Tuesday, December 01, 2009

baby experts

When I was a baby, my mother did what many mothers did; she bought books on how to raise babies. Parents do this because they're afraid of screwing up.

My mom took the advice of Dr. Spock, who at that time told parents that if their children started crying in their crib, you should just let them cry it out. Picking them up would make them soft, dependent crybabies. Your child needed to learn to deal with life right away.

And so, according to my mom, she would stand there, watching me cry, wracked with guilt but afraid that picking me up would lead to my ruin.

Years later, I hear, Dr. Spock said oops, he was wrong. Apparently, if you just leave babies alone when they cry they feel abandoned and forsaken and develop trust issues and have less of a bond with their parents, something like that.

So I figured that had all been settled, until today when I was watching an episode of the TV series Being Erica in which a parent talked about "self-soothing."

I looked it up. Also known as Ferberizing, the idea is, guess what? Let your baby cry it out.

Well, it's a little more detailed than that. The idea is to train your baby to sleep through the night, so you put him to bed, let him cry a few minutes, go in, pat him but don't pick him up, leave for a while longer, come back if he's still crying but still don't pick him up and so on. Eventually you've got your baby trained to go to sleep and leave you alone.

I imagine this does work, because once the baby realizes his parents aren't going to do anything for him when he's upset, he'll learn to deal with it. I'm sure if you stop feeding a six year old he'll figure out how to use a chair to get to the cabinets and find food and make himself meals too; children can learn to do a lot of things if they have to. The question is, how does this all effect the child's trust of its parents and his sense of whether he's got support in life or is on his own.

Would I be a different person today if my mom had picked me up when I cried? I have no idea. But I do think that parents might be better off listening to their instincts than reading a book. If you feel like picking your baby up when he cries, you should probably go ahead and do it. If you don't mind the crying, ignore him. But quit reading books on the subject, because in ten years there will be a whole new set of books that say totally different things.

Perhaps there should just be a golden rule for babies; treat babies the way you would want to be treated if you were a baby. Or perhaps the rule should be; parents should only do as much as they can do without losing it and crying themselves. I don't know; I'm not going to have any babies so it's not a decision I'll ever have to make.

But as someone who doesn't know enough to make an informed decision, I still think there's something a little creepy about this self-soothing thing.

1 comment:

  1. You're basically correct. As a parent, I believe parents should read and then follow their instincts. (Admittedly, a lot of parents have very bad instincts. But those are usually the ones who don't read.) I have used Ferber to some extent. But as with all things what works for one person (including babies) does not work for others. As a baby, my daughter could cry for 2 hours.

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