Since before I was even a parent, I've always had a strong aversion to the cry-it-out sleep training method. No offense to those of you who use it (I know I'm in the minority here!), but it just seems cruel to me. And adopting after years of infertility only drove my convictions deeper--after years of longing to hold a child in my arms, I couldn't think of doing anything BUT swoop him up in my arms whenever his tiny cries rang out.
Which they did often.
It turns out, out little guy LOVES to be held. Before he learned to crawl, he was usually only happy if he was being held...but then he was the happiest kid around. So we made great use of the sling and the Baby Bjorn. And I really didn't mind. Sure, I got tired...and I definitely lamented the days when I was able to just get stuff done. But like I said, I was ecstatic just to finally have a child of my own to hold.
And his nighttime routine still hasn't seen the fruits of that independence.
Around 6 months, we started another habit that most "experts" warn severely against: co-sleeping. Mind you, this wasn't a well-studied, intentional parenting choice, but rather a moment of weakness in our overly-prolonged state of exhaustion. No surprise, Jadon loved it. He slept amazingly better...which meant that so did we. What started as a short-term reprieve from sleeplessness turned into long-term convenience which we kept intending to break but never got around to it. In hindsight, I discovered that we were/are classic Attachment Parenting parents, and there's actually a slew of research to back up the merits of our accidental behavior. Whew!
At 11 months, we finally decided enough was enough on the middle-of-the-night bottle feedings, though, and so I did my hybrid version of the cry-it-out method. I cuddled and soothed Jadon like there was no tomorrow while offering him a bottle of water instead of formula. It took 2 nights of 5 [HORRIBLE] minutes of crying, and he was cured...He was officially sleeping through the night! Yay! (Next child, I will definitely try that one earlier!) Of course, he was still sleeping in our bed, but that didn't seem like much of a problem when we were getting a full 8 hours of shut eye!
Our goal, however, was to transition him back into his crib after he turned 1.
In order to make this transition (sans tears), we went back to "bopping" him to sleep. Normal rocking never worked with him, but "Happiest Baby on the Block" sideways swinging jiggling had always been a miracle worker.
Of course, that only lasted for a few hours. Inevitably, at some point in the wee hours of the morning, Jadon would wake up alone, and since he clearly had never learned to self-soothe, he needed one of us. Initially, we would just bop him back to sleep, and that would usually work until morning, but that only lasted so long until we rationalized that at least he was starting in his own bed. Was it really so bad if he ended up in ours? Considering the extra sleep it afforded us, we didn't think so, and so we were back to part-time co-sleeping. It's hard to resist not waking up to this cutie:
Around this time (18 months), Jadon learned how to climb out of his crib.
He turned 2 in June, and we decided to buy him his big boy bed.
So on Sunday night, January 20th, we finally started our toddler sleep training! After scouring the internet for advice for those of us non-cry-it-outers, I found little that really fit our situation, so I kind of tried to conglomerate it all into something that works for us. This is a long term plan, definitely not a quick-fix approach. Two-and-a-half weeks later, we can definitely see improvement, but we don't anticipate crossing the finish line soon. For anyone like me who needs some help in getting your toddler to sleep without cuddling..or crying..., here is what we are doing:
On the 2 or 3 days leading up to launch night, we started excitedly explaining to Jadon that soon he would be learning to fall asleep by himself without needing us to cuddle him, like a big boy (note to self...the "big boy" approach definitely didn't work with him. In the last couple weeks during play times, he has repeatedly wanted to pretend to be my baby and cheerfully told me "I a baby!" I think this is part of the reason potty training failed, too, since that is another activity for "big boys"...After we realized this, we stopped referring to it as something big boys do!).
On launch night, we brought our big comfy papasan chair into his room right next to his bed. (Any chair would work, we just wanted to be as comfortable as possible...and be able to fall asleep comfortably should too much time elapse!) We went through our normal routine, and then sat in the chair holding his hand while singing our usual 2 songs. It actually didn't go so bad, according to Jim. Jim did the first 2 nights, and Jadon was pretty exhausted thanks to a full fun weekend, so he fell asleep pretty quickly.
Then I had night #3 and got to experience it first hand. Oh my goodness, the look in Jadon's eyes when I tucked him in and kissed him goodnight almost broke my heart. His face was smiley as ever, but his eyes exuded this almost-fearful sadness as he accepted the fact that we couldn't cuddle. Seriously, it was one of the saddest moments of my parenting experiences thus far. But I stuck to my guns, and again, he fell asleep holding my hand.
Since that was going so well, the next night we decided to move the chair across the room. And that's where we still are. In the 2 weeks of this stage, we have had some struggles, but we are fine-tuning our approach, and I think it's working. Several nights we were back to the 90 min+ adventure, with Jadon trying to sneak out of bed or jumping around or tossing and turning or talking, etc...A couple of times, after warnings, we had to leave the room and hold the door shut until he laid down quietly in bed. As hard as that has been, the tearful pleas when I've done that are more than enough to keep me firm in my beliefs that I am doing the right thing by not succumbing to the ever-popular cry-it-out method. I can only handle a minute or two of the "Mommy, peeeeeeease! Peeeeeeeease don't lock the door!" Many would call it manipulation, and in some ways, I know it is. But I also know my kid, and I can hear the utter remorse and regret of his actions in his voice. And I am so glad that my method allows me to then walk back into his room, give him kisses and hugs as I tuck him in again, and answer his request to "sit with me" with an okay. And I think he's getting it. The last two nights, although still met with the same heart-breaking sad eyes after his denied request for "mommy, sleep with me," have seen him submissively rolling over and going to sleep rather quickly. He still begs for us to sit with him and not to shut the door, but that is a battle for next week, perhaps.
And for the time being, we are okay with him pitter-pattering into our room in the middle of the night (I actually look forward to that adorable sound!). The cuddle time it ensures is his due reward that we promise him every night now that we aren't cuddling him to sleep. And it seems to be naturally improving. Whereas before, the average time for his middle of the night sprint to our room was between 1 and 2am, the last couple nights it's been after 3 or 4, including two mornings ago when he didn't come over until 5:45, long after Jim was already up. So, I'm thinking that issue might just take care of itself eventually.
And even if it doesn't for awhile, I'm okay with that.
The other morning while we were cuddling and playing "cave" under the sheets after he woke up, he wrapped his squishy arms around my neck and told me, "tuddle, tuddle, tuddle...I happy!" I told him I was happy to cuddle him now, too, and I was so proud of him for learning how to fall asleep without cuddling at night, at which his eyes fell and his lip pouted out and he said softly, "I sad." Ugh, another break your heart moment. But it's way better (in my book) than how sad he would be if we were forcing him to cry it out!
I hope our experiences help some of you other softies out there!