Sleep, Nurturing, and One Mother’s Vision On Forward Facing Care
Posted Jul 25 2012 10:01pm
Posted on | July 24, 2012 |
As a grandparent of nine, with seven who are age 5 and under, I’ve had a great deal of exposure lately to early childhood parenting. When our own kids were this age, I was so preoccupied with a surgical residency and starting a practice that I didn’t fully appreciate the remarkably complex work my wife was engaged in, and how critical it was to the future of our children, and to their children.
In my career, I enjoyed the advantage of exposure to a wide variety of excellent health professional educators. But now that I’m older, with a bit more time to reflect, I feel I would have benefited from more direct exposure to patient-educators. Why? Because they seem more inclined to embrace forward facing approaches that unify knowledge, experience and values.
Were I to pick just one segment of the general population to serve as my instructors, I would choose mothers because they are wise, engaged, and measured. To illustrate the point, read the piece below on training an infant to sleep – one mother’s view on this controversial topic. The mother’s name is Sarah, and her website is . The title of this blog is “The WIO (Wait It Out) Method Of Sleep Training.”
You are three months old, almost everyone agrees that you are too young for “sleep training”, “cry it out”, “Ferberization” and all those other methods of sleep training that the parenting circles buzz about. Others say that three months is plenty old enough. Everyone has their rules, their ages, their advice, their books, their suggestions.
With your oldest brother I became anxious and felt like I was doing “nothing” to help him learn to sleep. With you, I smile peacefully when offered advice about getting you to sleep. I know that I’m not doing “nothing”, I’m laying the foundation slowly and gently.
Chances are pretty good that you’re reading this as an adult and thinking “I love to sleep! Sleep feels awesome.” and snuggling under your covers hitting the snooze button repeatedly.
You’re at the infant stage where to be held is comfort. When I put you down and you cry I don’t k now why it is that you’re crying. I’m told that you “want to be held” and that you are “spoiled” and that “you need to learn to self soothe”.
The thing is.. Sometimes we want comfort because something bothers us. Sometimes we’re rocked by the waves of life and battered by stresses. Sometimes we cling to those we love because we seek solace in comfort. Sometimes we cry because of pain or discomfort but find peace and calm in the arms of someone that we are close to. This applies to adults who have all the words in the world to communicate their needs and to understand them. To adults who have had years to fine-tune their ability to self comfort.
Since you have no words, I do not know the meaning behind your cries. And since you are an infant, I do not choose to attribute malice or aforethought to your cries that soothe as soon as I pick you up. I do not view you as a cunning little creature that wishes to interfere with my life by insisting on being near me.
Maybe you have reflux that makes laying down painful. Maybe you have a belly ache. Maybe you are anxious because of a noise, or afraid of the dark. Maybe you simply do wish to be held because my arms are the safest and warmest place in your world. Maybe your instincts speak loudly to you in ways that you do not understand and you simply know that right now you need to be held in order to be calm.
I cannot think of any reason why I should feel okay letting you lay there screaming. Yes, I need sleep. Of course I need sleep. And I snatch that sleep where I can. Yes, I like sleep. I love sleep. I’ve acquired that taste for lazy days of lounging around in bed. Lazy days that I can’t remember the last of. I have words to vocalize these needs of mine. I have people that I can speak with, and I can even make a stab at saying it eloquently. “I need sleep.” Sometimes I’m so tired that I could cry with that need for sleep.
I am grown. I am strong. I understand the passage of time and that THIS will pass. You will sleep. Your infancy is the briefest part of the brief time that you are a child in need of my arms.
I can wait it out so that you don’t have to cry it out.
I can wait until you have the words to explain your needs and until I can use my words to help you understand the deliciousness and safety of the dark warm place that is your bed in the night in your room in your home with mommy and daddy just a door away. I can rock with you in the dark and let my thoughts and dreams wander and savor the stinky sweet baby smell of your hair and feel the wakings spacing out and coming together as you grow through growth spurts and phases.
I put you down and smile at you in your bed as you stare up at the ceiling fan and smile. You learn that your bed is a safe place to be while awake. When you fuss or cry I pick you up and tell you “I know, you want to be held right now.” You learn that your bed is not a place where you are abandoned, but rather a place that you can happily be while awake.
I nurse you when you need to nurse, trusting you to know your needs and your hunger.
I smile at you and talk to you about how snuggly and warm your pajamas are. How sleepy and relaxed you look. I stroke your cheek and let you savor the sleepiness as you drift off feeling safe.
As you get older like your brothers have, I will do these same things. I will stretch things out and treat bedtime with no urgency or anxiety. I will talk to you as I have to them about relaxing every bit of your body and how your bed is so safe and warm and snuggly and how you can feel the sleepiness in your feet, your legs, your belly, your arms.. How you sink into your mattress and your pillow and how finally your eyes are heavy and sleepy and they barely stay awake because you are so tired that you just… fall… asleep.
Then I can simply remind you “You need to close your eyes and relax.” And I can start telling you that I will be back to check on you as I need to do my bedtime chores.
I’m more worried about how I will convince you to get out of bed when you’re a teenager than I am about the idea that you will never self soothe or that you will never sleep in your own bed. I want you to truly enjoy going to sleep at the end of your long and eventful days, I don’t want you to simply lay there with your eyes awake waiting for sleep while counting sheep as I do the same thing one room over. I want to teach you all the things that I’ve learned about falling asleep, rather than leaving you as an infant to somehow figure it out on your own.
I can savor bedtime and wait it out, because this will not last forever. You are a little creature that is bent on independence. All I need to do is help you see sleep for what it is. Safe, comfortable, and lovely.
In health professional training, forward facing health planning often gives way to doing, reacting, thinking and rethinking. Yet here – in the case above – we see not only a real person, but also an educator, futurist, guide, mentor, and protector. That’s admirable. For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee.