Why Self-Soothing Is Not a Real Thing

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When my husband left and I wished so deeply that there could be a cure to the pain, I started handling my child’s tantrums differently. I always believed that kids should be granted some slack in this department, because they have so few words available to them. How can they effectively communicate if they’re feeling anxious or embarrassed, much less confused or belittled, if their limited vocabulary does not yet consist of these complex words? It’s rather unfair for these little beings that they have to undergo the emotions without being able to describe them.

Yet, adults have many words at their disposal and still struggle to get their feelings across, or even handle them in a mature way. So why should kids be expected to do any better?

If I couldn’t rid myself of the agony and confusion I felt when my marriage was at its lowest, why should I yell at my son for not being able to express how this experience was affecting him? Because what affects parents does trickle down to the kids, and for the first time I realized that I needed to do better at handling my life and emotions so that my child could learn from my example.

Not only that, but it cemented my belief that babies need to be picked up when they cry.

Babies should not be expected to self-soothe.

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When someone is robbed, dumped, or injured, do we turn the other way and tell them to comfort themselves? No, we offer assistance, a listening ear, medical attention. And I think we should do the same with babies.

If a creature who’s only been on the earth long enough to know that crying will get an adult’s attention, and that adults are the keepers of food, warmth, love, snuggles, safety, etc., then how can we feel okay ignoring those little alerts when they come in the form of cries or wails?

It’s amazing that as parents we often pride ourselves in telling everyone how much we love our kids, so much that we are willing to do anything for them!

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But, really, anything?

The mom who gets superpower strength to lift the car that’s about to crush her baby is heroic, sure. But the mom who understands that her life is now ruled by a child (for the most part) is a hero in her own right as well, especially when it’s so easy these days to just pass on the responsibility to someone else–a nanny, daycare worker, teacher, family member, etc.

I’m definitely NOT saying that moms who have help or want help or just have other priorities are awful people. Of course not, each mom has to make the best decisions for herself. And my mom has helped me for the past few months with my baby who still doesn’t sleep through the night, so I’m not here to judge anyone. Amen for assistance!

Yet, I feel guilty trying to pass myself off as one of those moms who would do ANYTHING for her child, when I so clearly will not sacrifice 8 days of sleep straight for my baby. And you can interpret that statement to mean that moms will do anything they have to, but at the end of the day, comfort still comes top on the list for a lot of us as parents.

So the self-soothing method is just nonsense to me. It seems like some excuse a “professional” concocted for people that feel bad about feeling bad that they can’t sleep. The truth is, you’re allowed to not love every part of parenting! I hate when I don’t get sleep on account of a newborn, but I made the decision to have that child, and I can’t deny the baby his needs just because I want to handle mine first.

Self-soothing is a way to temporarily gain your sanity, but it’s also a way of telling your baby, in actions rather than words, that their cries no longer mean anything. And do you know what happens in third-world countries when babies in large orphanages need something? Nothing.

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The babies are used to being one of hundreds and know no one is coming when they cry. They will be fed and changed when they are fed and changed. And everything else is up to them. They have essentially learned to “self-soothe”, but I can think of other words that better describe what’s going on there. And depressing is on the top of that list.

There simply aren’t enough staff available to maintain orphanages with tons of babies and no parents, but when it’s you and your baby at home, that’s not the case. If you have twins, sure you’re outnumbered, but it’s still a choice whether or not you decide to appear when your baby cries or hope that if you ignore them long enough, the noise will stop.

Like I said before about people who don’t like traveling with kids and babies on planes: humans start off as babies and kids, including the humans who judge moms for not being able to CONTROL (note, this is different than discipline or manage) their kids in some situations. Because we can’t really control all the noise that comes out of these little beings, and we shouldn’t be expected to just because it’s more pleasant for others. If you want to live in a quiet world where you never hear a child, then don’t go to any public places. Go live in a forest. Lock yourself up in your house all day and pray that there are no commercials with kids in them.

But don’t go out in the real world and lay these ridiculous expectations on moms.

And moms, your kids are going to have years of being ignored and many instances where they learn that no one cares what they feel or think. But in their baby days is not the best time for that life lesson, in my opinion. When they’re so small and helpless, and you are their connection to the things that truly soothe them, I urge more moms to take into consideration what their baby is going through before deciding that ignoring a baby is the best route for getting sleep or getting chores done or whatever else seems to be more important.

Self-care is important for moms so if it’s so extreme that you literally cannot take care of yourself or eat or sleep, then find some other ways to get help! But to me, the term “self-soothing” is so misleading. Babies aren’t learning to soothe themselves. They’re just learning to not react anymore when they aren’t soothed by you.

But hey, every mom needs to make this choice for herself. I’m just trying to be an advocate for that baby in the crib who knows of no other way to communicate with his parents and would rather be in his mother’s arms than have a teddy bear stuffed in his face or be taught to stop asking for help.

Even in 2019, people are “self-soothing” with alcohol, cigarettes, fast food, retail therapy, and more. But is it really soothing? We tell these people to address the root of their problems and the source of their needs, so why can’t we do the same when it comes to a baby?

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Do what you can to tackle their needs instead of trying to tackle the noise. Ignoring a baby who wants so badly to tell you he/she needs or wants something seems cruel. Even if all they want is to be held, is that really so much to ask for?

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