Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son

A Quick Rant On A Fat Tuesday


Hi, loves.  Real post soon, at least some Items.  Things have been busy.  Short version: there is a Stomach-Flu Fairy, and I HATE HER.  All recovered now — please, please let this weekend’s horror-show be the virus the Bean already had — but suddenly it’s a teaching night and I just remembered how I was telling the students last week not to leave the reading until the last minute because in place of our usual 15-page story, I’ve assigned my beloved “A River Runs Through It,” which is beautiful and perfectly controlled and heart-breaking and over 100 pages.  And it’s been a few years for me, too.  Oops.

In the spirit of not getting my work done this morning, I wrote the following rant for a friend currently in the sleep-training trenches and feeling bad about herself, consequently, as one does.  Folks seemed to get a kick out of it, so I thought I’d throw it up here just in case you want to see me rave about something besides my vagina for once.  The self-sacrifice theme is in keeping with the coming fast, right?


Friend said:

Thanks for telling me I’m not horrible. But I have a hard time feeling that this is good for her. Deep within me beats the heart of a hard-core Dr Sears loving attachment parent.


I replied:

See, the thing that pisses me the fuck off about Dr. Sears is that so much of the supposed basis of his recommendations resonates with most if not all of us. We all want our children to feel loved and to love us; we all want to make healthy choices that lead to good outcomes; we all want to feel confident that working hard and being brave and strong will make everything turn out right. Then he takes those shared desires and turns them into massive guilt cudgels for following HIS rules, which may or may not be any better at making any of those things happen. I realize that my contempt for the man’s attitudes is well-established, but his answer to feeling exhausted by a baby who won’t sleep is, “adjust your attitude?” FUCK YOU, buddy.

Maybe I’m just an embittered and cynical ol’ feminazi, but i find it pretty interesting how much of the published and touted sleep advice of ALL kinds comes from *fathers*. Not at all to say that men can’t be knowledgeable or involved parents, but when the advice comes down to endless self-sacrifice for the primary caretaker — whether that’s Dr. Sears’s endless white night or Weissbluth’s command to NEVER be out of the house anywhere NEAR naptime — it makes me wonder whether any of these professionally successful gentlemen have really walked the walk.

I think that by any rational measure we waited plenty long to stop saying nothing but “yes” to every need and desire of the Bean’s. I also think that it’s not unreasonable to suggest that being able to self-soothe through the more wakeful moments that are part of every human’s sleep cycle is a useful skill, and while I’m not sure whether sleep training is teaching it, per se, or only allowing it to develop at a time when the baby’s brain is ready for that work, I don’t think it’s somehow automatically better parenting to ignore the situation.

Would your daughter know how to crawl if you never set her down? Certainly not. You didn’t teach her to do that, but you let her have the chance to learn, even if it meant bumping her head a few times. If crying a little is okay in that context, why not in this one?

If you like rants about sacred cows even better when they’re written thoughtfully and full of medical evidence, I highly recommend Good Enough Mum‘s parenting blog, Parenting Myths, Parenting Facts.  Good stuff.

24 thoughts on “A Quick Rant On A Fat Tuesday

  1. ha, i love it..and we too have been ravaged by the stomach flu to I TOTALLY feel you on wanting to rid the house of THAT lovely girl…

  2. My mummy friends and I have a theory that the fathers are useless when it comes to things like sleep training because they haven’t developed an immunity to hearing the babies cry. They literally cannot stand hearing them cry/fuss, even for five minutes, especially if it is disrupting their important slumber. Whereas, as one of my friends said, “Well, since she’s spent several hours today screaming her head off at me, I don’t really notice it anymore.” And the dads aren’t consistent either- the mums will get them to agree to a particular way of handling the baby at night (comfort in the crib- do not pick up after initial check to make sure diaper is not leaking), and then the dad will take a wake up, get back into bed, and say, “Oh, she was really upset, so I cuddled her in the rocking chair until she fell asleep.” Bam. Four nights of sleep training down the drain.

    It is a source of constant ranting among us that if we are going to bite the bullet and sleep train the little darlings (because I do agree that learning to self-soothe and sleep independently is important), it’s all going to fall on us. Hence a number of us are still feeding twice a night (or more in some cases), because when you ask yourself at 3 am, are you really ready for possibly two weeks of hideous nights, the answer is always, always no.

    I have another friend who was commiserating with me about E’s nursing daytime issues- her ten-month old (now four years) refused to nurse all day as he was zooming around, and then woke up like clockwork every TWO hours at night. And she went along with this until the day she was so sleep deprived she fell down the stairs while carrying him. And then, as she wrote, “Dr. Sears and I reluctantly parted company and I became an advocate of Ferber.” Took her kid two nights to understand that the all-night snack bar was now closed.

    I think that possibly Sears et al are reacting to those parents who try things like Ferber or Weissbluth when the baby is manifestly NOT ready for them (and then going to another ridiculous extreme). But, as I am really starting to see, there is a world of difference between a two month old baby, and a nine or ten month old baby. And at some point, surely, surely, the mother has some right to having her needs met as well.

    I hate the guilt. It comes from all sides- if you let your baby cry, you will scar him for life. If you don’t let your baby cry and you are still feeding said baby at night after nine months, the baby will never sleep independently. BAD MOTHER. It is insidious.

    One reason why I love the blogosphere. Real mums, down in the trenches, muddling along and sharing what does and doesn’t work with their babies. A nice dose of reality after one has read too many books. (My friend who had the up-all-night ten month old had this to say about Pantley: “I read the No- Cry Sleep Solution twice but couldn’t figure out what her actual solution was since all the suggestions she made were surely something any sensible parent would have tried long before. About the only thing I took from it was that Coleton Pantley was a terrible name for a child.”

    • Weeell, by your definition, I’m a father. I’m the one who cannot be reasonable or patient at night, while Sugar is able to do both and doesn’t seem to find the sound of crying nearly so devastating. (Except for the first night of the first round of sleep training, which was made possible only by Starhillgirl’s skyping me down from the ledge over and over again.)

      The Pantley comment is hilarious.

    • hysterical. i keep thinking i should try reading pantley again but the charts get in the way. maybe if i bothered reading her i’d realize there wasn’t much going on there (kind of like harvey karp).

      • Ooh yes, her charts gave me a total breakdown the first time I read it. She really needs to acknowledge that amount of sleep babies need is wildly variable, and she should contextualize what she means by ‘close’ to the amount she says is needed. I wasted weeks weeping over the fact I could never get E. to sleep for more than 13.5 hours in a 24 hour period when he was supposed to be getting 15 or more. And then he did get 15 for a couple of days…and then he didn’t nap for four days!

  3. Here is why I say Fuck you to Sears. Because I believe (call me crazy) that good, solid, uninterrupted night sleep is BETTER for baby (and moms) than going in when they cry at night or offering the all-night buffet. I believe that soothing a crying baby (who is 8, 18, 28 months old) in the middle of the night and thus leading to multiple night wakings is actually HARMING that child. Because they need sleep more than then they need you to go to them 5 times a night. And so, if it takes CIO to get there, so be it. Your crawling analogy is a perfect one. We offer them the chance to learn to crawl, to play, to self feed finger foods. This is no different.

  4. Attachment theory is useful qua theory – if you need to be reminded to see things from your child’s perspective – and we do all need that reminder at times. At other times we need to be reminded to look after ourselves so that we can take care of our children. I think it all depends on your starting point – if you have been bf on demand and getting up with your baby 25 times a night for almost a year, then a further set of instructions requiring you to give up all hope of sleep and attend to your baby’s every whimper 24/7 is unlikely to be helpful. I would have been a less depressed person, a better parent and a better carer for my partner if I had done some sleep training at a much earlier stage. I just do not accept that a few nights with some crying does more damage to a baby than having a totally exhausted parent. I agree with you that Sears is a useful antidote to eg Gina Ford (bizarrely popular here) or anyone who wants to do CIO ona tiny baby…but for the rest of us, the ones who worry about doing anything other than completely prioritising our baby’s every need… not so helpful.

    • I see what you mean about necessary correction of craziness in the other direction, but I do wonder if anyone *really* reads both Dr. Sears and Babywise. (Do you have Babywise? It’s a spoil-the-rod-spare-the-newborn guide to neglect and misery, currently making the rounds of the naive. As far as I know it’s the only book the Am. Acad. of Peds has ever released a formal statement condemning, on the grounds that following it could lead to malnutrition, dehydration, and possible death. But not to a spoiled baby!)

      A popular pediatrics clinic in our area insists that parents do CIO at 8 weeks. This leads to delightfully condescending lectures from fellow parents, on both sides no doubt (though I have only been on the end getting told my barely-at-birthweight baby is pushing me around and doesn’t need to eat overnight. Charming.)

  5. Dr Sears sounds like the Nazi, if you ask me. Sleep deprivation is a torture technique, after all, and he doesn’t even let you complain about it? Grr.

    May the students be undaft and the commute unmaddening.

  6. I firmly believe good sleep for everyone should be the ultimate goal. Nothing is worth more than “teaching” a baby to get good sleep, even if that means letting the baby cry and learn to self-soothe. Every time a parent checks in or helps soothe the baby, it only reinforces that crying in the middle of the night is an acceptable means to get a parent to come running. Children will not ultimately suffer because of a few nights of crying it out, but they will suffer (and so will parents) when the process of trying to get them to sleep through the night is drawn out interminably.

  7. okay, i know this wasn’t the intent of your rant, but the comments are kind of leaning this way, and i know that would piss you off because i know how awesome you are so i’m just going to throw this out there.

    right now a lot of the comments here are making me feel like i need to be defensive of our decision (or really, indecision) NOT to sleep train the bunny. can you provide another rant in defense of us moms who, for the time being, continue to bed share and feed on demand. i refuse to let anyone make me think i’m doing my child a disservice because […]

    okay i took the last part of the paragraph out because, in getting defensive, i was getting judgmental. the point really, though, is that i spend 14 hours away from my son 2x a week. i miss him. damned if someone is going to make me feel bad about my in-bed snuggle and cuddle and, yes, nursing time with him.

    • At the end of the day, you need to do what’s best for your family. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wrong or that you’re doing your child wrong – you’re doing what works in your situation.

      Extremes of anything are bad – it destroys mums and dads to jump at every little sound and it hurts baby to just be left to sob. (When people tell me off for going in to Bub at night, I liken her situation to being in a foreign country – imagine you’re starving but you don’t speak the language. You go in to a shop, try to order something but people either ignore you or lock you away in another room.)

      I try my best to get Bub to sleep in her own bed – it’s been easier since I started Formula feeding (I like to capitalise the F – as a car-nut likening it to Formula 1 racing assuages my guilt at stopping breastfeeding a little). You can cut back a scoop of milk every few nights until baby is just drinking water, then they get out of the habit of eating at night. Bub still wakes up, even though I only give her water now but it’s usually just the once – miles better than her every 20 minutes when I was breastfeeding. Depending on the severity of her cries, I sometimes leave her to see if she’ll settle herself after 5 minutes and other times, I take her into bed with me. I reckon its best to just do whatever keeps you sane and tell anyone who judges you for whatever reason to go fornicate themselves.

      Phew – massive reply. Emotive topic apparently.

  8. For us, it eventually boiled down to: What is happening now is driving everyone more crazy than changing it will drive us crazy. Also, looking back, I almost can’t believe I nursed my child to sleep every night for almost two years (he would nurse for 2-3 hours every night FOR TWO YEARS). By the end I was ready to crawl out of my skin and run down the street screaming. And then I stopped. Anyhow.

    There are lots of people I know who share a bed with their kids until they’re five. If everyone’s happy: GREAT! If the parents are miserable and exhausted and whinily, self-righteously self-sacrificing: not so great. If one mom is happy nursing her one-year-old all night, and everyone is getting enough sleep, and it doesn’t make anyone want to die, then that’s fabulous. If the one-year-old is a snorfle-kick machine who is making everyone’s life a misery, then it’s time to set Dr. Sears on fire, throw it out the window, and start over.

    (I worked at the writing center in college. This is the advice that we frequently wanted to give to people, but, alas, never did.)

    Likewise, I feel that any ‘method’ that claims a) exclusivity in the ‘working’ department and b) serious harm caused by not doing their method… is patently false, because someone’s kid did something else AND IS FINE. This drives me completely insane. Have they never heard of logic? GAAAAAAAAAAAAH.

    And while we’re all feeling ranty: About 90% of the sleep books I’ve read assume that one is bottle-feeding exclusively. Guess what? I have NO IDEA how much my kid is eating (beyond ‘enough’) and I cannot regulate it and breastfed babies generally nurse to sleep for a really bloody long time and your stupid book is useless.


  9. I found your blog through Jenny F. Scientist and all I have to say is “Bless you.” We are in the midst of sleep training because everyone is miserable. Prior to this I had been getting up every 2-2.5 hours to nurse all night long and I’m working full time. I’m flipping exhausted. All this to say, I have been feeling like the worst, most selfish mother on the face of the planet. I’m feeling marginally better this morning after reading this.

  10. Pingback: A Clarification and An Elephant | Bionic Mamas

  11. Bionic- did you lose a post or is it just my reader? I can’t seem to find your elephant post anymore. Hoping it didn’t get too heated. I am all for parents doing whatever works for them and their babies, and then when that doesn’t work anymore, figuring out what does. Different horses/courses.

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