Parenting is not like math, unfortunately for those of us who enjoy formulas. No, it’s definitely more like poetry or impressionistic painting. Sometimes you get it, sometimes it makes no sense; sometimes up close, in the words of Cher from “Clueless,” it’s just a big old mess.
Before having Eliza, I read the book “Baby Wise” for advice on getting her to sleep well. I decided that if I followed its principles, it would be nearly impossible to have a child who didn’t sleep well. Wouldn’t you know, Eliza was sleeping 8 hours through the night consistently by 11 weeks. (Looking back, I believe God was just being gracious because of the injury she caused when she exploded out of me on the third suction attempt, causing a fourth degree tear.) She slept 12 hours a night from about 5 months on and has never looked back (except of course for her two-month-long battle with night terrors from July to September last year that I am still trying to forget and never blogged about because, as I just said, I don’t want to remember it).
Throughout Eliza’s infancy, I smugly and silently scoffed in my head at the moms who told me, “Well, Johnny’s always been a great sleeper, but Emily’s my one who still wants to get up several times a night.” I thought it must be the parents who screwed up, got lazy, or didn’t follow through. I looked forward to following the same formula with Zach and – POOF! – sleeping well again by the time he was three-months-old.
I was very, very wrong to make such an assumption. Zach turned one a couple of weeks ago and he is still not consistently sleeping through the night. All along as I’ve tried to train him to sleep and then found myself having entire two-sided debates in my head about the benefits and drawbacks of going into his room, I’ve thought, “At least by the time he’s one this won’t happen anymore unless he’s sick or teething.” (The day I learn not to make assumptions about what should and should not happen developmentally for my kids on my self-determined time line will be very liberating indeed.)
The thing is, I followed the “Baby Wise” formula again. I couldn’t be as rigid and calculated about it because I had another toddler to manage, but I followed it. The problem is two-fold: he is a second child and he is a different child. It was a whole lot easier to let Eliza cry it out to get herself to go to sleep because there wasn’t another child in the house she could wake. Not only that, but for her, “crying it out” meant letting her fuss for a few minutes and then enjoying the silence. For Zach, it turns out that crying it out is an inexorable affair that causes me to wonder, “If I put him outside in the backyard and go back to sleep, will the neighbors be able to hear him? And if they call the police, will I have broken any laws?” These eternal screaming fits eventually and inevitably wake Eliza, and then we have two inconsolable babies with which to deal.
I’ve tried two or three times (I can’t remember exactly because sleep deprivation inhibits memory retention) to let him cry it out for days on-end. I also follow the rules about not picking him up when he cries. If I go into his room, it’s just to rub his back for a few seconds and replace his pacifier. He will randomly sleep through the night without a peep, as he did two nights ago. Then he’ll have a night like last night when he screamed for more than an hour. It just doesn’t make sense.
So if you are a mother out there and you have figured out the formula for getting a child like Zach to be able to self soothe when he wakes, I’m all ears for suggestions. Just don’t expect me to be able to do it unless it’s X + Y = blissful sleep.