Musings

Sisters and Mothers

Julie / February 18, 2010

I’ve just been rereading my earlier posts, and almost had to laugh–I have not felt very sorry at all that E is no longer an only child.  Yes, yes, I was right about all the little sweet moments I’d lose when R was born, but I hadn’t nearly anticipated the abundance of other sweet moments gained by watching E and R together, by holding them both on my lap, or by all acting like lunatics (as toddlers are wont to do) together.  The gain is clearly more than the loss.

The only thing that caught me utterly unaware was that I’m pretty sure E likes R more than she likes me.  Or anyone else.  She wants to use R’s blanket.  She wants to take a nap with R.  She wants to be just in the same room.  In short, she utterly adores her sister with an abandon that just won’t stop.  I thought it might, but it hasn’t dissipated one teensy bit.

Unless something changes, I’m beginning to realize that I may very well never have the relationship with my girls that my mother had with me.  Which is a little sad, in a completely selfish way.  I love my parents.  I have often desperately needed my parents.  My parents were my entire substantive social world for eons–more or less until S came along.  And then, with moving out (and away) things shifted a bit, but it was more of an expansion than an exchange–we still keep in very, very close touch.  If I need to talk, or need advice, one or the other of my parents is usually at the top of my list.

I have the vague suspicion, and maybe even hope, that E and R may be at the top of each others’ lists.  I know there’s a unique role of parentalness that siblings can’t fulfill (for instance–the aforementioned advice category), but for friendship?  My notion is that sisters may be better.  Longer-lasting, for sure; parents and children are separated by birth on one end and death on the other.

I hadn’t expected this, although I should have.  Mainly it makes me a little bit sad that I don’t have a sister of my own to have been a child with and to grow old with.  And more appreciative of the relationship–the friendship–that I have with my mom.

Discipline, Musings

Cry-It-Out: Trials, Trevails, and… Joys?

I was about as anti-cry-it-out as one can be without being a left-wing extremist post-hippie natural mama. Not that I’d go around telling other parents that they were traumatizing their children, but I’d sit there and be quietly smug about the fact that my child could rest assured that her parents loved her and met her needs.

In my defense, the anti-cry-it-out movement is pervasive, especially among parents who breastfeed. Breastfeeding, attachment parenting, cosleeping… three little peas assembled neatly in one pod, while formula, parents-first, and cry-it-out nestle snugly in another. So, since I was so on board with the benefits of breastfeeding, I could hardly help but be persuaded into the camp of attachment parenting. Our failed attempt at not cosleeping (I fell asleep with E in the rocker at 5mo, which scared me to death and began our journey of cosleeping) didn’t help, either.

When Attachment Parenting Fails

But as the months before #2’s arrival shortened, we became more and more desperate for E to sleep through the night. I hadn’t had a single night’s sleep since before she was born, and pregnancy was beginning to make a bad situation even worse: E was waking up more to eat, and I was having an even harder time sleeping thanks to pregnancy’s aches and pains combined with months of sleeping on the floor. Even worse, there was absolutely no way that this scenario could continue after the new baby’s arrival–there’s simply not enough momma to go around!

So we had to do something. First I tried Elizabeth Pantley’s method. It didn’t work. I think it might have worked if E had been younger, or if we’d done it from birth. It also might have worked if I’d had far more energy than I did, or if E was less of a strong-willed child. But it didn’t work for us, and still the months stretched onward. Then we tried the “stuff her full of food before bedtime” method, which accomplished nothing at all.

Finally, we started to contemplate letting E cry. Abandoning her in her crib–where she’d never slept since she was a newborn–and leaving her there all night.

It was a consideration born entirely out of desperation. And a decision founded more in our minds than in our hearts. I was terrified that it would traumatize her, permanently wreck what little “solution” we had to the sleep problem, and, in the end, not even work. But neither of us knew of anything else to do, and so we did it, after surprisingly little discussion and very little time to consider. It was almost as though we, having decided that it was a possibility, wanted to go ahead and get it over with as soon as possible. I suggested that we should begin on the first night of S’s work week, so that I would be the only one home to hear her cries. I thought it was best that only one of us lose extra sleep, and best, too, that only one of us should be traumatized by listening to a child cry because we refused to tend to her.

And So It Began

The first night, I was like a scientist, observing E in a little petri dish. I was pleased to note that her cries sounded angry, but not desperate and not hopeless. I was astounded to realize just how good a job I could do of completely ignoring her. Even when she woke me up in the middle of the night, I found myself only too capable of falling back asleep with her crying in the background–something I didn’t want to do, since we were more or less following the “Ferber method,” which means you check on the child and reassure him/her at regular intervals. I felt cold, and was both disturbed and mildly amused by how indifferent I was to her screaming pleas.

Happily, the first night was not the worst. And the day after, E was as happy as I’d ever seen her; maybe even happier. She had slept a reasonable amount and clearly was not injured by the horror of the night before. The second night, on the other hand, was awful. It was almost enough to make us quit, and I imagine that we would have, if we hadn’t had the better experience of the first night to compare. After taking hours to fall asleep, she woke up in the middle of the night and cried for nearly four hours straight. At the end, I went in and brought her with me after all; I was very much afraid that she would end up not getting any sleep at nighttime, and since we’re not doing cry-it-out for naps, it occurred to me that she might just be smart enough to flip her days and nights around in resistance.

Today is Day 8, and she is “sleeping through the night” in that she is more or less in her crib and not really crying for 12 hours. She still wakes up, but her cries are few and I suspect she isn’t even fully awake for many of them. I’m not exactly sure how much sleep she’s getting, but certainly from a momma’s point of view, she’s “sleeping” perfectly adequately for my needs.

Selfish Parenting?

And here, of course, is where we get to the sticky part. I realized on the very first night, after waking up at 3am feeling more refreshed than I’d felt at 7am on my mornings with E, that I would have been much happier–myself–if we’d done this months ago. The experience of putting her to bed, without being at her beck and call for hours afterward: this was new. Having hours of time that I knew would be unbroken: this too was new. Being able to move freely about, make some noise, and use some light after E’s bedtime: new. An unbroken two-hour-long conversation with my husband: new.

In short, it was clear in an instant that regardless of whether E ever adjusted to sleeping by herself, this new arrangement was infinitely better for me physically and psychologically, and for our marriage. I had forgotten what I was missing, and now that I had the tiniest taste of what it would be like to have it back, I knew I would have a really hard time giving it up, no matter what it meant for E.

Cry-it-out is unquestionably the appropriate course of action for selfish parents.

What about unselfish parents, though? How has it affected E? On Day 8, it’s honestly very hard to assess. On the one hand, the child is clearly getting more sleep. She is clearly learning new independence, as confirmed by those outside our little sphere. In her good moments, she’s less clingy to me than she was before; she’s been much more aggressive about accepting new people. Today a dog two feet away from her barked very loudly, and all she did was jump. She also seems more alert, more intelligent, and more curious. It’s hard to know how much of this is because she’s eight days older than she was before we began, but she seems to have accelerated sharply. On the other hand… one thing nobody told me about cry-it-out is that the days are worse than the nights. On the second and third days, she was just horrible. It was work to make her vaguely happy in the mornings, and in the afternoons she was so tired and upset that nothing either of us did could stop her from screaming non-stop–for hours. It is a horrible thing to not know how to comfort your child when you want to so badly. Only the past two evenings have we been able to hold off her tears until bedtime. She has also become obsessed with being held during the day, although this too seems to be lessening as the days pass. But it’s very slow going, on both counts, and it was all the worse because it was unexpected. I would guess that some of this might have been avoided if we’d done it at an earlier age, but as it is, I’ve often wondered in the past few days if we were ever going to see our happy little girl again.

So the jury is still out, but we’ve seen some positive effects already, and obviously we are hopeful that they’ll continue to grow and that the negatives will lessen and disappear.

A Do-Over

The obvious question, then, is what are we going to do with child #2? I’m still strongly in favor of cosleeping–for my own sake, if not for the child’s. There is no question at all that I got more sleep cosleeping with E than I did getting up out of my own bed multiple times each night to feed her, rock her, and sooth her back to sleep. It’s quicker and less jarring to be in the same bed, and many times I wouldn’t even fully wake up. So we’re planning to cosleep again, this time with a cosleeper bassinet so that I can sleep on a mattress, and so that the baby’s “nest” is physically delineated from mine. E and I never cuddled–neither of us seemed inclined–but a separate bassinet is easier to transition out of cosleeping, as well as safer from the well-publicized “threats” of overlaying and smothering. We’ll have to see how it goes; my only concern is that it will require moving the baby away from me at the conclusion of each feeding, instead of moving myself away from the baby.

In pursuit of sleep, I plan to use many of Elizabeth Pantley’s methods from the very beginning, and take care that the new baby forms as few sleep “conditioners” as possible. With E, I managed to make it so that she didn’t need rocked or “soothed” to sleep–but she did need fed. At the time I thought she would simply outgrow that as she outgrew the physical need to eat throughout the night, but she didn’t. So I’ll try to avoid making that sleep connection, or any at all. Teach the baby from day one to be a self-soother.

If everything went perfectly, that would mean the baby would start sleeping through the night on its own at three or four months, or even sooner. And I’ll certainly be hoping that happens. But if it doesn’t, my experience with E has taught me that I don’t want to wait until one year to sleep-train. That’s too many months of wasted sleep for both of us, and too old a child to be able to negate any “trauma” associated with sleep training. I remember E’s newborn cries, and they were cries I’d much rather listen to than her toddler screams.

So, A Mistake

I was wrong about cry it out. And naive. I certainly would do it differently if I had it to do over. I read so many articles and deliberated so carefully, and came to the wrong conclusion. I’m beginning to realize that parenthood is full of mistakes; there have been many things that I’ve been utterly convinced of, only to be proven wrong.

I think this is the biggest one so far.

Studying God

the beauty of the Gospel

I have been reading C.J. Mahaney’s book The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing over the past few days, and one thing he says has really stuck with me: the Bible is God’s story, not ours, and that should be a guiding factor in the principles we gather from the Word.

His example is David and Goliath. There’s a spectrum of approaches you can take to the passage (I’m broadening this beyond Mahaney, by the way):

Secularistic:The story of David and Goliath shows us that it isn’t always the strongest that win. A little boy with stones can fell a giant with a sword. Therefore, we should never give up or despair, and if we’re the “big guy” we should be careful not to be over-proud because all it might take is a slingshot to bring us down. 

Middle:The story of David and Goliath shows us that anything is possible when God is on our side. We shouldn’t be afraid of facing off against giants, because if God is with us, we’ll win the battle! Similarly, we see that Goliath was trusting in human power alone and so failed. 

Gospel-centered:The story of David and Goliath shows us that we are utterly hopeless without God. David was totally set up to lose; he couldn’t possibly have beaten a mighty foe like Goliath on his own. But God in His sovereignty is able to use a wretch like David to bring down the mighty. We can also see a parallel to the cross in this story. Like David, we’re in a battle against sin and our flesh that we can’t possibly hope to win. We’re lost causes. But just as God brought David to victory, He brings us to victory in Christ!

Subtle differences, but very profound. From a certain viewpoint, all of these interpretations are valid. You can draw from the text the first implication against overconfidence. You can draw the second implication that with God all things are possible–Philippians 4:13 and Romans 8:31 back up this interpretation very thoroughly. And, of course, you can draw the final implication, that the story shows God’s sovereignty and our weakness.

On the one hand, it seems like the latter interpretation is “forced” on the text. The passage doesn’t talk about Christ, or the redemptive power of the cross. It doesn’t even talk about God’s sovereignty. David doesn’t sit down and compose a psalm of praise when Goliath hits the ground. But. What do we know about God? We know that in Him there is “no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). God’s was doing the same thing and working from the same principles in David’s time as He was when Jesus went to the cross. God’s been “preaching” the Gospel to His people from the moment Adam and Eve stepped out of Eden. And the Gospel as it’s written throughout Scripture is that man is utterly lost without God, but that God is a God of love and salvation so praise Him! And that message is very clear in the story of David and Goliath. David tells Goliath (1 Samuel 17:45-47, ESV):

You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.

So why did this exchange between a shepherd boy and a giant even happen? That “all the earth” (!) would see God, and that everyone who witnessed the exchange would learn that the Lord saves, not with human implements and might but by His sovereign power. He had dominion over the battle.

And here we come to a clearer reason why this is God’s story, not David’s. I have heard, so many times, that God “prepared” David for the fight with Goliath through using the fight with the lion and the bear. Like David’s a shepherd boy, sure, but he’s some kind of superhero shepherd. Yet that’s not what the passage is saying at all. David told Saul about those fights as part of his “qualifications,” yes, but he wasn’t saying, look, I fought off a lion and a bear, so I think I can handle a giant. No. David was saying, look, My God delivered me from a lion and a bear, and My God is going to deliver me from your giant. The story of David and Goliath has been about the sovereignty of God all along.

In conclusion, then, I’ve been deeply challenged by Mahaney’s book that when I read Scripture, I should be looking for the Gospel. I should be looking for the good news. Every passage should make me exalt God and abase self; to make me more aware of my helplessness without Him and more aware of His infinite power to save. If we’re reading stories like David and Goliath and coming away with only an interpretation like the middle one above–if we’re only seeing what God can do for us without simultaneously seeing how utterly helpless we are by ourselves–then we’re missing the Gospel, we’re missing the heart; we’re missing the whole point. We’re missing the opportunity to savor the beauty of the cross.