when i was pregnant with hero, chas and i talked a lot about different parenting techniques. i knew that there would be guaranteed times where we'd feel lost, confused, and helpless as newbie parents but i also knew that if we searched and studied and researched, we could step into this parenting gig with as much preparation and knowledge beforehand which would hopefully help us feel more confident in the difficult moments.
we were so lucky to find "the aware baby" by aletha solter really early on in this journey. i wrote about the book and premise here and an early experience with implementing the "method" here when hero was only a few weeks old. i cover in detail what the book entails in both those posts so i won't repeat it here. if you're curious, check out those two posts.
lately, chas and i have been talking about how much we STILL love the teachings and ideas in this book and how helpful it's been for us and our daughter. i thought it'd be interesting to write a little follow-up post of how the principles in "the aware baby" have been a positive influence on our parenting experience now that hero is almost 21 months old (crazy!).
firstly, let me just say that i am not writing this post to try and convince anyone that this is how they should parent. nor am i suggesting that other methods of parenting are bad or wrong. as mothers and fathers, we, of course, are all just trying our best and we each need to be given the freedom to do what we feel works best for our own family without judgement or criticism. this is just what we've found to work wonders for us. if it sounds at all interesting, give it a try. or don't. either way, we are happy and confident in our parenting and hope you are too!
one of the greatest aspects about solter's approach, is that after 21 months of being parents, chas and i can probably count on one hand the times when we've felt completely lost and clueless as to what hero needs and how to help her. whenever she's having a hard time, all we have to do is ask ourselves a few quick questions: 1. are all her basic needs met (hunger, safety, sleep, etc.)? If she's not hungry, tired, or in physical pain or sick, then...she needs to cry. that's it. it's seriously that simple. we never have to feel frazzled or frustrated because we just don't know how to help or why she's upset or struggling behaviorally. and, let me tell you, having that kind of confidence and peace throughout our entire parenting experience has been so amazing.
we don't let her "cry it out" alone. we hold her and listen to her while she cries. we tell her she's doing a great job and how important it is for her to get out all the "sads" so she can feel happy again. we talk to her about her day and any potential upsetting moments that may have occurred.
when she's done crying, she's ready to go back to whatever we were doing and be totally happy and content instead of agitated, frustrated, or upset. and, what's more, when we ask her about her experience "crying with us" she will always say that "yes" she does feel better after she "gets her cries out."
hero has always been a happy, charming, independent girl. she sleeps like a rockstar: 13-14 hours a night with two 2-hour naps during the day.
it's been really fun to read what solter writes in her books about the personality traits of babies who are allowed to cry freely in their parents arms and how closely it describes hero.
out of any parenting method i've researched, "the aware baby" is the only book i've found that is in perfect harmony with everything i know as a clinical therapist. i love how solter's principles are the exact same principles that i'd try to teach in any therapy group i've led- whether it be with children, teenagers, or adults. namely, solter treats babies and toddlers just like the rest of us should be treated: as humans with a wide range of emotions. when we experience a difficult emotion such as anger, fear, sadness, or stress, we need to be taught how to deal with and EXPRESS those emotions in a healthy way with the positive support of those who love us. and that's exactly what "the aware baby" does.
because we've allowed hero to express her emotions through crying and/or raging in our arms while calmly listening to, accepting, and validating her experience, she's been able to live her life without tons of built up and suppressed stress. babies and toddlers experience stress everyday- just like we do. and when that stress builds up, if it's not properly addressed or released, it can manifest itself in the way they behave, difficulty sleeping, etc. the same holds true for all of us! but when we're allowed the time and space to safely express how we feel and have our emotions listened to and validated, we are given a release from the stress so we can move on and be happy! i just love knowing that i am teaching my daughter how to deal with her difficult emotions in a positive, healthy way- a skill that will help her be a happier toddler, child, teenager, and adult!
i think the most difficult part about "the aware baby" is having to deal with other people's reactions and responses to our parenting choices. for whatever reason, we've had to confront a fair share of raised eyebrows- no matter how well-meaning. we've tried again and again to explain the reasoning behind letting hero simply cry in our arms as opposed to "crying it out" but i think our families still think we're a little nuts. and that's ok. like i've said, we are 110% satisfied and confident in the way we're raising our daughter and it's alright if others don't understand or agree. the proof is in the pudding! we may be a little biased, but our kid is AMAZING. i'm sure part of her amazing-ness is just how she came but i'm going to be as bold as to say that part of her amazing-ness is the way we've chosen to parent her and help her deal with her emotions proactively.
sure there will be hard times in our future experience as parents. things aren't perfect and never will be. but i love feeling secure in being equipped with the proper tools to effectively deal with whatever is down the road for us.
i could probably write an entire 3-volume novel on how much we love "the aware baby" but i think i'll stop here.
moral of the story: being a new parent doesn't have to be fraught with feeling lost and helpless. there ARE great alternatives to "sleep training." and feeling confident and like a GREAT parent with a happy child is totally within reach for anyone.