Friday, 13 February 2009

The minefield of parenting approaches

One of the BIG divides in looking after babies, and particularly in regards to getting them to sleep, is the controlled crying vs attachment parenting debate. These are two diametrically opposed approaches to parenting. This is a really simplified discription:

Controlled Crying - your baby should be in a routine that you control, not them. You decide, by the clock, when to feed them and when they should go to sleep. They can be trained to go to sleep and stay asleep all night by letting them 'cry it out' - i.e. leave them to cry, checking on them and calming them at regular intervals, until they give up and go to sleep. The often heard promise of this approach is "It only takes 3 nights of pain and they'll be sleeping all night".

Attachment Parenting - your baby needs you. Full stop. They should be fed on demand and sleep when they show 'tired signs'. They should never, ever be left to cry.

Controlled crying advocates think attachment parenting people are wusses who could solve all their sleep problems with a few short nights hard work. People who do it admit to feeling like the worst parents in the world, but it apparently works! Attachment parenting people think those who control cry are practicing child abuse.

My problem with controlled crying is that it goes badly against my instincts to let my baby cry it out. I personally would prefer to get less sleep than fight my instincts on this one. I think Hamish is too little to learn a routine, and his crying is needs based, not manipulative at this stage. Also, he doesn't know he's meant to be following a schedule, and therefore totally ignores my attempts to squeeze him into one.

On the other hand, my problem with attachment parenting is that it is exhausting, and doesn't allow for the needs of the parents. My other main problem with it is that, quite simply, I can't identify Hamish's cries. I don't always know if he's hungry, or tired, or in pain, or whatever. To be honest, a lot of the time it just sounds like plain old crying.

So - if I try to follow controlled crying, I feel like a loser because I can't get my baby into the routines. If I try to follow attachment parenting, I feel like a loser because I can't indentify my baby's signals and therefore meet his needs.

As you may be guessing, it's very easy to feel like a loser here.

So what to do? I've found following a basic schedule works for me - I aim to feed him every 3 - 4 hrs, and put him to bed when he's rubbing his eyes and yawning.

That probably sounds like it's really straightforward and obvious, but trust me when I say it's taken a good 6 or 7 months to feel comfortable with doing it this way.

And it's very easy to say "just do what works for you" but when you're new to parenting and nothing actually seems to be working that's a bit of a challenge. It's natural to seek out 'experts' but unfortunately that can be like entering a minefield, blindfolded and barefoot - you don't know what you're getting into!

9 comments:

Aimee said...

Yes yes yes! I totally agree with you on this and was thinking about writing something along these lines but was too much of wuss. I think the MOST difficult thing of parenting is working out your own style, recognizing there isn't one 'right' way and that even if there was it wouldn't work all the time or for every child. I actually think most people (myself included) end up somewhere in the middle ground betwen those two extremes. What I found hard was 1. My expectations of myself, thinking that if I was a good mum my baby would be settled (not true) and 2) wanting practical advice but without feeling pressured that if I didn't do it all a particular way I was doing something wrong.

Thanks for a great encouraging post.

Nixter said...

I am a bit in between but I do let my little one cry it out sometimes he just needs to let out a bit of energy (as my childhood chick said - they have no other way of letting it out!) It does sometimes feel hard at the time but when they go to sleep it does feel worth it! And I keep saying to myself - it's not going to kill him and when he is 18 he isn't going to hold it against me!

Often after about 10 mins he settles himself off to sleep plus if I don't let him do this I can get stressed trying and trying to settle him.

I am also trying to feed on a 3-3 1/2 hour schedule - then we have a bit of playtime and then when he starts to get tired I rock him and sing to him and then it's time for sleep. That's when I will let him cry a little - if it doesn't stop after 10 mins I go in and re-settle him and we try again! Some days it works like a treat and other days it doesn't but I think consistency is quite important.

But I guess they are always growing and changing so that's tough to figure out - eg when do they need more 'wake-time' etc..

I guess it's an ongoing relationship where you are both learning together! There is no one right answer and you have to do what you feel comfortable doing..

Alison said...

I think you're right Nicki when you say you need to feel comfortable with what you're doing. It makes sense doesn't it - if you feel comfortable with a particular technique or approach, it's probably because it works for you!

I sometimes let Hamish grizzle himself to sleep - sometimes it's what he needs to wind down, and other times he gets louder instead of softer and wakes himself up more! So I have to listen carefully to decide which direction he's heading in and then act accordingly. At the moment a lot of the time he won't nod off without me there, but it does change so I have to be flexible. But the routine of going to bed is consistent, so he knows it's sleep time.

Aimee, I've also had to get used to the idea that my baby being unsettled doesn't mean I'm doing something wrong! It's great to hear someone else has had a similar experience :)

Katzmutha said...

Al, did you see that ABC1 is going to have a series of programs on Thursday nights about different styles of parenting babies? They start this week. It's on at 8.30 I think.

Alison said...

Yes, I'm really interested to see it KM!

Katzmutha said...

The Herald's TV guide isn't expecting big things, I'm afraid, Al.

Alison said...

lol yeah I just read that review - I'll watch the first episode and see if it's any good...

Ruth said...

What makes it even harder is that what you feel comfortable with with one child, can change with the next...or what can work with one, may not work with another baby, within your own family!

I used different styles for different children, because things, circumstances and baby personality plays a big factor in parenting.

Also, most of my children's cries didn't upset me too much, but 'C's cry gave me that feeling of someone scraping their fingernails against a chalkboard. His cry I found painful, so parenting him was vastly different to the others.

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