August 24, 2011

On self-soothing, or lack thereof

When I was growing up, occasionally I would overhear my mom giving other mothers or mothers-to-be advice. One topic that seemed to come up often was that of getting your infant to sleep independently through the night. My mom swore by the let-them-cry-it-out method. She liked to point to her experience with me as a success story.

Apparently, when I was a newborn in the hospital the ladies in the nursery would put me to sleep by rocking me. My mother felt that this was not a routine she was willing or able to continue when I came home so, from her account, our first few nights at home were difficult ones because I couldn't go to sleep.

At this point in recounting the story to her advisee, she put on her most determined face and said with a considerable amount of pride: "I had to just let her cry and cry and not go to her. I never rocked her to sleep once. Pretty soon, she learned not to expect it."

Hearing that story always made me sad, but I never said much about it over the years. Finally around age 14 or 15 I spoke up.

"But what was the big deal?" I asked. "Why wouldn't you have rocked me? I was your baby."

Her jaw tightened, and she said, "Because I wanted you to learn early how to take care of yourself. I needed to show you that someone wasn't always going to be there for you."


M. said...

You know my dad had a similar theory. The "Boy named Sue" logic. His constant mean comments were supposed to make me strong enough to withstand all the evil I might face in the world. I am 32. To this day, the cruelest things I've ever heard in my life were said to me by my father. I believe he considers this a victory.

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite memories of my mother is her telling me how she held me, rocking me in this brown chair and singing "you are my sunshine" to me (just the 1st verse, the 2nd gets a bit dark). To this day, with her passed on 10 years, I still have that old chair, and I get a tear thinking of her rocking me, so happy to FINALLY have her baby. I'm sad you don't have that, but maybe someday you can give that memory... I was also told that if my folks didn't get up right away for the 2am feeding, the cat would come into their room and meow non-stop until I had a bottle in my mouth, then she would go lie down and sleep. I wish I had known that cat, but she passed when I was 4