When we sleep trained our daughter, Sara, on any given evening you could find me just outside her bedroom door hunched over the baby monitor with a glass of wine and a steady flow of tears, both hers and mine.
It was summertime in New York and Sara’s room was too small for an AC. We had to leave her bedroom door open, so each night we would turn off every single light in the entire apartment, rock her to sleep, put her in her crib and then sit in the dark like two fools waiting for her to erupt. Sara’s fancy baby monitor connected to my iPhone so Yay, we could watch her scream in full HD. Here’s a glimpse of what life looked like:
Setting: Summertime in Manhattan. Small pre-war apartment. Amy is crouched on the floor looking at her iPhone. She looks distressed, weeps quietly. Paul, her husband, is close by.
Paul: Amy, listen to me. It’s okay, really. She’s fine.
(Amy looks up from her iPhone. She turns to show it to Paul. Irritation shows on her face)
Amy: No. She’s not fine. Look at her. She is screaming. She’s telling us she needs us in the only way she can, and we’re ignoring her. How are you okay with this?
(Amy returns the iPhone to her view, looks disgusted)
Paul: Amy, I know she’s okay because she is safe. And everything we’ve read says this is not cruel to do to them.
Amy: How do you know that? How does anyone know? It’s not like there’s a world full of well-adjusted adults out there. Everyone is messed up. How do you know when you start messing up your kids? It could be right now.
(Paul stares at Amy, hands her a glass of wine, and sits down beside her)
Paul: Take a break. Let me watch her for a while.
(Amy hands him her iPhone. She leans back, closes her eyes for a moment, and then peripherally watches the monitor out of the corner of her eye, because that’s what a good mom does.)
Repeat Scene 1
Sleep Training. I’ve been through it. This is what I learned.
3 Steps to a Good Night’s Sleep
Step 1: Do not listen to what anyone says, especially other parents.
Parents who claim sleep training got their baby to sleep through the night, every night, since, like, three months old: you should never accept a personal check from these people. Something is not right. Assume short-term memory loss, hearing impairment, or just a basic omission of fact. One friend boasted such a story only later to mention her son slept in her bed his entire restful life. Yes, sleeping, but no, not sleep-trained. Unless it is to commiserate, know that sleep training is an imperfect process and walk away from the miracle stories.
Step 2: Know when it’s the right time to start.
It’s the right time to start sleep training your baby when you are about to snap as a new parent. If blinding fatigue has jeopardized your ability to function at work, strangled the intimacy in your marriage, mocked your sanity, and impaired your speech, I’d say you’re ready. Sure, you can start sleep training before your breaking point, but, in my experience, you are more likely to succumb to guilt, which will cause you to rush in and rescue your crying baby, and then you have to start all.the.way.over.
Step 3: Wait about three years for it to work.
Kids change. Every day. That’s what they do, and no amount of bribery can stop them.
Sara was eight months old when we sleep trained her. She cried herself to sleep for four nights and then she slept through the night for about a week. From there it was off and on – a few nights of sleep followed by a night of tears, then a stretch of sleep and BAM a head cold that brought her into our bed and back to square one. By 18 months, she was mostly sleeping through the night, but it was taking up to two hours to get her to fall asleep, and she had to be read to, sung to, and hold my hand the entire time. By two years old, we had trained her to mostly stay in her bed, but she would wake up in the middle of the night and scream like she was being butchered because her blanket fell off, and she was catching a draft. Around two and a half, we moved to San Francisco and about six months later she was California dreamin’ the whole night through.
Sara is four and a half now, and I have never slept through the night since the day she was born. But this is because when Sara turned three, I had her brother.
*Bonus Step: Set me as your bar.