Responding with Sensitivity

This post is for the April “Respond with Sensitivity” Blog Carnival hosted by API Speaks.  Since February, the Attachment Parenting International (API) blog has hosted a monthly “carnival” — a blog event in which writers are invited to post about their experience with the designated topic.  Each month they are focusing on a different Attachment Parenting principal. According to API:

“You can build the foundation of trust and empathy by understanding and responding appropriately to your infant’s needs. Babies communicate their needs in many ways including body movements, facial expressions, and crying. They learn to trust when their needs are consistently responded to with sensitivity. Building a strong attachment with a baby involves not only responding consistently to his physical needs, but spending enjoyable time interacting with him and thus meeting his emotional needs as well.”

Responding with sensitivity is one of those super touchy subjects with a wide range of opinions among parents — especially when parenting infants. Within the AP community, responding with sensitivity essentially means tending to your baby whenever he or she cries and not engaging in sleep training.

Some of my closest friends are all about sleep training and I do not want them to feel judged by me because we’ve chosen a different path. I think as parents we all essentially want the same thing:  we want our children to be happy, healthy, and emotionally secure. We just have different ideas about how to reach that objective. Some parents believe that guiding a baby toward this security means learning to self-soothe and cry-it-out. Others, like me, believe that the emotional well-being comes with establishing trust.

And you know what? It’s likely that all of our children, regardless of our efforts to care for them in the best way we know how, will have their own issues to wrestle with when they’re older that they will blame us for. And we can just hope they forgive us and know that we parented with love in our hearts that they won’t be able to comprehend until they are parents themselves.  On that note….Mom, if you’re reading — I really get how much you loved me as a baby, a child, and now as an adult — and I do not feel bad about having cried myself to sleep a few times learning to sleep through the night.

Despite my pragmatic view of the big picture reality, I remain committed to following AP principals in a way that works best for our family because it feels right to me.  So how does “responding with sensitivity” play out in our home currently?  In a way that will likely remove us from any kind of Orthodox AP-er label.

On the baby front, I’m working through what it means to respond with sensitivity while our 18 month-old still struggles to understand “no milk at night” four or five weeks into our night-weaning efforts.  The hard core AP thing to do is nurse on command around the clock until your child weans him or herself.  I applaud it; I think it’s super nurturing and wonderful, and I am not up for round the clock nursing that long. Like many Mamas reading Attachment Mama, I have had seriously interrupted sleep for 3 1/2 years and it’s become imperative for my mental and physical well-being that I start sleeping better.  This will benefit everyone in our family.

Any number of things could be contributing to our baby’s continued anguish around not nursing at night:

  1. Less time with me during the day during the same period of time that I’m wanting to nightwean;
  2. A stronger, more sensitive personality; and
  3. The fact that a few times over the last four weeks I have, in an over tired, half-asleep state, nursed her on accident in the middle of the night. I’m convinced that this is the main reason she’s had a hard time and continues to wake and wail for “ik”. It’s a solid mixed message, über confusing and of course — distressing.

Pre-Binky Wean photo from a year ago: Our Family Bed with "Side Car"

As we continue to play musical beds in our house with everyone sleeping together, or Mark and I taking turns sleeping with the baby versus the toddler, or me sleeping with both girls while Mark sleeps alone….our next strategy, effective this week, is having our 3 1/2 year-old sleep alone in her bed in the room adjacent to ours and Mark and I sleeping together in our bed (what?!) with our 18 month-old sleeping on what I call the “side car” next to our bed.  This is a crib mattress on top of a love seat. Mark is sleeping in between she and I and tending to the middle-of-the-night cries to hopefully remove any future confusion from her experience.

How we both respond to her middle-of-the-night cries with sensitivity is by acknowledging her feelings (“I know you’re sad/angry/frustrated, I’m sorry…”), offering her water, rubbing her back and shushing her back to sleep.

Now for our second “responding with sensitivity” challenge on the toddler front.

So here’s my question to any Attachment Parenting devotee who happens across my blog:  Is there an expiration date for responding to every cry?  I have responded to every single cry day or night since my 3 1/2 year-old was born. If she wakes in the middle of the night needing help getting to the bathroom or wanting some water, I still respond.

Where I’ve recently become comfortable letting her soothe herself a bit is when I’ve reached my max on the bedtime stall tactics.  As I mentioned in a previous post, part of her stalling strategies I actually really love — especially our back scratching exchange.

AND, when she’s had stories and songs with Daddy, scratches and foot rubs and being rocked like a baby with me, and then she asks for water, and then she asks to go to the bathroom and we have to sneak into the adjoining master bedroom where the baby is sleeping to use the bathroom or walk all the way downstairs to do so, and then we get back to her bed and she wants more hugs and kisses, and then she says she has a boo-boo that needs a band-aid…eventually there has to be a stopping point, right?  I respond to every “need” with sensitivity and understanding until I reach my max which is generally after the last hug and kiss and I receive another random request like “Mama I need a band-aid” (for her pin-prick flesh wound that I can’t see).

And then I say, “I’m sorry sweet angel. It’s really time for you to sleep now and time for me to say good night and go.”

And when she starts to cry, (is it real or partially fake? I don’t know) I walk away.

All I know is that it’s 8:30 or 9:00 pm and I’m getting my first break of the day.  I close the door to her cries and I walk away.

Am I fired as Attachment Mama?  I hope not.

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2 Responses to “Responding with Sensitivity”

  1. Mom says:

    Hey honey,
    Just read this and wanted you to know I only let you “cry it out” to get you to sleep through the night. I was following your pediatrician’s advice. The first night it lasted 20 minutes, which seemed like 20 hours. The second night 5 minutes, and the third night you slept through the night. After that, if you cried during the night I always picked you up because it meant you were sick or had a bad dream, and you already had the habit of sleeping through the night so I knew it was temporary.
    I did the same thing for your brother and it had the exact same results. He was sleeping through the night by the third night. You were both great sleepers, and I got my mommy sleep too. Was it the right thing to do? Who knows?

    Love you. Kisses to my sweet granddaughters.

  2. McClain says:

    Hey Monica,
    As a close friend of yours who has done sleep training with both babies, I want you to know that I do not feel offended or judged when you write about your method of family sleeping. I think you do a wonderful job of conveying non-judgement. Every family and more specifically, every mother, must find what works best for her and her children.

    I hope you get some support and helpful input from other mom

    s with your same commitment. xo

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