Baby-Dumb to Baby-Wise and Back Again

BabyDumb to BabyWise and Back Again I didn’t know it would be like this – that so many of my parenting decisions would boil down to working theory, to an intentional and loving crapshoot. I thought I would be so much more in the know, having read all of the books before Owen was born. I read about everything – from sleep to eating to vaccines to absolutely riveting car seat reviews.

I read like I had never before seen nor held a baby.

After all my reading, I thought I knew what kind of parent I’d be. I mean, I’d been running a classroom of upwards of twenty kindergarteners for the previous five years. In my mind, kids needed stability, structure, routine, which roughly translated into ideas that my babies would be on a schedule and put themselves to sleep and defintiely learn to stay asleep through the night at a young age. When they got older and were testing boundaries in a social setting, it would take nothing more than a well-timed look to make them rethink their course of action…or at worst, a fiercely whispered word. 


And then I actually had a baby. And then a toddler. And then another baby. And so much of what I thought would be quickly flew out of my oft-crayola-ed windows.

When Owen and all of my theories were new and fresh, we started sleep training early. I had been so inspired by a friend of mine who would put her daughter down for naps, walk out of the nursery, and get quickly back to her cup of coffee, without even a peep from her baby girl. And so we did a few weeks of letting him cry it out, during which my heart felt as though it was literally falling through my stomach and into the basement. It was terrible, but in truth, it worked. Owen learned to put himself to sleep.


But the problem was, he wouldn’t stay asleep. He woke up a couple times a night until he was a little over a year old, a habit probably fueled by the inconsistency of our responses to his nightly wakings – sometimes tough love, sometimes nursing, sometimes pacing, ever bouncing my hand on his back.

I blamed myself for his sleep issues, which were finally brought to a halt when we put some practices from Secrets of the Baby Whisperer into play. So with Elsa, I was determined to start things right. From the get-go, I would lay her down sleepy but not asleep, and we started doing our typical bedtime routine of bath and a story plus one final nurse just a couple weeks after she came home.

And she slept. She slept through the night from five weeks on. We rejoiced and were thankful for every night of sleep we got. It was like she was making up for the sleep we lost during Owen’s infancy.


And then, it stopped. She got a nasty cough that kept her up at night, cut four teeth in four weeks, and before you could say Baby Wise, suddenly we were co-sleepers. Eric and I hugged the very edges of our bed, while Elsa slept soundly in the middle. I knew better. I knew this was a habit that would eventually have to be broken, but the reality was I was just. so. tired. Tired from having a baby. Tired from having a toddler. Tired from having a cold myself. Just tired.

IMG_8824 Plus, I knew from experience that she wasn’t going to be this little and snuggly for much longer. That soon she would be a toddler, who might, like her brother before her, think of our bed as the perfect WWF arena.

So in our bed, she slept. And we slept.

But now we’re slowly, gently breaking her of that habit. Again and again, we have the same conversation in the middle of the night: Why is she crying? Maybe she’s sick, maybe she’s teething, maybe she’s gassy, maybe she’s playing us like a pair of tired fools.

Like I said, parenting is just a loving crapshoot.

And it’s not just to cry-it-out or cosleep. It’s everything, every minute, every day. What do I do when Owen pushes Elsa over for the fifteenth time? Is he simply disobeying, again? Is he jealous? Is he getting enough one-on-one time with me? Is he sick? Tired? Hungry?


How do I respond when he’s whining? Is this a time for training? For teaching? For discipline? For grace? For a nap? For a snack?



What do I do when Elsa is only happy when held, crying the second I put her down to do the dishes, change a load of laundry? Is she sick? Is she tired? Does she need to nurse? Or is she at the point where she needs to learn that Mom has to do things like go to the bathroom once in a while?


It’s so situational, and it’s not. Every decision I make is fueled by this intensive love I have for these two, wanting the very best for them, wanting them to know love and acceptance, wanting them not to end up as societal delinquents. It’s that love that is the only sure thing in all of this that feels so much like guesswork. I have to trust that the sum of all these decisions made will be two children who know I loved them fiercely and worked tirelessly for their best. More than that, I have to trust that God loves my kids more than I do, and despite what I do or don’t do, He is shaping their moments and days.

But still, they are here with me, and all day every day I am presented with choices about how to raise them. I still turn to books. More often, I turn to friends who are in these trenches with me, or to mothers who have gone before me and raised kids who are not in jail. Eric and I have long and involved discussions about what to do about this and how to respond to that. We pray. We pray every day that the Lord will give us wisdom. We pray He will soften their hearts towards us, but ultimately towards Himself. We pray that we will never run out of coffee.


It is easy, so easy, to feel like you have the answers, until you come around the corner to find your toddler drinking honey straight from the bottle or until your baby breaks her personal best by getting up five times in one night.

So what I’m learning is grace. Because mothers everwhere are dancing these intricate steps of intention and guesswork and choices. I am learning grace for the Facebook mother whose baby is sleeping through the night at just a week old; grace for the mother who texts me to say that her toddler is driving her to an early grave on a rainy Thursday morning. Grace for the new mother who spends her entire day nursing then pumping, nursing then pumping; grace for old mothers who are worried for their adult children. Grace for the mother who is navigating the new waters of having all her children in school and sports; grace for the mother who is nervously awaiting the birth of her first child. Grace for the baby-wearers and baby-wisers.

Grace for myself.



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16 thoughts on “Baby-Dumb to Baby-Wise and Back Again

  1. Are you in my brain? I swear, other than having our second babies a little bit apart, we are living the same life in different parts of the country! I’m a terrified of the sleep stuff with #2; Wes was NOT (and still is not) a great sleeper, and I’m so exhausted. We both are. And at this point a lot of it is intentional on his part, which makes it a behavior issue, but then what do you do?

    At the very least I feel encouraged that I’m not alone, but I too will pray for sleep and sound decisions and the never-running-out-of-coffee for you guys too! XOXO

    • Aw, Heather, I wish we could sit down over a cup of coffee! All of last summer when I was newly pregnant with Elsa, I felt like I was in a deep, dark tired hole with toddler Owen – so I can definitely relate with where you’re at. And so hard when it’s willful like you’re talking about.
      You are definitely not alone, mama :) Sending good sleep vibes to baby #2 within you – maybe she too will make up for all the lost-sleep time with Wes?

  2. It’s amazing how quickly kids go through phases (sleep, no sleep, defiance, cuddling) yet how endless they feel to us. I can remember my three being so little and even the littlest decision was a mountain to me. I was just so tired and mentally exhausted that I couldn’t wrap my mind around how to handle the petty squabbling or poop on the floor. And as soon as they’re out of a bad phase I forget about it because isn’t sanity the way it was always meant to be? It’s easy to take the good for granted. Also – your chubby baby has stolen my heart.

    • It’s so true. I know eventually she’ll learn to sleep and the exhausted perma-film over my eyes will lift, but it feels so endless. I can’t imagine having a third in the mix right now – you are my hero!

  3. Trust yourself. Trust yourself. I cannot say it enough. Trust yourself.
    Not what’s in the books.
    Not what’s on facebook.
    Every child is different. And they change from week to week.
    Worry less about doing it right, and think of it as doing what feels right to you.
    I don’t think you can ‘spoil’ a child with too much love – what’s more reassuring than being held when you’re lonely and frightened? They will be able to cope with the nights just fine eventually. When they’re ready. I had one who wanted to sleep on her own fairly young, every night, and never shows up. I have one that I couldn’t get rid of – till suddenly he decided he was old enough – and that was that – no drama. I have one who still shows up in my room from time to time. And she asks if it’s ‘wrong’ or if she’s ‘too old’. But I assure her that she’ll know when she’s too old, because she won’t need to come in anymore.
    And while that may make me a parenting fail in some people’s eyes – I know that sleeping is an issue for my younger two, and I chose long ago not to make it a battleground. First, because I was just so tired. Second, because really – what’s the big deal? It’s not like I am letting them live on chicken nuggets because that’s what they want for every meal [which I could have - but there are health consequences to that one] or leaving them in the car when I just run in ‘real quick’ to the store. This one is a no brainer – because they eventually grow up and want to be on their own – but I have learned that when you push too hard, they cling all the harder.
    My youngest was a clinger – I pulled her out of her first preschool class and went back to mommy and me. She learned to ‘draw a pitcher mommy’ when she finally did go to preschool and missed me. She cried on her first day of kindergarten and the entire faculty, who’d known her so well since birth [I was pta president and had two kids there before her] were astonished. I wasn’t.
    But you know what? That same kid now adores school, can’t wait to go and gets involved in every single activity I’ll agree to. You know why? Because she broke away when SHE was ready.
    Trust yourself. I promise, it will be the right thing.

    • Thanks for the encouraging words! There is so much strength to be found in knowing that EVERY mother goes through these steps and stages. How lucky your kids are to have a thoughtful and intentional mama like you!

  4. Love you Liz. It’s always something that is difficult at every stage of the journey of parenthood. But you’re right…God is sovereign and full of grace and strength. Seek him daily in behalf of your kids and for your own comfort

  5. Oh, this post, friend. I love every bit of it and can relate so much, even in my early stages of motherhood. You are an incredible mother and such an inspiration. Prayers for you, that you can continue to trust your instincts. Prayers for unlimited supplies of coffee, as well. xo

    • Too kind, Stephanie! Thanks :) It IS tricky balancing blog work and mama-ing, like you mentioned yesterday, without a doubt! You are walking that line beautifully as well! Coffee forever.

  6. I saw Sara tonight and she re-introduced me to your blog. I truly enjoy it :) especially the most recent due to the fact that Maddux has been in our room the last three weeks. We’ve come to terms with it knowing that at least she won’t want to sleep with us when she is in college :) I’m looking forward to your next post. Lots of lOve :)

  7. As someone who is currently trying to sort out a regular sleep schedule with an 8-week old, I totally appreciate this post. What I’ve learned the most from mom’s is that right when you think you might have it all figured out, the universe reminds you that you aren’t even close. Loved this post.

    • Truth. We know nothing. And everything.
      And let me assure you, there is nothing regular about the way babies sleep :) You are not alone – good luck!

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