Controlled crying is one of those hot-button parenting topics that divides the internet and starts the mummy-wars. Every time. The mums who subscribe to it are child-hating monsters. The mums who don’t are a bunch of spineless saps raising super dependant baby marshmallows.
To be clear – neither of the opinions above are my own. I believe controlled crying is a choice. If you choose it, like I did, great. If you don’t choose it, also great.
I believe, more than most things, in parents’ rights to raise their kids the way they feel is best. You won’t find me in a lengthy Facebook battle firing cheap shots at mums whose minds are never going to be changed by said Facebook battle anyway.
But yeah. I believe the crap out of controlled crying.
When I announced that I was pregnant with my son, a colleague approached me at work. He congratulated me, and then basically tried to convert me on the spot to the controlled crying lifestyle.
“It’s hard.” he warned, describing nights of standing outside his daughter’s room as she wailed her little lungs out, Daddy instincts in overdrive, just desperate to run in and cuddle her. “But it’s worth it.”
I wasn’t convinced.
My grand plan was to be a gentle, attentive mum. I was going to lovingly rock my son to sleep, patiently rise to him each time he cried out at night, and allow him to rely on me to be his comfort and resting place.
And for the first seven months of his life, that arrangement totally worked for us.
But somewhere along the line the bath-bottle-bed routine stopped cutting it for my son.
He stopped falling asleep on the bottle and started raising the bar as to what would actually get him off to sleep. Rocking, bouncing, singing, soothing and sitting beside him all got their 15 minutes of fame, but inevitably would lose their charm. And his gentle, attentive bedtimes were beginning to become whole-evening affairs with both parents heavily involved, usually ending with us crawling straight into bed ourselves the moment those little eyelids finally fluttered closed. Then he would wake in the night seemingly for no reason other than to have us repeat the whole process again.
Bedtime – and sleep in general – was a battle, and there were no winners.
Before I continue, you need to understand – in your soul – that I love my son. I love him so much that it hurts. Some nights, long after he’s fallen asleep, I sit next to him in his bed and sob over the fact that he’s growing so fast and my soft mumma heart can’t actually handle it. He brings insurmountable joy to me (almost) every moment of every day. Seeing the little guy he’s growing into is my greatest, most privileged pleasure in life.
But I do not regret leaving him crying in his bed as a baby.
After consulting Google and a handful of baby sleep forums and Facebook groups, the answer I kept coming back to was not my first preference. Or second, or even third. But out of options, I finally turned to controlled crying.
I chose the gentlest method I could find – the Ferber Method – which guided me through with carefully planned crying increments that gradually stretched out to be longer and longer as our days of controlled crying progressed.
But there’s really no way to ease the fact that your beloved tiny human is sweating and wailing in his bed, sure of nothing except this. That last night he was fed and cuddled for hours until he fell asleep, and now he’s alone in the dark and very much awake.
That first night was nothing short of brutal.
My husband and I did little else than pace outside his room, waiting for phone timers to go off so we could get in there and offer brief words of comfort before closing the door and re-setting the clock for a longer increment than last time. When he finally fell asleep I was totally shaken, questioning my decision hard.
But when he slept through the night and woke the next morning cooing and delighted to see me, the night’s atrocities long forgotten, it felt a little better.
The next pre-sleep crying session was hard too. So was the next one. But as the nights and naps wore on, the devastated wails were making way for frustrated grizzles. The crying times were shrinking down. And he was sleeping really well.
Within a couple of weeks, my son’s sleep habits were nothing short of glorious.
He would happily go down in his cot, rubbing his eyes and rolling over to settle himself to sleep. He’d sleep well overnight, only waking for a feed or a quick lost dummy recovery operation. He’d wake up chirpy and well-rested (and so did we)!
For our family, controlled crying was the light at the end of a long tunnel of sleep issues. Sleep is so important for kids. So I rest easy knowing that my son has developed great sleep habits and the ability to settle himself.
Getting there was no fun, but my colleague was right – it was worth it.
Controlled crying isn’t for every parent. It’s not for every baby, either. And I’m not trying to claim that it is.
The important thing to remember when it comes to controlled crying (or any hotly debated parenting matter!) is that whether or not we agree with other mums’ choices, we all make decisions that we feel are the best for our kids.
For a different way to solve baby’s sleep problems, take a look at this Mum’s honest take on co-sleeping and why it works for her family.