Monthly Archives: March 2013

Why CIO Isn’t Working and When It’s Time to Step Back

I get a lot of people landing on Nurshable after searching google or another search engine for information on why CIO isn’t working.

If you’re committed to using Cry-It-Out and you really don’t want to think about other alternatives, please go read this: because you won’t find any help with CIO on this site. And when you want to MAKE IT WORK with CIO the only choice is to be even less responsive and allow for more crying. I don’t personally care for that approach because it’s very adversarial and being adversarial seems like a strange way to encourage a child to sleep and “soothe” themselves at night. But different people view things differently.

If, however, you are doing CIO because you think that it’s the only way.. Because everyone has told you that it’s the only way.. Because everyone has said it would just be “a night or two of crying”.. And you’re finding that it is NOT just a night or two of crying..

You’ve been lied to. There ARE other ways. Ways that don’t involve crying. Ways where you are allowed to respond to your baby without feeling guilty.

There is a lot of rhetoric surrounding CIO. You “have” to do it or your baby will “never” sleep. It’s the “only way to establish healthy sleep habits.”

The language surrounding CIO has to be strong.  The warnings have to be dire. The entire philosophy revolves around encouraging parents to ignore every instinct in their body and in their child’s body. The language that CIO advocates use does not reflect reality, it reflects a need to strongly justify what they want to do.

You don’t have to let your baby cry.
You don’t have to use CIO in order for a baby to learn to self soothe.
You can establish healthy sleep habits for your baby and child in other ways.

There are other options.

Beware of anyone that tells you that you have to do something a certain way and that it’s the only way. That is the strong language of someone seeking to justify a strong method.

If you CHOOSE to use CIO that is your choice.

But in order for it to be a choice you need to be able to make the choice without feeling that you “have” to do things a certain way.

The choice is yours.

Did you choose CIO because it is the best choice for you and your family and because your heart is comfortable with it?

Or did you choose it because someone told you that you have to and your baby will never sleep otherwise?

YOU make this decision, not anyone else.

These are the Moments I Would Lose to CIO

Dear Daughter,

Your head rests against my collarbone, soft milky breath synced up with mine, and skittering across my chest. I could pull you out of the wrap and lay you down in your own space. But instead I’m letting you sleep on me for a while for no other reason than “just because”. For no other reason than the fact that I cannot get back the moments that just passed us by in the hour that we rocked you to sleep.

Usually now at ten and a half months you go down to sleep quickly. You nurse nurse nurse and then you roll away and throw your arms above your head and tuck your little chin down into your chubby chest. Tonight you were too excited from a day spent outside crawling in the grass and digging your hands into the dirt and sand as I dug out the garden plots.

So I tucked you into the wrap that we seldom ever use anymore. The snuggly one from when you were a newborn. And we danced around the room in the dark with the ceiling fan making a quiet breeze. I made the “shh” sound to the rhythm that we discovered when you were tiny, and you kicked your little feet and waved your hand to the beat while you tried to eat the heart charm on my necklace. Your head smelled of sunshine, trees and fresh air, and your little voice chattered away. I whispered to you that I loved you, and I held your hand in mine. Your head settled heavy against my collarbone and in moments you were fast asleep.

These are the moments that I would miss if I had you cry alone instead of letting you settle head to heart. Sometimes we nurse, sometimes we simply lay there as I pat your back, and tonight we danced together until your happy kicking feet and waving hand stopped bouncing to the rhythm and you rested your head heavy against my collarbone and succumbed to peaceful sleep. Just an hour of my time. Sixty minutes of our lives. An hour spent in closeness rather than an hour spent apart.

Time is merciless enough in its rush forwards, and moments are so transient and fleeting. I do not need to rush this along.  Tonight you slept when you were ready. One day you’ll be ready to fall asleep on your own and sleep through the night.

I am okay with this for as long as you need it, and I will miss it for long after you no longer have this need.

<3 Mama

Parenting Switches: Toddler Yells Instead of Sharing

The situation: The toddler is playing with a toy. His little sister wants to play with the toy. The toddler yells at his little sister. His little sister starts to cry.


Sit down on the floor with the two children. Pick the baby up onto your lap on one side. Pat your leg to offer the other side to the toddler (who may or may not take it- My son did not.)

Say: Oh Alexander! No yell. Yelling is sad! Anne Marie says “that scared me and made me cry!” Sad Anne Marie, Sad Alexander! Anne Marie says “I want to share. I want to play! Can I take a turn then you can take a turn again?” Look! Look! A game to play. Alexander loads the digger and dumps it in Anne Marie’s dump truck! Oh what fun it is to play together. Can you sound like a truck? Vroooom! Oh what fun!

Instead of:

“Alexander! Don’t yell at your sister! Go to time out until you can share!”

By choosing to handle the situation this way I  did not isolate the children. I gave my son an alternative way to handle the situation, I put words to what my daughter was experiencing, and I modeled an example for him.

He responded not to me but to his sister. He said “Yes! I want to play. I want a turn too. I get the digger and you get the dump truck!” and he pushed the dump truck over to his little sister and they spent the next 20 minutes playing and taking turns.

He was frustrated because his little sister was grabbing a toy that he was playing with, and he didn’t have the necessary tools in his toolkit to cope with the situation. He just wanted it to stop. He reacted emotionally.

He was not “bad”, he was not “mean”. He was two and a half and acting in an age appropriate behavior that I wanted to help him change. He would have learned nothing from being isolated, other than perhaps that when his little sister is around he doesn’t get to play and has to go sit in a naughty corner.

My Baby’s Tears Don’t Bother Me (Gentle Parenting is not “Afraid of Tears” Parenting)

Dear Daughter,

One of the common misconceptions about “Gentle parenting” and “attachment parenting” is that I’m afraid of your tears. Your tears don’t bother me. They don’t stress me out. They don’t manipulate me. They aren’t a nuisance. They are not a problem to be solved or a situation to be avoided.  They are also not something to be ignored.

They are a reflection of your emotional experience and they are the communication that you use now when you are small and have yet to find your words.

There is a psychology term called “enmeshment” where a person is unable to separate their emotional experience from that of another person. We are not enmeshed.  When you cry because you are afraid I do not act as a mirror of your fear. When you cry because you have a want that feels so BIG and HUGE that it feels so much like a need, I do not act as a mirror for that want. I understand that what you really need is to be held and comforted. I act as an adult that understands both your emotional experience and the accurate context surrounding your fear or your want. I do not need to feel your fear for you, and I do not need to trivialize or ignore your feelings.

On the other end of the spectrum is disengagement, where a person’s boundaries are so closed that there is no opening to ask for help. We are not disengaged. When you cry because you are afraid, I am there to provide you with the context surrounding your fear. I am there to soothe you until you are able to internalize my soothing voice and my open arms. Until you learn from the context that I provide, and until you can find that peace inside.

My job is to be there for you as you experiences your physical and emotional growth. 

My job is to provide a consistent loving nurturing safe place. 

My job is to create and provide an environment that supports sleep and a healthy diet.

My job is to provide you with opportunities and to expose you to experiences. It is to structure an environment that you can learn in, grow in, and discover in. 

My job is not to force you to sleep. My job is not to force you to overcome a fear or let go of a need. My job is not to force you to clear your plate. 

My job is not to change your emotional state. It is to provide you with the safe environment to experience what you are feeling and to work through it so that YOU can change your emotional state and re-find your balance.

If you are afraid of the pool, as your brother was, it is not my job to laugh and throw you in to learn to swim or drown. It is not my job to cower away from something that I know to be harmless because your tears convince me there is something to fear. It is my job to breathe deep and hold you near and let you know that I understand both your fear AND the harmlessness of the situation that you face. Both are equally valid. 

This is not an easy job. This is not a fast job. This is not a job with a clear beginning or end. This is a relationship.

I am not afraid of your tears because I understand why you are crying. I understand that right now you are ten and a half months old. I understand that you are teething. I understand that you are so small and the world is so big and overwhelming. I understand that you need my comfort now so that you can internalize all of the things that you need to know in order to comfort yourself.

Not with a cupcake. Not with a shiny toy. Not through angry dismissal of your own emotions. And not through clinging to me as though I am a raft in dangerous waters. But through human closeness that mirrors the calm safe place that you will become as you grow.

I am not afraid of your tears because they are not something to fear. They are simply a sign that you need to be held close right now so that YOU can learn that your tears are nothing to fear and nothing to hide in the darkness as you cry alone.

I’m not afraid of your tears little one, so go ahead and cry them on me and learn how to be big enough and strong enough that the little tears of a little baby are nothing to fear at all.

There’s nothing to be afraid of, love. It’s okay to cry. I’m strong enough to hold you near.

<3 Mama 

Tear-Free Self Soothing at Ten and a Half Months (Wait it Out Method)

Dear Daughter,

It is 5:47AM. I am awake because you are learning how to self soothe. “Learning how to self soothe” usually means a caregiver is camped outside the closed door of baby’s room during “Cry it Out”.  Since we’re following a baby-led schedule and using “Wait it Out” instead of CIO, things look a little different.

You sleep beside me and wake quietly, moving your head from side to side with your mouth open and your back arched. I stir awake and pull you close and you latch on for a night feed. You nurse briefly and roll away onto your side with your back facing me. You lay perfectly still and quiet. Then your legs start to kick and you say “Uhh uhh” and fuss. You roll back towards me and I rub your belly. You lay perfectly still and quiet and your breathing slows. Ten minutes later you kick your legs and fuss and dig your feet into the mattress and move around, your hands grabbing onto my arm. You settle and lay still and quiet. Your breathing slows.

When you learn to crawl you first learned to sit. Then you rocked forwards onto your hands and knees and you rocked back and forth back and forth and you built your muscles strong enough to propel you forwards.

Now you wake up again and flail around a bit. I offer to nurse you and you push me away, just as you used to get so upset if I picked you up when you worked on crawling.  You accept certain comforts these days. Comforts that help your breathing slow and that help your body relax. But you are no longer interested in being totally dependent on me for sleep.

In the end you needed some extra help. I picked you up and climbed out of bed and bounced with you. You kicked your legs a few times and settled your heavy little head against my collarbone and melted into my arms fast asleep.

This is what learning how to self soothe looks like. You want to sleep at night. You want to be able to resettle yourself. You are pushing away from the need to nurse. You are trying to soothe yourself. You cannot do it perfectly just yet, as you are a baby still. But you have internalized the comforts that I offer you, and you have that peaceful quiet place inside that you are trying to reach for all on your own.

You are learning.

As with anything new that you learn, you try.. you don’t succeed.. you try again.. you become frustrated.. you seek comfort. With WIO we wait until you try. And then when you don’t succeed and you seek comfort, we offer you comfort. With CIO we would decide when you were “ready” and we would leave you to learn on your own in ways that we don’t leave you to learn anything else.

Already you are deciding that you do not need to nurse so much. Already you are deciding that you do not wish to sleep belly to belly on top of me. Already you are rolling into your own space. Already you are trying to find that position that you want to sleep in. Already you are trying to settle yourself. By your own choice. On your own schedule. Without pressure. And without me dictating what you should or should not “need” right now at ten and a half months.

And me? Our sleep cycles have been so in sync lately that when you woke me up I was ready to get up for the day. So now I’m enjoying some quiet me-time while the rest of the house sleeps.

Each child’s journey towards learning how to self soothe looks different. Your brothers learned differently than you are learning. A large part of this is that with you I have simply accepted that this is the pace at which things will happen. I have come to understand that I do not need to train you to sleep any more than I need to train you to crawl or train you to eat.

You are a wise little creature who is well in touch with her needs. I do not need for you to learn anything magically overnight. I can take it slow and easy so that you will find it slow and easy. After all, sleep should be deep, sweet and comfortable in a safe dark room snuggled down in a sense of security.

<3 Mama

Why So Needy, Baby? Yesterday You Were Fine Sleeping Alone

She needs me to hold her today because she didn’t need me to hold her yesterday and now she wants closeness to make up for the closeness she didn’t need yesterday because the day before yesterday I held her and snuggled her and told her I loved her SO much that she felt SO secure that she spent the day exploring. And now I need to fill her up again.

She’s an emotional instinctive little creature, not someone speeding headlong along a linear path to complete emotional independence. I’m a home base that she ventures out from as she explores her limits. And then when she looks back and sees me so far away she rushes in close and needs me to hold her again until her curiosity and our closeness reassure her and drive her to explore again.

Just like some days I need my partner to pull me close and tell me that he loves me and reassure me of our closeness.

How big the world must seem to this tiny twenty pound creature. And how far away it must seem to her when she crawls away and turns the corner and I’m gone from sight.

Of COURSE she needs to sleep on my chest today. Of COURSE she goes back and forth between need and independence. Of COURSE she wants me to pull her close and hear the truth in the whispers of “I’m here, little girl. I’m right here with you, and will hold you close for as long as you need me to.”

The laundry can wait until tomorrow when she’s ready to explore again.
The dishwasher can be emptied while she rides close and snug in the wrap on my chest.
And we can snuggle down and cuddle close.
And I can pull her near for kisses…

At least until her little arm pushes away again, and she rocks up onto her hands and knees and crawls away on her merciless journey towards independence.

Today I’ll wait this out so that tomorrow she will be happy to explore content in the knowledge that I am here as her home base whenever she needs me.

Somehow I Became That Parent Who Sings

Singing was that one thing that I swore I would never do as a parent. “You’re gonna have to be the singing parent” I informed my partner. Ironically I have become the parent that sings. And dances. And that essentially channels every terrible children’s program ever. With a touch of Dr. Seuss. Out of tune. Because I’m not only tone deaf I’m actual full on deaf-deaf. But. You know. Whatever. I just hope that my children learn actual tune and melody elsewhere.

I’m the person that doesn’t even like to lip-sync to Happy Birthday. Past attempts by pushy boyfriends to get me to “just try” to sing resulted in my informing them that I would sooner break up with them than sing and to kindly drop the subject.

So why do I sing with my kids? Many reasons. I don’t want my kids to think that they can’t do something that they enjoy just because they’re terrible at it. They enjoy it when I sing because even though I’m terrible at it I still rhyme and it’s still fun. And because it helps move things along faster and engages them enthusiastically in things that might otherwise be akin to pulling teeth. It also keeps ME moving and having fun.

Here’s my current songbook of completely made up children’s songs:

Instead of “sit down. Please sit down. Do not get up from the table until you’re done eating..”

I chant:

Sit sit sit to eat eat eat and if you stand upon your feet you lose the food you wish to eat! (My two year old will finish it for me if I don’t finish it. In fact he’ll chant it at me if I simply say “please sit down.” And he’ll sit. And eat. You know. Or he will lose the food he wished to eat. And my six year old has added on “done done done and now I can go have fun fun fun.” )

Instead of “PLEASE come over here so I can put on your socks! Sit still! I need to get all three of you dressed so we can get out the door!”

I will sing:

A one sock a two sock a three sock a four. A one sock a two sock a three sock a four… We put on the socks before we go on walks outside the door! Socks on rocks! Socks on fox! Socks on little feet that we take on walks! Pants on bums! Pat the tums! Shirts over heads! Oh the blues! Oh the greens! Oh the reds! And a jacket on your back! and a bag on mine! Quick quick quick! We’re almost out of time!


And when my daughter needs her diaper changed but is not in the mood I go silly with:

“Need to change your diaper cuz it’s full of pee,
need to change your diaper cuz it’s full of poo,
cuz it’s full of all the yucky that came out of you,
need to change your diaper cuz it’s full of pee
need to change your diaper cuz it’s full of poo,
gonna change your everything, everything except for you.”

So instead of getting upset about not being able to crawl she’ll lay there and tap her hand to the beat and smile.

What the Books Don’t Tell You About Infant Sleep

Amazon shows 2,262 search results for a search for “sleep training”. Book after book, gadget after gadget. Things to make noise, things to make light, things to wrap your baby up in cloth that imitates your arms.

What the books don’t tell you, what the gadgets aren’t honest about, what the noise machines and the light machines and all those other mothers at the playgroups don’t tell you about is this:

Some babies do not sleep until they are ready.

It’s not your fault.

There’s nothing you should do differently.

There’s nothing you can do differently.

And it’s okay.

There are tricks that you can learn that might help make things easier. There are things you can try that your baby might or might not respond to. There are coping mechanisms you can develop to make it easier on you. There are things that you and your partner can do to help relieve the stress on your relationship.

If sleep was as easy as “put the baby down awake but sleepy”, or “just let him cry for five minutes”, or all those little simplified lines of advice that we hear.. There would not be so many books on the topic. There would not be so many gadgets. There would not be so many other mothers talking about it on forums and in play groups.

It’s not that easy. You are not failing. You should not feel bad that you feel the need to respond when your baby cries. You are not creating “bad habits”. You are reassuring a small and dependent human child. You are not “taking the easy way out”. You are supporting your baby’s sleep while they need support.

All those “sure fire guaranteed” ways to train your baby to sleep are not guarantees. They are tools that work for some babies and parents and that do not work for others. Just as tools in a toolbox are not the guarantee of a house being built if the wood available is not the right size or cut for a house. And all those things in all those books won’t work to make all babies sleep in the same way.

It’s okay to ignore the books that insist that you ignore your child. It’s okay to be responsive. It’s okay to pull your baby close for as long as they need you near. It’s okay to wait until you can teach them how to sleep with words instead of with tears cried alone.

It’s okay. It’s normal.

And once you realize that it’s okay and normal you can fill up your toolkit with all the things that work, throw out all the ones that don’t, and settle in to snuggle that sweet little one of yours and to teach them to fall asleep with  joy and with love rather than with tears and a battle.

You are not alone. You are in the company of many.

The books don’t tell you this because they want their “method” to work.

Your baby is not a method. Your baby does not need to be a method.

You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re doing everything right. Now drop the worry, drop the anxiety, and come join us to see if we can help you fill up your toolkit with the things that help. 

You do not have a one size fits all baby. You have your baby. A unique and wonderful human being with unique needs.

And that’s a beautiful wonderful thing.