Saturday, January 28, 2006

How and Why We Tune Jada Out

We had some friends over last night, and they were around when Jada’s bedtime came up. I put her down for the night, and as with every night, she cried as I left the room. Usually, she’ll cry for ten to twenty minutes before settling in for the night.

But last night, she went for a good half-hour. I guess she wasn’t as tired as usual when we started the bedtime routine, so she needed some extra cry time to get tired. Some of our friends, especially those who have had kids Jada’s age, complimented us on not giving into all the crying and going back into the bedroom to rescue Jada from her distress.

I personally don’t consider it a good thing that I’m able to tune out my daughter’s crying. If anything, it’s proof of just how purely rational and therefore sometimes emotionally cold I can be. The book says it’s OK for the baby to cry, plus we’ve got a routine and it’s working, plus crying actually helps because it tires her out, equals I’m OK about her crying.

Never once does the thought cross my mind that it should pain my heart that my daughter is in distress. Though Amy is a much more tender and compassionate person than I, she is the same way. Jada crying at night doesn’t hardly ever elicit any sort of motherly affection in Amy; rather, it’s just a necessary part of the evening soundtrack.

I know of other parents whose hearts go out to their children when they cry at night, and other friends who are not yet parents but who know for sure that leaving their kid to cry alone in their bedroom will be the hardest, heart-wrenching part of parenthood. And part of me wishes I had a kinder, softer heart as they do.

But another part of me is just fine with how we are. Jada sleeps all the way through the night, and the next morning, she is happy to be awake and happy to see us, the tears from the night before completely forgotten. Ten to twenty minutes of crying is well within what the docs say is OK for a baby, and it sure beats the alternative of having a really hard time getting into deep sleep and therefore being tired and crabby the next day. Amy and I have enough trouble juggling Jada care and are glad we can take on that challenge with a good night’s sleep under our belts.

For many years, we’ve talked about whether our work experiences with urban kids would help us in our parenting. I think here’s an instance of something we’ve been able to bring into our parenting that has been helpful. We’ve both had plentiful opportunities to see the positive effect that things like structure, boundaries, and consistency has on kids, as well as the negative effect when you’re wishy-washy on these things. I think that gives us something to draw on, something to anchor on; when Jada’s wailing away alone in her crib, we can hold our ground, knowing that’s what’s best for her and for us. It may seem cold and calculating, but it’s a manifestation of love nonetheless.
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