I Wish I Hadn’t Quit Sleep Training

I never in a million years thought I would be the kind of mom who had problem sleepers. My mom has been a daycare provider for nearly thirty years, and I have watched her help parents sleep train their children all my life. She swears by cry-it-out, and when I see other moms who subscribe to this method, I can’t argue with the results– their kids sleep well. They don’t toss and turn and wake up multiple times per night. I wanted sleep training to work for me, but the truth was, I didn’t have the stomach for it. Cry-it-out didn’t work for me, so I tried everything else instead.

I remember the first night of sleep training my son like it was yesterday. My mother loaned me a book on the Ferber cry-it-out method, and I was resolute that this was going to be the right choice for our family. My mom had used the Ferber method with me, and I have never, as far as I can remember, suffered in any way because of it. Even now, I sleep soundly through the night no matter where I am–so long as none of my children wake me up! My mom recommends this method to her daycare parents, and they herald it as a miracle cure for their sleepless babes.

I knew it would be tough, but I had planned for weeks leading up to this. I knew there would likely be an hour of crying, that I would have to stay strong when I went in to comfort my son and lay him back down. I shows queued up to watch at a high volume to help me keep my mind off my crying baby. I wanted this to work for me and for him.

Yet as soon as I steeled myself to leave the room, all my good intentions went out the window. My son looked at me like I had utterly betrayed his trust. His lower lip pouted dramatically and he was wailing before I even closed the door.

“It’s okay. Lay down. Go to sleep,” I implored gently, but he could hear none of it over the sound of his own desperate cries.

I only had to make it five minutes until the first check-in, when I would go in to soothe him and lay him back down. But that five minutes seemed like an eternity. I watched the clock, uncertain of how I would ever make it past the 10, 15 and 20 minute marks. My son’s loud crying told me we were in it for the long haul, and I couldn’t fathom listening to him cry out for me, or facing his tragic face over and over again for hours on end.

I made it an hour and a half before lifting him from his crib and rocking him gently in our rocking chair, breastfeeding him to sleep. I knew I had undone all the work of the past hour and a half. In fact, my mother assured me, it would probably be far worse the next night. He would assume that making it to the hour and a half mark would save him, so he would hold out for that long– or longer.

I tried for a few more nights, giving in after an hour, then a half hour, then in a last ditch attempt to get back on track, after a whopping two and a half hours. We hadn’t even made it a whole week and I was spent. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was done.

Yet what followed after quitting cry-it-out was far worse. The failed sleep training attempt made it harder for my son to settle down, and he began waking even more frequently during the night. While it wasn’t as physically and emotionally trying as hours of screaming, it was endless. Had I stuck to the cry-it-out method, we likely would have been done with our sleep nightmare in a week or two. Instead, we were left with years of sleep issues– our son was still waking in the night at three years old.

In retrospect, I wish I had simply stuck with sleep training instead of quitting because it was too hard on me. At the time, I told myself it wasn’t the right choice for my baby. I held tight to the fact that it didn’t feel intuitively right to not answer his cries. It wasn’t right for me, for my family. But in reality, these were just excuses. I didn’t want to stick to it. It was too hard.

In the long run, I sacrificed healthy sleep habits in order to make a single week easier on myself. If I could go back and do it again, I would have stuck with it no matter how hard. It would have been the best choice for him, and for me. I only wish I had known that sooner.

Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer with a BA in writing from The University of Nevada, Reno. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Glamour, Women’s Health, Babble, Yahoo Parenting and more. She lives in Reno, NV with her husband, three young children, an awesome dog and a terrible cat.

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