Back in December, when Declan was about 8 months old, he was having an awful time sleeping. He had had some teeth come in and in the haze of many middle-of-the-night wakings, I had pulled him into bed with me. He learned very quickly that he liked it there and wanted to stay. I had been conscientious from the beginning of making sure he knew how to self-soothe. I had been through that with my daughter and had made sure he was always put down while still awake. He had been doing really well until he realized there was an alternative. And like all humans, young and old alike, he was quick to unlearn what didn’t suit him.
After weeks of struggling to get him to sleep (rocking, singing, nursing, cuddling…repeat) only to have him wake up every 40 minutes I broke down and read a sleep book. The author talked a lot about the importance of self-soothing and how introducing a “sleep-crutch” was usually the culprit when it came to regular waking. Some of the crutches she mentioned were singling, feeding, cuddling…or in my case all of them. Whoops. The book had a plan which involved removing the crutches and re-teaching the child how to go back to sleep on their own. I’m not a big “cry-it out” kind of gal but this plan allowed me to go in every ten minutes if necessary and rub his back or soothe him (but never to the point where I put him to sleep) which helped salve my guilt. After only 20 minutes of crying he feel asleep and slept for 13 hours. The next night, the same thing. It has been smooth sailing (mostly) since then.
This of course got me to thinking about religion (what else does one think about in the middle of the night while trying not to murder their youngest child?) and how it acts as a crutch for so many of us. Without really having to think for yourself, religion answers so many of the questions at the root of our very humanity. I have always believed that opinions, values etc. that you have not come to on your own are not worth very much. Convictions handed to you on a silver platter are not rooted – they are dogmatic. They are easily manipulated and at times dangerous.
Like babies, we need to learn how to self-soothe. What calms me in my darkest hour will not neccesarily calm you. For me, when I feel overwhelmed by the hugeness of life and the enormity of this world or confused about death, I soothe myself with thoughts of nature. How beautiful and amazing it is. How big. How lucky I am to be a part of it at all and how it will continue on, long past when I am gone. The point is, it’s personal to me and how I feel. Everyone is different. The thoughts I have are my own – I have reached them by grappling with big ideas, seeking to understand the misunderstood and pushing myself to places that don’t feel all that safe or comfortable. This is how we grow. This is how we find the true meaning of what it means to be human. And if we cannot self-soothe, the least we can do is think for ourselves.