Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Oh, Ferber!

Oh! the Ferber method. I've been months trying the James Thurber method on the kid. His sleeping is terrible, but the daydreams are out of this world.

We hadn’t really planned on employing any of the “cry it out” strategies to get Walter to sleep.  Despite so many blasé, confident endorsements from friends, it just seemed a bit…cruel.  His clear sense of object permanence was no comfort – rather than leaving an amnesiac alone in a dark, barren world, we could now burden him with the memory of his abandonment as well. Besides, all the literature recommending the approach was very careful to leave those loopholes:  Not right for every family. Do what seems best for your baby.  Weren’t they obviously speaking to us? Who better than the Edison-Albrights to thread that needle?  Even if it took years of sleepless nights, rocking and singing and re-rocking and re-singing, we would be that loophole family!

Walter sleeping on Mama
We took another look at the Ferber method a couple weeks ago when the pediatrician suggested it was time we helped Walter learn to put himself to sleep. We’d never considered it that way before. Walter was (obviously, blatantly, assuredly) not born knowing how to do that, and teaching him was our job. “In the process,” Doc added, “he’ll be building skills to cope with stress.”

In retrospect, if we hadn’t been so sick and tired, we might not have bought that rationale, essentially “it’ll build character.”  That ranks right up there with “it’ll put hair on his chest.” (For the record, he’s already quite a character, and I can pretty much guarantee the hairy chest is only a matter of time.) He seemed ready, though: one of his recent developments was asking to be put in his crib when we’d rocked him longer than he wanted.  It felt like time to give it a try.

Walter desperate for the camera
Plenty of character.
So, the first night we followed his usual bedtime routine – tub, toiletries,  teat, uhm, too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral (that’s an Irish lullaby) – but stopped short of (t)rocking him to sleep. We laid him in his crib, covered him up with his blanket, wished him good night, covered him up with his blanket, gave him a kiss, covered him up with his blanket and left, closing the door behind him. “This is a fun game!” he called after us. Once he got the idea, though, things proceeded pretty quickly. The crying was… persuasive, but we stuck to the plan – gradually increasing periods of him alone in his crib, punctuated by short visits from us for comfort and reassurance.  I’m intellectually comfortable with the idea that crying, as his only means of voicing an objection, can sometimes give a false sense of urgency, but it really helped that he did a lot of happy talking to himself in between. He never went more than about 10 minutes without us, never crying for more than 5 at a time, and he was asleep, on his own, within half an hour. What’s more, he slept through the night, waking once at sunrise to nurse. All told, he did less crying and more sleeping that night of our callous, self-interested neglect than almost any night we’d spent rocking and shushing and cajoling. The nights that followed were just as successful, with even less intervention from us.

Week one seemed to be a rousing success sleeper hit. Obviously, we decided to take the show on the road. The first night of our road trip vacation, at Umma and Baba’s, we all slept in the same room and it was catastrophic. Up every two hours, wailing. “I can see you! You’re right there! Rock me, Amadeus!” Back to our old routine.  Eventually Annie had to decamp to the living room and I had to hide behind the bed until dawn. The rest of the trip, we made sure he had some privacy, either his own room or Annie’s cleverly erected partition, and all was well in slumberland.

That was what cemented it for me.  After all, what’s more natural than a kid’s parents cramping his style?

Walter sleeping in his stroller
"Now I am a certified sleep expert."
This was one of those really tough parenting decisions.  The stakes seem so high, the arguments for both sides are so compelling, and the repercussions are completely unpredictable.  We made the right call this time; Walter’s instant success really convinced me.  But it was the right decision for our baby, and our family, and we made it together.  Your mileage may vary.

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