I have to be honest: I’m pretty spoiled. While raising an infant has its challenges, Milo is a pretty easy going baby. From 2 months of age, he has slept 10 hours a night. On the rare occasion he’ll wake up in the middle of the night, but it’s very rare and always easy to get him back to sleep. Until recently.
About two weeks ago, Milo started waking at 1am like clockwork. You have to give the boy some credit: at least he’s consistent! The first couple nights it didn’t phase me. We had family visiting from out of town, so he was spending more time with “strangers” and less time with mommy. I figured these cries in the night were just his way of making up for our lost time during the day.
But as this wore on and seemed to be becoming our new norm, I started to get a little worried. I kept telling myself this was just a phase, he’d move out of it just as quickly as he moved into it. And let’s be honest, one waking in the middle of the night isn’t that bad. Many babies his age still do that and have yet to achieve a full night’s sleep.
So the other night it’s 1am and Milo starts crying. I rushed into his room to comfort him in hopes that he’d just fall back asleep quickly. I picked him up and immediately he was soothed. So I rocked him for a couple of minutes and put him back in his crib. I honestly enjoyed those few minutes of holding him—I know that the days of my baby boy wanting his mommy to hold him are limited so I’m happy to take advantage of them. But the moment I put him down he started crying again, so I quickly picked him back up. For 30 minutes we did this dance: cry, pick him up, rock, put back down, cry, pick him up and so on.
With no end in sight, I began to lose patience. I wondered if I had brought this problem onto myself; that I had enabled Milo by always picking him up. So in that moment I decided it was time to set things straight, I would let him cry-it-out.
Having done no research on how to properly do cry-it-out, I simply put him in his crib and sat on the floor next to him trying to hush him. It was awful. He cried until he was hysterical and choking. I thought he would eventually just pass out, but he was as determined to cry as I was to not pick him up.
After an hour, Milo was no longer the only one crying. I went into our bedroom sobbing and woke Nick up. I explained the situation and looked to him for affirmation. I needed to hear I was doing the right thing. What I got instead of affirmation was accountability. Nick, ever so gently, asked me if I thought this was the right time to try enforcing cry-it-out. He asked if I might be basing my decisions more on emotion and exhaustion rather than clear thought. He suggested that I comfort Milo in whatever way necessary and that the next day we would actually come up with a plan.
The next morning I was sipping my coffee and reflecting on the previous events. I realized how right Nick was, that I don’t do my best thinking at 1am. (I’m so grateful to have such a wise husband!)
I went on to realize that in the moment I decided to treat the symptoms: Milo’s waking and crying. But that’s not the actual problem. At his age, Milo can’t verbally tell me what’s wrong. He can’t say, “Mommy, my tummy hurts” or “Mommy, I miss you and need some extra snuggles.” All he can do is cry. I got so caught up around the crying, I missed the fact that Milo was trying to communicate with me. I was hearing him, but not listening to him. He needed to tell me what was wrong, but I was losing the message in translation.
The other problem I faced during that debacle, was the fear of “them.” You know, “those people.” What would “they” say when they heard I did cry it out. Half the moms out there would encourage me and say I was doing the right thing; the other half of moms would be ashamed and tell me how I was scarring my child for life. We sometimes get so caught up in the theories and philosophies for child rearing, that we treat our child like a math problem. There is a specific formula you must follow with only one correct answer.
But it’s not that simple because babies are people and they don’t just fit into a formula. What works best for one child doesn’t work best for another. And it’s not fair to the child to treat them in such a cookie cutter way. As Milo was crying, I became so paralyzed with fear that I was going to do the wrong thing. I was so concerned with all the other voices I couldn’t hear the one that mattered: Milo’s.
Ok Milo, Mommy’s listening.