Our firstborn could never fall asleep on his own as a baby. We did not let him cry it out, although we tried…once. We wondered if we were damaging him forever by rocking him to sleep each night.
Well, it’s been 15 years since those sleepless nights, and we now know exactly what happens to babies who are rocked to sleep:
They turn out just fine.
In fact, I think our Josh has turned out better than just fine. He is a sweet, sensitive soul who loves to give great hugs.
When he was a newborn, he accepted no artificial substitute for a warm body. He hated the bottle, and he threw it against the wall when he was only a few weeks old in a fit of rage one day when my mother was watching him. “I want my Mommy’s milk!” he seemed to say through his tears. He also spat the pacifier right out of his mouth. Only a real human finger, preferably Mom’s, please.
We bought a baby swing when he could sit up so that my arms could get a little break from carrying him around. He liked the swing set for about two minutes, but then he demanded that we come back to swing him in our arms. The seat on the swing was too cold, too mechanical. I think my back is forever damaged as a result of swinging him in my cradled arms day after day after day.
Night time was the biggest challenge. He had to be nursed and rocked to sleep. We had to then gingerly put him down into the crib without waking him which, of course, he would, and we’d start the whole cycle over again.
One time, we were so desperate to get some rest that we actually tried to let him cry it out. We put him down in the crib fully awake, turned on the mobile music box, kissed him good night, and walked out. As soon as the music went through one cycle, Josh figured out that his parents were not coming back, and he began to cry. Then the cry turned into a wail. The wailing then turned downright angry. And loud. I was afraid our neighbors would call the cops on us. Meanwhile, I closed my bedroom door and jumped into the shower so as to drown out my baby’s cries as well as my own. David sat in the hallway outside the nursery, dabbing some tears himself. After about 45 minutes — yes, we really tried and yes, Josh was a stubborn baby — we gave up. We burst into his nursery like two firefighters rescuing a child from a fire. Josh was so upset that he hiccup-cried for another hour. We vowed never to go through this torture again.
Yes, we worried that we were creating an insomniac monster. Every time a news article came out about the nation’s state of sleep deprivation and how many heart attacks, strokes, obesity, and bankruptcies could be directly linked to insomnia, we cringed. And we prayed: Lord, please let this child fall asleep on his own! Just any time before he goes off to college.
The good news today is that, indeed, Josh can now fall asleep just fine on his own. Honestly, he needed a warm body next to him to fall asleep well into elementary school. He still is a high-contact boy who enjoys wrestling with Dad before going to bed. He still holds my hands while walking the dog together, provided that none of his friends are around to see us. He gives hugs freely to his friends and is a great listener. In fact, he hopes to become a therapist or a counselor someday. His heart breaks for people who are hurting. He has the gift of empathy like no one else I know.
So, if you are a parent who is thinking of letting the baby cry it out but has some reservations, we say don’t. Maybe it’s not for you and your baby.
Go ahead — love a lot, pray a lot, and rock your baby to sleep.
P.S. Happy 15th Birthday, Josh!