KIOS: Parenting, Part 7: Responsive Parenting (Even at Night)

This post is part of my series, “Kickin’ It Old Skool: Why and How We Are Old-Fashioned” or KIOS for short.  If you’re new to the series, please read my disclaimer before continuing on.  I’m keeping a table of contents to this series here so you can see what I’ve already written about and what more there is to come. 

I fully realize that this particular issue is one of the rather more divisive issues in parenting.  So make sure you’ve read that disclaimer, OK?

Before Ellie was born, Nik and I decided that we would never let Ellie cry, ever.  That’s not to say that Ellie hasn’t ever cried because believe me, she has.    When she was a newborn, usually it was fairly easy to figure out why she was crying and how to stop it.  Often nursing did the trick.  Thankfully, we never had to deal with colic.  Sadly though, between the ages of four and six months, we had many particularly hard nights when she would cry long bouts, sometimes for over an hour, when she was going to sleep.  She cried like this despite all our best efforts to help her settle down.  She did all of this crying in our arms because she cried even harder if we put her down and we didn’t want her to be crying alone.

We believe that a baby’s cries mean something.  Because a baby (and most toddlers) doesn’t have words to communicate, crying is the baby’s only way to express her needs to her parents.  We also believe that particularly for the first year of a baby’s life, a baby’s wants and needs are the same thing.**  We wanted Ellie to learn that the world was a safe place, that her needs were important, and that her parents would always be there to meet her needs.

So we’ve never let her cry.

We also believe that this responsiveness to her needs extends through the nighttime hours.  Her crying at night is communication just like her crying during the day.  There’s no difference between the two.

Yes, responsive parenting at night is much easier if you are co-sleeping with your baby (as we do).  However, it’s certainly possible to do when your baby is sleeping in a crib in another room.  I don’t have personal experience with this but I have many friends who make this work so I know it’s possible.   I also know that  parenting responsively through the night time hours is easier for me because I am a stay-at-home mom and so if I really need to take a nap during the day, I can (although I very rarely do because when else would I get to sew? :))  I do, however, also have many friends who work outside the home and they are very sensitive to their babies’ needs at night.  (Conversely, I also have friends from both categories who have used cry-it-out/sleep training techniques so I don’t think that’s really the issue.)

Being responsive to Ellie’s needs all the time is not easy.  Sometimes, the last thing I want to do is respond to her.  But remember last week, when I wrote about singing the rooster song?  For me, that’s what gets me responding to her when I am struggling.  I also have to remind myself that sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone that every child reaches sooner or later.  Ellie seems to be in the “later” category and so we’re doing our best to meet her nighttime needs.

Our hope and prayer is that the patterns of response that we are establishing with Ellie right now will extend throughout her life, that she will know that she is always able to express her needs to us and that we will always do our best to appropriately meet them.

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I wrote a little more about my struggle to respond to Ellie’s needs here.

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Some articles that have been helpful to me:

about sleeping through the night

about night weaning

about normal infant sleep patterns

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**Clearly as Ellie gets older, her wants and needs are going to diverge, as they have begun to already.  Responsive parenting does not equate to “give your kid whatever she wants whenever she asks for it, regardless of what it is.”  Clearly, responding to Ellie from here on out will require more finesse, probably quite a bit more of saying “no”, and more thought on our part as to how we can meet her requests in age-appropriate ways.  That’s the stage that we’re entering right now and are just starting to figure out!

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3 Responses to KIOS: Parenting, Part 7: Responsive Parenting (Even at Night)

  1. “Being responsive to Ellie’s needs all the time is not easy. Sometimes, the last thing I want to do is respond to her. But remember last week, when I wrote about singing the rooster song? For me, that’s what gets me responding to her when I am struggling” —
    When people ask me how I do it, and how can I have such a good attitude about it, i always tell them, “well, I can either choose to be upset that this baby is taking away from my sleep and be grumpy about it, OR, try my darndest to have a good attitude and make a happier situation for both my baby and me.” Another thing that I say all the time is, as long as i’m doing ok frusteration wise, I would rather hold my baby even if she is still crying. When Clara was little tiny, she had some HARD nights, just like Ellie. She would cry for up to two hours, and I had no idea what to do….so I just held her. I even cried with her at times, but I knew it was better then leaving her alone. I like to be held when i’m crying, so why would I expect my baby to do anything less? I know we do nighttimes different then ya’ll do, but I think our mindset is very similar as well…..love parenting with you 🙂

    • Laura says:

      Rachel – somehow I never responded to this but I just wanted to say that I loved this comment. Particularly, I loved this – “I like to be held when i’m crying, so why would I expect my baby to do anything less?” – that’s so good and so true!! I love you sister!!

  2. Pingback: KIOS: Parenting, Part 9: Staying Close « Salmon and Souvlaki

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