No one wants to have a story about the worst parenting advice, but most of us do. When I was pregnant, I read parenting books voraciously. My desire to do things right intensified, almost to obsession, with every new piece of information. Before long, I no longer had to rely on books for parenting guidance; a wealth of information surrounded me as soon as my baby bump began to show.
I never knew there was a mom club until I was noticeably pregnant and automatically inducted as a junior member. Experienced moms would see that I was expecting and go out of their way to tell me a funny, heartwarming, or cautionary tale about their own kids. I didn’t mind at all. I wanted to know the right way to do things, as if there were only one right way to be a mom (and now that the kids are grown I know what a mistake that belief was).
When I had my first child I entered the next level of this special club. I was a mom. The advice kept rolling in, often from other moms I didn’t even know. There are wonderful things about being part of the mom club, but those are stories for another day. Today I want to acknowledge one of the trials of the mom club. Most people are more than willing to give advice on how to do things right. As all moms know, not all advice is good advice.
One of the biggest changes for me after having children was sleep deprivation. I remember asking the doctor at one of my prenatal appointments when I would stop being exhausted. He looked at me, smiled, and said, “If this is your only child, about eighteen years.” I think he was trying to be funny, but I was so exhausted I almost burst into tears.
My first child did not want to go to sleep in his crib ever, or so it seemed. You know the drill: get the baby to sleep and carefully put him in the crib without waking him. Gently place him in the crib as if you are handling a live bomb. The second he loses contact with you, he wails as if he were being attacked by flying monkeys. We tried putting him in the crib and patting his back, gradually extending time between pats and sneaking away. The tricks we tried went on and on, but nights of restful sleep did not.
I was desperate for sleep. People everywhere noticed my exhaustion. Sometimes I asked for advice on how to get my toddler to sleep. Other times a mom would take one look at me and ask how getting the little one to sleep was going. You probably know the advice I received from the mom club: Let him cry himself to sleep. I started to feel like a bad mom because he was falling asleep in my arms and not alone in his crib. “The first night is rough, but after that it’s no big deal. Five to ten minutes and he will be out like a light.”
This really did not seem like a good idea to me, but by the time he was several months old I felt near delusional from lack of sleep. I had heard the advice so many times that we finally decided to let him cry himself to sleep. After all, by that time he was several months old and it is possible for a toddler to go to sleep in his crib alone.
We geared up for the night that he would go to sleep alone. He was fed, drowsy, and had a dry diaper. We were prepared. He cried for several minutes, we went in to reassure him, and left again. We did this for well over an hour.
Our toddler did not seem to be tiring. His shrieks would wake the dead. He was not giving up. His poor little face was red from wailing. He had chewed on the crib. I felt like I was in some terrible horror movie. Every minute seemed like twenty. I was wearing a path in the floor from pacing. After an hour and twenty minutes, I simply could not take it anymore. We agreed that maybe this system worked for some parents, but we could not do it. My nerves were shredded. I felt like I had been attacked by those invisible, shrieking, flying monkeys.
One Day This Will Be Over
I felt like a failure. Every mom in the club had insisted this is what had to be done. But I could not do it and I decided I would never again attempt to make my child cry himself to sleep. I thought about this rationally and decided that by the time he was sixteen he definitely would not want me to hold him until he fell asleep. At that moment I was willing to wait that long. Thankfully, he was going to bed alone without a fuss before his second birthday. Letting a baby or toddler cry himself to sleep may work for some families and some children, but for us it was not worth the trauma to our child or, frankly, to us as parents.
Now I am not saying it is not right for you and your child; every situation is different and certainly it does work for many families. But I am so glad I never tried it again and wish I never would have. It was a good lesson for me to focus on what I felt and knew about my child.
Do listen to the advice of those who have gone before you, but also use common sense. Ask yourself what will be right for you and your unique child and situation. Sometimes, the only thing left to try isn’t that thing that makes you uncomfortable; the thing you haven’t tried yet is waiting it out. Sometimes remembering “this too shall pass,” as my mother-in-law used to say, is enough to get you through the tough times. Anything that feels that terrible is not the right thing to do. Even if you are a new parent, you are probably more competent than you think you are. The mom club is great—but your gut feeling is even better.
For more ideas on reducing the stress of family life you could read: 8 Things to Do to Make Tomorrow a Good Day or 31 Ways to Practice Self Care, because as the saying goes: “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”.
What is the worst parenting advice you have ever received and/or followed?
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Hi, I’m Tamara the creator of Empowered Single Moms, a single mom, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and the author of Thriving a Single Mom’s Guide to a Happy, Positive Life and Thriving a Single Mom Journal. I have a solo private psychotherapy practice where I treat anxiety, depression, and relationship issues.
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