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Sleep Training: You Do What's Best for Your Family, I'll Do What's Best for Mine

If there's one topic that gets parents riled up more than any other, it's the issue of sleep training. That's right... I'm broaching the topic of sleep training. I'm clearly up for a fight, right?
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If there's one topic that gets parents riled up more than any other, it's the issue of sleep training. That's right... I'm broaching the topic of sleep training.

I'm clearly up for a fight, right?

Let me be clear from the outset that I'm not a person who likes controversy. I shy away from it every chance I get. In the midst of controversy, you can generally find me hiding out in the corner sobbing, hugging my knees and and rocking back and forth.

I tend to be more conciliatory (some may say "wimpy") in my approach to conflict, but do truly try my best to see a topic from all sides and perspectives. I firmly believe we (particularly as parents) do the best we can, in any situation, given the resources we have available to us. And because of this belief, my goal is to try to make sure I never make anyone feel badly about their parenting decisions.

I'm also not a particularly good debater; and that is why this post will NOT attempt to sway anyone to choose one particular method or style of parenting. In fact, this post isn't about whether sleep training or "crying it out" (CIO) is good or bad, or whether I think parents should or shouldn't do it. Not at all. It's about respecting one another as parents and as human beings. But more on this in a minute.

First, I need to give you a bit of background. Seven years ago, I started The Fussy Baby Site. My second child came out screaming, and didn't stop for months. I had heard of colic, but I had no idea there were babies out there who cried and fussed the majority of the time, well past the 3-4 months that colic usually lasts.

I created the site as a type of support group for parents who have been there, done that, and understand how hard it is to be a parent of a fussy, colicky or high need baby.

And, as you might imagine, the topic of CIO and sleep training is one that comes up frequently on the site and in our online support groups. While the motto in our groups is "give support, not advice," there is inevitably someone who responds to a post on sleep training with a less-than-supportive comment.

And I get it -- I really do. If you believe that parents are harming their babies by letting them cry, why wouldn't you want to educate them? You know the saying: Those who know better do better.

But this is where I take issue. Who of us actually knows 'better' or 'best'? What gives someone the right to tell another parent that they're doing things wrong? Who among us has a monopoly on the truth, particularly when it comes to the issue of sleep training?

Parents cite experts like Bill Sears, James McKenna and Jay Gordon to support the idea that sleep training is harmful or damaging in some way; and parents who support sleep training (not synonymous, by the way) cite experts like Marc Weissbluth and Richard Ferber for CIO methods and Kim West (a.k.a. 'The Sleep Lady') and Elizabeth Pantley for more gentle or "no cry" sleep solutions.

A baby who is raised by loving and attentive parents will not be harmed by short periods of controlled crying. And yet, in spite of a definitive answer on whether sleep training is "right" or "wrong," parents are often quick to share their views on the topic, rather than just offering no-strings-attached support. To point out how and why it's wrong, rather than saying "I'm sorry you're going through this, what can I do to help?"

So, what is it about the topic of sleep training that turns us against one another? Why can't we let others follow their own path, even if that means they do something we don't agree with, or couldn't do ourselves? (I shared my thoughts on this in my post, "Sleep Training: Sometimes it's About the Less Bad Option").

I'm very much of the mindset that parents should do what works. If co-sleeping helps everyone in your family get the sleep you all need, I support you. If you hate co-sleeping because you wake up every time your baby moved or whimpers, I support you. If you'd like to co-sleep, but your baby won't have it, I support you.

If your baby wakes up 10 times a night, but you are firmly opposed to sleep training, I support you. I'm not you, and I don't live your life. I wasn't raised in your family, and I haven't had the same experiences as you.

So who am I to tell you you're wrong?

What I'm getting at is this: My support isn't dependent on whether you hold my values or not. It isn't dependent on whether you and I are alike, or whether we believe the same things.

You do what's best for you and your family, and I'll support you.

And I hope you'll do the same for me.

Why do you think it's so hard for us to offer no-strings-attached support to other parents? Why is it so hard for us to hold our own views, but still graciously allow others to hold theirs?