I don't accept that either.  Allowing a baby to cry - it iself - is not what is harmful. Babies need to cry. But all babies need to and deserve to be heard when they cry; to be honored and listened to.  And crying it out is at its essence about NOT hearing, and thus, about not being compassionate, not giving an infant the opportunity to feel the full range of emotions in an supported environment. CIO is essentially ignoring baby's full range of emotions by allowing - encouraging - a parent not to attend to baby. I do not see this method as compassionate nor allowing baby to express emotions in a safe way. So I don't think it belongs in a discussion about ways to honor and accept crying as emotional release.

     

    Cry it out has the potential to endanger a mother’s natural ability to respond to baby and empathize with baby’s expression. It teaches parents to ignore baby’s signals. If a baby is put to the cry it out method before a parent has the opportunity to determine the differing and continually changing minutia of baby’s expressions, the potential to miss important signals is increased – and this can be dangerous. Through repeated exposure to being ignored, baby can learn not to cry to express himself, which can translate into repressed feelings – the very thing Kathleen’s essay is saying we need avoid doing to our children; the very thing which I agree with her we need not to do.

     

    I know some babies have a greater tendency to cry as expression.  Some babies cry louder and longer and harder than others. I KNOW it can be hard; I know it firsthand. There are many ways of helping a baby through their expression, and helping them to sleep – and not all of them involve full-body contact; because not every child wants or needs the same thing – but leaving a baby alone isn’t helping them through their feelings.  When I say cry it out has the potential to be detrimental, understand I am not talking about a parent who has determined her infant needs space before sleeping (my son often preferred to be put down and patted to sleep instead of held). I am not talking about a parent determining that their infant prefers to sleep in a baby carrier instead of in arms (my daughter often calmed more quickly this way). I am not talking about a parent recognizing that their infant fusses for a few minutes without escalating, until settling into sleep. These things are not cry it out, and they aren’t examples of ignoring emotions. These are examples of parenting by listening to and understanding baby’s differing needs for space and expression. Learning about your baby’s individuality and preferences, and honoring those. Some babies do fuss before sleep. But a parent can’t be expected to adequately learn to understand these subtleties if they are encouraged or instructed to move right into repeated structured enforced separation cry times at bedtime - because they believe they “need” to let their babies cry in order to allow them freedom of expression (or because they think it’s the only way baby will ever sleep, or because they are told baby needs to exercise her lungs through extended bouts of crying).

     

    Putting a baby in a separate room, closing the door or putting in earplugs, setting a timer, in an effort to get baby to sleep is what I consider to be cry it out, and that is not the same thing as honoring a baby’s need to cry and express emotion and need for connection. Baby’s need for expression through crying cannot be met alone in a room without a trusted caregiver at least nearby, offering support, comfort, presence, or touch. Humans are naturally social, and babies need connection; it's instinctual and necessary for survival. Closing a door and tuning out baby is severing that connection.   

     

    I believe in supporting your baby in their crying from a place of empathy and openness and peacefulness. Whether baby needs full-body holding or just hand-holding, rocking, or walking, or soft talking, responding in a caring gentle way – just as we would like to be responded to – is never the wrong approach.  Connecting with your baby through presence and touch and responsiveness, letting them know you are there – no matter how they are acting – goes a long way in building trust and emotional security throughout life.

     

    For more information on crying, Cry It Out, connection, and attachment parenting, I recommend:

     

    Cry for Connection by Patty Wipfler 

     

    Crying for Comfort by Althea Solter

     

    Letting Baby Cry It Out – Yes? No! by Dr. Sears

     

    Cry it Out (CIO): 10 Reasons Why It Is Not For Us by Annie at Phd in Parenting

     

    I want to thank Kathleen for giving me a jumping off point from which to clarify my thoughts on crying it out and emotional release – I responded in her post comments as well; if you care to check it out. While we don’t always agree; she is outspoken, respectful, and thought-provoking in her posts, and comments and I encourage you to read her blog & comment if you feel so inclined!   

     

     

    Posted: Jan 05 2011, 18:48 by kelly | Comments (13) RSS comment feed |
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    Why High Need Instead of Fussy?





    Our first baby cried a lot.  Maybe it was colic.  Maybe it was allergies.  Maybe she was spoiled. Okay, kidding about that last one (but don’t think for a second I hadn’t been told that, along with all the previous maybes). One might say she was fussy or difficult; as she didn’t adhere to the conventions of “easy baby”…those being: liking to fall asleep, stay asleep, self-soothe, willingly accept a bottle or a pacifier or a thumb, and be put down or passed to someone else.

    I remember asking myself what was wrong – with me, with her, with us as parents.  Was it my milk? Did I hold her too much? After all, her pediatrician advised (at our eight week checkup!) not to always offer the breast when she fussed, and to let her cry at increasingly greater time intervals (via a graduated cry it out method), in order that she learn to self-soothe. These suggestions of course didn’t work – she only cried harder, and longer, and got more upset, not less (as did we).  Even my lactation consultant told me it was okay to put her down & let her cry for a while.  We felt defeated and frustrated and confused.  What were we doing wrong?

     

    So, like a good mom, I delved into the internet and baby books – looking for the solution; methods to try, things to do, anything to “fix” the fussiness. Along the way of trying to solve the mystery of the fussy baby, I happened across Dr. Sears describing their 4th baby, whose personality sounded an awful lot like our own baby.  He called her personality high need.  It was as if a light went on.  From that point forward, we adopted the term. 

     

    This differentiation – from fussy or colicky to high need – helped me to better understand that our daughter was an individual with distinct feelings and preferences that she was keen to express in ways all her own.  Rather than a “difficult” baby with very unspecific and general “colic” or “fussiness” problem, which was perhaps our fault, that needed to be fixed, our daughter became a tiny expressive person, just trying to tell us something; to communicate.  It made a huge difference in relating to her, and relating to each other as parents in this process of creating a close family together.

     

    Her crying was not her being manipulative, nor us doing things wrong. Her persistence was her being passionate about her needs; and in understanding that, it was much easier to help her through those needs – and to keep listening to her, and supporting her until we figured out what she was trying to say.  I remember the day my husband came in to baby’s room at night, after I’d been pacing the floor with our crying daughter for what seemed like hours.  Instead of being fed up or frustrated with the situation, he said, “You know what we figured out the other night? She likes to go up & down.  Like this.”  He took her from me, and proceeded to do squats while holding her upright; and she quickly stopped crying, and settled into sleep.  He was excited to share something they’d figured out together, the previous evening, and she seemed to be as well.  Our baby was expressive; we were charged with translating that expression; and it looked like we were finally learning to speak her language.  It was liberating.

     

    Now, I’m not going to suggest that simply a name change cures all.  A high needs baby isn’t an “easy baby”.  But I do believe it helps put baby’s expressions into perspective. Instead of baby having an affliction like fussiness to be fixed or worse – ignored, baby’s expressiveness – her high need is just her way of being. Perhaps this perspective can open parents up to being more creative in translating and calming and empathizing, as it did for us.

    Posted: Sep 07 2010, 19:45 by kelly | Comments (3) RSS comment feed |
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    The Most Peaceful Time of Day





    Crunchy mom confession: I still help my children fall asleep at night. My children are 3 years and almost 6 years old, and I lie down with them at night, after bath time, after books and quizzes with Daddy. I snuggle between them, as they drift off to sleep. When they are asleep, I disentangle myself from arms and legs, and tip toe out, lingering just a bit to see them peacefully asleep together. Now, I don’t have to do this. I know they are capable of falling asleep on their own. And they have, when I’ve asked them to – if I’m touched out for the day, or I have something to do right after bed. But most nights, I still choose to lie down with them because…

    - They still want me to, and I know they won’t always want me to. And I will sincerely miss it when they don’t.

    - They ask me the best questions after the lights go out. Like, “How far does the sky go?” and “How fast can an elephant run?”

    - Before sleep, they are always harmonious and joyful. There’s no whining, teasing, wanting. Something about the tranquility of sleep about to come, brings with it a welcome sense of peace, that I don’t often encounter during the day with two young children, and a lot of responsibilities.

    - They recount the events of the day, and we ask each other what our favorite parts of the day were – and what our least favorite parts were (this is a wonderful window into how they interpret my actions – sometimes an action that I thought was rather forgettable, like, asking my 3yo to help me sweep up a mess, turns out to be his favorite part of the day – because I was one-on-one with him on the floor, guiding him. And that expensive trip to a museum – not as fun.).

    - They tell me things that happened in school or at grandma’s house, which otherwise, with the lights on, and the events of the day swirling busily around them, they might not have mentioned – things that concerned them, things that they need help processing. I’m glad to be able to slow down for a little bit and help them through those thoughts, which might not otherwise have been communicated.

    - It’s a quiet time, to relax and just be, without expectations or schedules or places to go or things to get done.

    - They ask me to sing as I always have to them before sleep, and I love to sing, and now they love to sing too – and I marvel in hearing their little voices developing.

    - I adore the feel of their fingers, curled around mine; relaxing into sleep like they did as infants once upon a time on my shoulder. I feel blessed that almost 6 years after having my first baby; I still get a glimpse into babyhood that isn’t so far gone for my little ones.

    So for all of these reasons, I lie down with my children at night, and help them to sleep. Our days go so quickly, and they are growing so fast, I’ll enjoy this connection and this time with them now, while I can.