Trusting Our Parental Instincts

One of the hardest parts of being a parent is the constant onslaught of commentary from relatives, friends, total strangers, and the media on how WE should be a parent.  As if we didn’t second-guess ourself almost every step of the way … because we know that we literally hold in our hands the precious job of raising these little lives.

For most women this commentary starts when we announce we are pregnant.  We get get told how much we should eat, what we should eat, statements on the sex of the baby, judgements on how our body is carrying the baby, etc.

And, the commentary just continues … judgements on what type of birth we are having, whether we are going to breastfeed, how much and how long we are going to breastfeed, what will the sleeping arrangements be … then, how long are they going to use that paci/binky/bottle/blankie, when will the be potty trained, what activities are they in, how many words to they know, can they read, what school are they going to go to, how many hours of “screen-time” do they get … you get the point.  It doesn’t stop.

In my work as a child psychologist, I get many parents coming in with concerns over some of these very issues.  “People” have told them that in one way or another they are doing their job wrong.  That somehow “this outsider” knows better than the parent what is best for their child.  I ask them, after they are done voicing their concerns, “Is this causing a problem for 1) your child, 2) you &/or your partner, 3) other children in the family, 4) the family in general, 5) your relationship with your child, and 6) your relationship with your partner?”  If they can honestly reflect and answer these questions, it helps sort out what are so-called problems and what we actually need to try and change.

For example, a couple is concerned that their 2-year-old still uses a pacifier at night.  The child only uses it then … so the behavior is not affecting the child socially, language skills are not impacted, and the child (and parents) are able to sleep well.  Dentists might cringe at this … but, is this a problem?  Do we need it fixed?  Because, chances are, the child will be able to transition this soothing technique when he/she is ready.

Most of the time parents, and children themselves, really do know when their child is ready for a transition. Like I knew there was no way I was weaning my 2 year old off her bottle until after we had settled down in our new house.

Parents should TRUST their instincts.  They know their child.  They know their family.  Sure it is DEFINITELY ok to seek opinions and knowledge from others, but don’t let other’s undermine what you know to be true.

All of this was inspired by reading this article … Dangers of “Crying It Out” | Psychology Today. I strongly encourage you to follow the link.  It discusses the past trend instituted by male behaviorists (without scientific research backing them) that is was better for parents not to be inconvenienced by catering to every scream of an infant.

I remember, almost 6 years ago now, being a first time mom and hearing that I should sometimes just let my infant son cry.  That he would become too dependent if I ran to him every time he whimpered.  But my heart told me differently.  My heart told my to hold him.  My heart told me that I should hold him tight throughout those long nights … because, in the big picture, they wouldn’t be around for long.  My heart (and my understanding of the first stages of development) told me that the most important thing was that my baby trust me … his mother to take care of him.

‘Sleeping Through the Night’ is a Cruel Myth Created By Smug Parents  from Cafe Mom’s The Stir, is another article I found just today about pretty much the same thing.  Babies, no matter what age, don’t sleep through the night.  Some get up, self-soothe, and fall back asleep.  Some are in distress and need more comforting.  Even pediatrician Claire McCarthy, M.D. shares how she was a self-proclaimed “sleep softie” when it came to her own 6 children.

As parents we hear what another child is doing at a similar age and, many times, immediately judge our child’s behavior and question our own.  WE ALL NEED TO REMEMBER THAT EVERY CHILD IS DIFFERENT, EVERY PARENT IS DIFFERENT, EVERY FAMILY IS DIFFERENT.  What works for, or what is true for, one child/parent/family in any given moment is not necessarily what will work, or is true, for another.

So, let’s together, as parents being kinder to ourselves and each other.  It’s a tough enough job … we don’t need to make it any harder.

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Laura Hutchison

Laura Hutchison (aka PlayDrMom) is a chubby kid turned competitive figure skater tween turned high school pom pon girl turned MSU Spartan turned grad student turned Mrs. HutcH turned Dr. turned Mom. She adores living in the Mitten, is addicted to Diet Coke, and firmly believes that ice cream is a main food group.

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  1. tricia

    PlayDrMom- I love this article! Crying it out wasn’t for us. Although, I have to admit that after over a year of total sleep deprivation (seriously, no more than 1-3 hours of sleep at a time without interruption with bouts of not sleeping for 48 hours as a working mom)- that I tried it one night. It was horrible. My child cried for 5 hours straight. I wish I would have stuck with my instincts but I think I was exasperated. That episode confirmed that the approach was not for us. It wasn’t easy- but things got better and easier on me as a parent as my son got older and started to accept solid foods rather than only breastmilk after a year when he started sleeping longer bouts. I’m glad I stuck with it (it’s not for everyone, I know- like you say) but the approach, hard as it was- was worth it. I try not to judge others for following a different path. I also know that there are some that might judge me for following the path I did. It doesn’t matter, though- because I felt like the approach we took was right for us and our child. Super post!

  2. Allison

    I will never understand why it has become so “in style” to let babies cry it out and why so many mom’s are so proud to announce that their baby cried his/her brains out the night before. that’s child abuse (or at least neglect!) to me!!

  3. Laura

    That’s exactly it, Tricia! Do what works for you, your child your family!

    Both my kids would cry continually when I tried the “crying it out” method. Like you, I was exhausted and thought we’d give it a shot. But my kids never stopped crying … and my husband and I found that much more stressful and tiring, then comforting them. My 5 year old now has a great sleep schedule and is very independent. My 2 year old … well, we’re still working on it!

  4. Emily

    Thanks for this – I hope parents can read and take this to heart. No one knows a child as well as the child’s parents.

  5. Beth

    Thank you – this was just what I needed! I agree – we tried the cry-it-out method for one night and it was truly awful. Why is it that I remember that night more than the others when DD and I had sweet snuggles together (even though yes, I was exhausted, but still…)?

    DD is now 2.5 years old and sleeps in a mini crib (we have a small apartment). Everyone under the sun has been asking us when we will “set her free” (HUH?) and move her to a big girl bed. My response: when she’s ready. We have a toddler bed in her room (actually, a converted futon chair, which should work well with its sturdy sides) and just today, she asked if she could take a nap in it. Right now she’s happily babbling away and feeling safe as can be. I cannot account for how much sleep she’ll get, but she’s trying it out when she’s ready. If it doesn’t work, then we’ll try it again another time. Thank you again for the validation!

  6. Lauren

    I can’t help but to comment about the “cry-it-out” method. Have you ever read “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems” the actual book by Dr. Ferber? It is not about sticking your kid in their room and leaving them there. He promotes going in and checking on your child at staged intervals (only as long as the parent can stand it). I find that the biggest misconception of the cry-it-out method is the lack of knowledge of what the method truly is. It was by far the best thing we ever did for my daughter and I stand by that. She not only slept better but her mood improved as well as her eating habits.

    That being said, I strongly agree with trusting your instincts and take that away as my most important lesson in parenting. Not whether you let your baby CIO or if you breast-feed. It’s what matters to you, the parent.

  7. Laura

    Lauren … Thanks so much for your comment. Yes, I have read Dr. Ferber’s book and, yes, it is commonly misunderstood and mis-quoted. It is a wonderful method for many, many children and families. I recommend his book often. Good sleep habits are ESSENTIAL for children … and do impact every area of their lives. It just never worked for us!

  8. Gina

    Hi, i think that the controlled crying thing does work for some babies but not all. I used to be a nanny, here in the UK, before I was a mummy. I just never got it. If I cry, I need comfort, why would that be different for a baby? I never recommended it. All my charges were good sleepers, eventually, they just needed cuddling a lot for a short, short bit of their life.
    Our kids are adopted and it took me ages to realise that, actually, it is ok to ignore other peoples advice about what my kids ‘should’ be like or ‘should’ be doing. They aren’t, they are delayed, they do save their meltdowns etc for just us, where they are sage and my husband and I apparently are doing a good job as they turning out nicely.
    I don’t judge anyone else or tell others how to live their lives and I ignore the nonsense people tell me about the children I am with 24-7.
    Good advice, nice post.

  9. Laura

    Thanks so much, Gina!

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