Four days ago Georgia decided she was no longer interested in “self-soothing.”
What do I mean by that? Well, she stopped going to sleep by herself in her crib.
Maybe it’s because she was sick. Maybe it’s because she’s 2 years, 3 months and 28 days, when that One Developmental Thing happens that causes that one behavior we’re all terrified of, when, rather than passing out on her own, the baby demands YOU.
She was crying in her crib. She was launching herself out of her crib. She was screaming “MAMA!”
My keen deductive reasoning skills lead me to the profound conclusion that what she wanted was ME. And so, as I’ve done with all my kids, I picked her up, brought her into bed with me, and fell asleep.
But as I was doing this seemingly benign task, the voices came, as they ALWAYS DO in moments like this:
“But, she’ll NEVER sleep in her crib again!”
“She’ll NEVER go to sleep alone again!”
“She’ll forget how to get herself to sleep and she’ll always need me every single night and I’ll never sleep again or have sex or enjoy my life until eventually I stick my head in an oven Sylvia-Plath style because I can’t face the misery of my own existence!”
“MY GOD she’ll forget to SELF-SOOTHE!!!”
But, as I’ve also always done (though I do it better now and with more confidence), I joyfully tell the voices to go fuck themselves then go about my business. I do whatever the hell I want, with my baby, in the manner that feels right to me. And in this instance, it felt right to pick up the baby crying in her crib, the baby who has put herself to sleep for months now (in a glorious, simplified process she established herself (she’s my only kid to do that, FYI)) – it felt right to “risk” obliterating our ethereal bedtime routine, and curl up beside her in my bed, where we kissed each other and said “I love you” about nine thousand times, between my “firm declarations” that it really is time for “nigh-nigh.”
Why? Because WHY THE HELL NOT? I felt like it.
A reader of this blog, Mel, sent me an email describing “self-soothing” as the “holy grail of parenthood.” (Someday I shall travel to Australia and she and I will meet and be friends.) And indeed it is. Like if you attain Full Self-soothing Status, you have reached the pinnacle of maternal existence, the Promised Land – the Eden of parenthood, where each night is joy, and each morning a radiant sunrise.
But if you don’t reach that place, if your kid is one of the hundreds of freaking thousands, like my first and second, and Georgia for the past 4 days, who needs boob to sleep, or rocking, or bouncing, or some delicately balanced, insane combination of all those things…
YOU HAVE FAILED.
You didn’t teach them to soothe themselves. You lose.
You could have done it when they were younger, but you didn’t, and now that ship has sailed, so – it sucks to be you.
Basically, you’re fucked. Throw in the parenting towel, homie, cause it’s over for you.
What you should do is get online and read the gloating stories of the women who established perfect sleep routines with their baby right outta the gate! (resulting in a toddler who now puts himself to sleep every night, blissfully soothing himself into slumber, with nary a squeak!)
And compare their experiences to your own, the hour-long bedtime rocking routine, the co-sleeping, the marathon nursing, the midnight soothing sessions. The toddler, in your bed, again, with a foot in your mouth.
And beat the hell out of yourself. Just really go at it. Your failures. Your inadequacy for having “created” one of the those “clingy” dependent models.
Or, you can tell the voices to go fuck themselves and go about your business, realizing the Worst Possible Outcome of a baby who won’t self-soothe is that you will be doing the soothing, possibly for 2 years or so, but really? Here’s the thing:
Why is that such a big deal?
I’ve never fully understood it, why we’re all so desperate to not soothe our kids.
Sleep deprivation? Um, yeah. Sleep deprivation comes whether or not your baby “self-soothes.”
Irritating bedtime routines? ARE THERE ANY OTHERS?
Teaching independence? Bullshit. You can read my feelings on that Dr. Spock drivel HERE.
Because my child is trying to control me and I must make it clear that I’m boss! Double bullshit. See above re: Spock.
Because if I put the work in NOW, I’ll never have a tough night again? Wrong. Just when you think you know you’re kid’s routine, he’ll change it.
Private time in the evenings? Sorry, but that particular ship really has sailed. Or it will, once you have more than one kid (and that will be why you stay up until 2am every night, which will in effect render your baby’s “self-soothing” useless, since you aren’t sleeping anyway.)
It’s going to go on forever, because once I establish this dynamic my kid will NEVER EVER go to bed on their own, which will leave me in the awkward situation of trying to rock a 15-year-old girl in the rocking chair. I mean, how will she even FIT?
Oh, right. That’s it. That’s the clincher. They don’t do this forever.
They won’t need it forever.
They need it for a year or two. Maybe three?
And yeah, we’ll be tired. And yeah, we’ll look at them some nights and just beg them to go the fuck to sleep. And yeah, some nights we’ll go SCREW THIS and we’ll put the toddler in the crib and let her wail, because seriously, what the hell kid?
I can’t take it anymore.
And we’ll curse the day we ever had kids, and we’ll wish this shit would end, and we’ll feel like it will never end.
Until one day you wake up and your baby is 11 years old, standing by your bedside whispering “Mama, I know Santa isn’t real,” and you think back to her little foot in your mouth and the way she used to reach her arm across the bed to touch your skin, or toss herself against you to nurse, when she was too old for that kind of thing, and should have been “self-soothing.”
And the next night, when your two-year-old “perfect sleeper” suddenly yearns for her mama’s bed, to have her face against her mom’s bare chest, you’ll feel a little relieved, to have a couple more days, a couple more days with a baby who just won’t self-soothe.