Thursday, September 25, 2008

Chocolate Milk, Lack of Sleep, and Parenting

My three sons have always maintained that by the time I had their baby sister, I had no parenting standards left. They love to give as proof the carton of chocolate milk they discovered in the refrigerator, something they insist had never been purchased in their entire collective childhoods. "Look," they whine, "the kid asks for it, and voila, it’s bought."

In my defense, I point out three things. First, it was a one-time purchase. Second, it was chocolate milk, not heroin. And third, and probably most important, they’re assuming I had standards when they were living full time in the house. Truth is: I’m a softie when it comes to my offspring. I repeat, who took them to see the World Wrestling Federation? And the answer is: not my husband who is still shell-shocked that I ever agreed to that outing.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about my standards (or lack thereof) as I work my way through this book on baby’s first year. Since this is a mystery blog, I’ve been trying to find a way to tie the subject to a whodunit. Best that I can come up with is the victim is a mother who declares in a park full of other new moms that her baby, at the age of three weeks, is sleeping through the night. I figure there would be plenty of suspects because the last thing you want to hear when you haven’t slept in 4000 hours is some woman, dressed in her skinny jeans, telling you how rested she feels.

I’m working on the sleep chapters and discovered a whole industry devoted to getting your baby to sleep through the night. One expert, Dr. Richard Ferber, has become a verb. Have you Ferberized your baby? Sounds vaguely like pasteurized milk. Anyway the basic concept is that babies need to learn to soothe themselves back to sleep. Parents are instructed to let their infant cry (for longer and longer periods over the course of a week) until he falls back to sleep. By that point, of course, the mother is up all night consumed by guilt, but that's another story. Dr. Ferber believes that it will be a rough few days, but that most babies learn self-soothing mechanisms and are sleeping like, well, babies within seven days.

At the other extreme is Dr. William Sears. He promotes attachment-style parenting and a family bed. Sears believes that it’s more important that babies get the reassurance and intimacy of parental soothing, than learn independent sleep habits.

Reminds me of the quote from John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester: “Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.”

Most parents, I think, find something in the middle that makes them comfortable. I tend to err on the side of parental soothing. I could no more listen to my child cry for 25 minutes than I could stand hearing my dog whimper that long. On the other hand, I have no interest in routinely sharing my bed with anyone other than my husband. I do acknowledge, however, that by the time I had my second child (those firsborns are just one big learning curve), I no longer jumped at the first squawk, and was more than happy to not-so-gently nudge my husband to attend to the kid.

Bottom line: I accepted sleep deprivation as a parental fact of life, part and parcel of the job. But may I add that while I was crazed from all the nocturnal wakings when my kids were babies, it was nothing compared to the lack of sleep I got when they were teens.

Parenting is amazing, wonderful, fulfilling. It can also be a treacherous field of landmines through which we're all trying to navigate safely. While we can learn from each other, we also need to learn to trust our instincts about what works best for each of our own families.

And as for that carton of chocolate milk? Here's a confession. It had nothing to do with a lack of parenting standards. The better question is: who said it was for my daughter?

Evelyn David


  1. I only have two children and am constantly accused by the older one of "babying" the younger one. I feel that I'm pretty equitable but who knows? They can work it out in therapy like everyone else when they have their own health insurance. MB

  2. My children are all grown, four of them are grandparents, they still all think they were the least favored. Most feel the youngest was spoiled. He thinks we didn't pay any attention to him.

    So it never changes. Just know you did the best you could, at a certain age they need to take charge of their lives.