Oh my goodness.

Figuring out how to get babies to go to sleep is in the news again. Dan Hurley, writing in the New York Times today, reports that researchers have what he calls “soothing news”  for parents. After years of pediatricians and sleep experts yelling at us to let infants cry it out in their cribs, now they’re saying that it really doesn’t matter what we do. Let them cry it out, or go in to them and comfort them, rock them to sleep, or even bring them into your own bed–who cares? Just do whatever you can live with, they say, because apparently science has now discovered that your kid will eventually learn to go to sleep.


I would like to stand up right now and be counted among those who never, ever managed to get a baby to go to sleep. Never. Three kids–and not one decent sleeper in the bunch. (I actually wrote a book about this phenomenon in our house: Sleeping Through the Night…and Other Lies, and I feel a little guilty now that some people actually bought it thinking it was going to solve their children’s sleep problems, when it offered no practical information at all, only commiseration.) 

In those days, we were all told by our pediatricians to use the Ferber method, a plan in which you let the baby cry for increasing intervals before you go in and comfort her. But get this, it’s like a trick. The rule is that you have to comfort the baby without picking her up, which most babies in my house didn’t regard as comfort at all. They were enraged at the idea that we would simply go in their rooms and stand there next to their beds without offering any real sustenance or aid. In fact, they howled louder. If they’d had a phone in the crib, they would have called Department of Family Services and had themselves picked up and turned over to other families.

When the neighbors pleaded with us for peace and quiet, we had to give up Ferber and move on to more primitive, but quieter, methods. There was the time-honored Hang Your Arm Into the Bassinet and Hold Your Finger on the Pacifier All Night Method, which resulted in many dislocated shoulders and some serious sleep deprivation, and the always-popular Drive Through the Neighborhood in the Middle of the Night plan, which resulted in lots of near-accidents–and a bouncy, wide-awake baby once you got home and tried to lower her back into her crib.

I was always getting lectured by friends whose babies actually were put to bed at 7 p.m. and slept in their cribs for hours at a time, and who therefore felt superior, as if they had simply tapped into the secrets of parenthood, and I was just some slouch who wasn’t trying hard enough. “Just put the baby in the crib, say, ‘Good night,’ and walk away,” these so-called friends would say. “Act like you mean it. Your trouble is that you seem tentative. You don’t look like you’re serious.”

Like we didn’t already know that you put the baby in the crib and say goodnight!

“We do that,” I would say. “It. Does. Not. Work.”

 It, in fact, never worked for us–not when they were babies, and not when they were toddlers either. Our children, obviously in training for careers as night watchmen, insisted we get up and play Chase the Kitties With the Toy Lawnmower all night long. We read stories together and sang nursery rhymes. They smiled and cooed. They played How Big is Baby, pat-a-cake, joined in on all the choruses to “The Wheels on the Bus,” including the one that goes, “the manifold on the bus goes whirrrr, whirrrr, whirrrr.” 

And actually, I came to the same conclusion long ago that today’s researchers just did: eventually your children do learn to go to sleep. It’s just that mine were 17 years old when that great moment came.

And I was trying to get them to get up at the time.