Three months into this parenting gig, I’d had enough. Our bedtime routine with our infant son had turned into a two-hour affair that left me and my husband eating dinner at 10 p.m., me up with indigestion for another few hours, and only a few hours of shut-eye before I had to wake up for the day. I was preparing to go back to work, and no amount of concealer, corrector, or eye masks could hide the dark purple circles that had become permanent fixtures under my eyes, never mind function like a thinking adult in an office job.
I needed a solution, and I needed one quick. My own parents swore by “Ferberizing” me, and I was willing to give it a try. Ferberizing, or “crying it out,” is a sleep training method popularized by Dr. Richard Ferber to teach a baby to soothe him or herself to sleep. The practice involves putting your baby to bed while still awake and leaving her there even if she cries. After a predetermined amount of time, parents can go in and soothe their child (patting her back, talking to her, etc.), without picking her up. Dr. Ferber says that after a few days, the baby learns to soothe herself and fall asleep on her own.
But when I asked for some tips and tricks from the moms in my moms group at the local park, I was greeted with blank stares and astonishment. One suggested it was a form of torture and that my baby would never trust me again. Another clenched her chest, saying she “could never!” And the one sitting next to me pointedly scooted a few inches away from me.
After that reaction, could I really do it? You don’t get much closer than me and my parents, so it doesn’t seem to have affected our relationship. And I really needed to get into a routine before returning to work.
So on a Wednesday night when my son was 3 months old, I bathed him, lotioned him up, fed him, read him three books, and put him in his crib in a dreamy but still technically awake state. As soon as I closed his door, he was crying. My husband said we should wait another day and try it tomorrow, but I knew that if we put it off today, we’d put it off tomorrow, and we couldn’t just do this the night before I went back to work.
The first stretch of crying was painful. I couldn’t believe I was letting my baby cry so much. Five minutes later, after soothing him, it appeared that all was well, until two minutes after closing his door, the same thing happened. The next stretch was 10 minutes, and we barely made it through before the timer went off and I raced into his room to begin the routine again. I didn’t think we’d make it through the next stretch (15 minutes), until my phone rang. My husband’s cousin was calling to check on me and see how I was doing in general. I told her we were Ferberizing and just starting our 15-minute stretch. Before I knew it, my alarm rang that it was 15 minutes. She had talked my ear off for the entire time — mindless things that she probably didn’t even care about but was throwing my way to keep me occupied. And I looked at our baby monitor, he was asleep — with a big smile on his face.
I’d never say that it was easy and that we never turned back — no one told me about the torture that is sleep regression or how cutting a tooth can mess up everything! — but we certainly crossed a hurdle that day. And our sleep routine became bearable.
Ten years later, I can tell you that my son has shown no adverse affects from his Ferberization. He still likes me to sit with him when he goes to sleep but can easily do so without me. He still hugs me and treats me as his confidante, but he is also independent and strong-willed. Like recent studies show, the Ferber method is safe, when done correctly.
Years after we’d trained both my boys, a friend reminded me of this Mad About You episode that showed Paul and Jamie trying to train their baby Mabel. It captures the experience perfectly!