When our firstborn was about five months old, Trista went to the doctor for a routine check-up. Dr Jones asked how she was holding up at home with a new baby. “Oh, Rory’s fine - eating great, pooping and peeing constantly - but he doesn’t really sleep through the night. I’m up for feeds every few hours. And he doesn’t really self-soothe either, so bedtimes can be rough.”
Dr Jones was not unfamiliar to the haggard look that most new mothers have. Does anyone really sleep well in those first few months?
“Trista, I think it’s time to sleep-train Rory. It won’t kill him, no matter how much he thinks so. You simply can’t keep going on like this.”
In her exhaustion, Trista agreed that Dr Jones was probably right. So we found some reasonable-looking resources and tried to ignore the bloggers that claimed sleep-training psychologically scars children for life. Then Trista bravely (and I eagerly) decided on a date and went for it.
There’s no easy way to sleep-train a baby, because sooner or later parents simply have to let their baby “cry it out”. Sure enough, that first night, Rory wouldn’t have any of it. For a baby who was used to being cuddled to sleep, he started screaming as soon as his bedroom door was closed. Trista held up okay for about two minutes but then became convinced he was dying.
I tried to reassure her. “Trista, we need to stick with the program or you’ll never sleep again. Like Dr Jones said, this won’t kill him, no matter how much he thinks so.”
My poor wife paced the floor like a caged tiger. She became convinced his head was caught in the slats of his crib, despite the padding all around the perimeter. Then he coughed a couple times and she was sure he was choking. Then she worried an animal had broken through the window and was attacking him. You get the idea. Rory was fine - he was just screaming his face off because he was displeased with the situation. Trista, however, was nearly hysterical as she listened to her baby wail. I thought I would have to physically restrain her from running upstairs into Rory’s bedroom.
You see, as his dad, I didn’t have much trouble letting Rory cry it out. I was able to sit back, relax, and read a book while my son voiced his displeasure. It wasn’t pleasant, but his distress during those nights of sleep-training weren’t anywhere near the torture they were for my wife. Poor Trista was sleep-deprived, and breastfeeding, with hormones out of whack - she was going crazier by the minute. Finally, after reassuring her for the hundredth time, I kicked her out of the house. “Go for a walk,” I said, pushing her toward the front door. “If his crying is killing you, go somewhere you can’t hear it.”
Reluctantly, she complied, walking out into the cool night air. As soon as she was out of earshot of her baby’s screaming, her sanity returned. I didn’t let her back in until Rory had settled down.
Our son screamed bloody murder for over an hour that first night before he finally fell asleep. The next night, it was fifteen minutes. The third night, two minutes, and by the fourth he was going to sleep on his own with minimal fussing. Success! Sleep-training is probably one of the best things we’ve done as parents - our first crack at discipline - and we’ve since repeated the process with our subsequent three children. Each time, when my wife loses her mind, I kick her outside to clear her head.
You see, Trista, like many mothers, cannot ignore the cries of her children. It doesn’t matter if the suffering is for their own good, she simply can’t block it out, can’t sit back and do nothing, can’t not hear their pleas for help. It’s ingrained in her heart that she must act, must rescue, no matter how irrational. It’s their baby's cry - that sincere call for help in the midst of distress - that triggers instant action.
This aspect of motherhood, like so many others, is a direct reflection of God’s heart for us.
He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has he hidden his face from him; but when he cried to him, he heard. (Ps 22:24, NASB)
God cannot not hear when people sincerely cry out to him.
I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings. (Ex. 3:7, ESV)
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth… He also hears their cry and saves them. (Ps 145:18-19, ESV)
[The LORD] regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer. (Ps 102:17, ESV)
Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice. (Ps 55:17, ESV)
God has a responsive, compassionate heart. He hears the cry of the afflicted. He cannot ignore them. He acts, he fights, he rescues. But unlike when I sent Trista outside to clear her head, God will never walk away from us.
Be strong and courageous... The Lord your God goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deut 31:6, ESV)
He is everywhere all the time, and he always hears us.
Like a mother.