Crying It Out : Intergenerational Trauma Made Possible By The Desperation Of Overwhelmed Parents & Terrible Advice

Crying It Out : Intergenerational Trauma Made Possible By The Desperation Of Overwhelmed Parents & Terrible Advice

When it comes to divisive conversation, CIO would be at the top of the mummy war list alongside formula VS breast, and all vaccination debate. And what I am asking you to do today, is consider how you might create a non-judgemental space within yourself in order to engage in some reading that will inspire you to do better, and therefore feel better, as a mother + parent + care provider. I am not judging you – I am angry at the systems that society has put in place to allow us to continue with this sort of anti-human rhetoric – and this is what I am challenging today. Not you, not your parenting, not your baby – I am challenging CIO as large scale endemic in the parenting world.

There is a very clear distinction between taking a mental health break and stepping away from your infant momentarily to take a breath & making sanity + safety the priority, VS CIO as sleep training and/or techniques that illicit a sort of extended isolation & overwhelm for your baby. Please understand that distinction first and fore mostly.

The only history of the cry it out method in English-speaking countries that I managed to source was in Aletha Solter’s article Crying for Comfort. (Sourced via PHD In Parenting).

During the 13th century in Europe, Catholic priests first began recommending that mothers stop sleeping with their infants. It is likely that the primary, perhaps unconscious reason for this advice was the rise of patriarchy and the fear of too much feminine influence on infants-especially male infants. However, the reason the priests gave for this advice was the danger of smothering the infants, commonly known as “overlaying.” Historians now believe that most of the infant deaths during the Middle Ages in Europe were caused by illness or infanticide. When accidental smothering occurred, it was probably caused by parents who were under the influence of alcohol.

After the industrial revolution in the 18th century, the notion of “spoiling” became widespread in industrialized countries, and mothers were warned not to hold or respond to their infants too much for fear of creating demanding monsters. If the home was big enough, parents moved cradles and cribs to a separate room. With the infants sleeping alone in another room, it was easy for parents to follow the cry-it-out advice, even if it went against their gut instincts.

The decline in breastfeeding further contributed to the separation of mothers and infants. With bottle-feeding from birth on, the last remaining link to the mother’s body was removed, resulting in the deplorable, detached methods of child-rearing that predominated in Western civilizations during the 20th century.

Dr. Luther Emmett Holt, an American pediatrician and child-rearing expert, was the first person to make the cry-it-out approach explicit and popular in the US. Over 100 years ago, his best-selling book, The Care and Feeding of Children, was the child-rearing bible of the time. The book is structured as a series of questions and answers. One question is, “How is an infant to be managed that cries from temper, habit, or to be indulged?” The very wording of this question reveals Holt’s bias. His answer: “It should simply be allowed to ‘cry it out.’ This often requires an hour, and, in some cases, two or three hours. A second struggle will seldom last more than ten or fifteen minutes, and a third will rarely be necessary.”2 Several generations were raised according to this advice.

Dr. Benjamin Spock, the medical and parenting guru of the second half of the 20th century, recommended a similar cry-it-out approach in his best-selling book, Baby and Childcare. Modified versions of the cry-it-out approach can be found in many current, popular parenting books.

I want to begin by asking – what kind of human beings is the CIO method putting out into the world? Then I would like us to ask, what kind of conversations should we be having in order to shift the paradigms that don’t serve the future of humanity?

When it comes to the matter of ‘raising children the right way’, I am sure we can all agree that the desire to ensure our babies are not being born & raised to be apathetic, dissociative, sociopathic, narcissistic abusers and/or murders is a priority for the majority of us.

The ‘Crying It Out’ method (otherwise known as the total extinction method – you can read about the science behind this sleep training method here) is a technique that literally changes the landscape of your child’s brain/heart/body – down to the cell.

“Marie Susanne Kübler (who wrote books for housewives in the 1890s) and Dr. Otto Köhler (who wrote a book about the care of infants in 1921), both agreed that around eight hours of sleep was an absolute necessity for mothers (otherwise they would have problems with milk supply). They both recommended mother-led feeding schedules (e.g. mothers feeding based on feeling in their breasts or feeding at specific time intervals instead of feeding on cue). However, Köhler also noted that not all babies would easily sleep through for eight hours and that it was better to give them a nighttime feeding than to have them disturb everyone with hours of crying at night. Overall, however, this time period seemed to mark the beginning of sleep being characterized as a problem and the child being considered the source of that problem. ” (Sourced via PHD In Parenting).

Let’s consciously recognise how we perceive babies. In general, they’re expressed as ‘bundles of joy’ who poo, feed and pass gas, all the while grossly interjecting on a life of control & convenience we cling to, even when the dynamics completely change and we know surrender to instinct & intuition is only way forward. We rarely associate the words ‘baby’ and ‘feeling’ in the same sentence – in fact, up until the remarkable (and controversial work) of Frederick Leboyer and his book Birth Without Violence, we refused to entertain the idea that babies did feel. Even now, in 2019, many MANY people believe infants do NOT feel anything until 6-12 months. We focus on the baseline expectation of birth as to make it out alive, and then we move into parenthood with the same belief – survive, even at the emotional demise of all involve. We have normalised crying it out in the same ways we have normalised birth trauma.

Our babies are not minions who operate on our schedule. They are not born to convene us. And yet we remain relenting in this approach, breaking the spirits of our babies until they become precisely this.

If you look at the level of greed, corruption, evil, crime, murder, mental health issues, general unwellness, racism, trauma and disconnect that is rife in this world, and then rewind back 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 years – you will not be surprised whatsoever when the direct correlation between the ways babies were born and raised (in the decade they were born although considered normal at the time) and the kinds of people that exist today.

I don’t need any longitudal study to tell you that letting a child cry for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 hours (often by themselves) is neglect. Because it IS neglect. This won’t be a popular conversation but we must have it.

Your children are born with the biological imperative and desire to be close to you, be held by you, as a means to survive AND thrive. If they are put on a schedule they aren’t ready to be on (nor will ever be eager to be on), this is breaking spirit. Breaking the spirit of your baby is a type of emotional abuse. This is not caring for our baby – it is neglect.

If your friend, or lover, or colleague or adult family were upset (hungry, heartbroken, exhausted, overwhelmed), would you disregard their feelings and close them off in a room until they learn to self-settle? If they cried so hard they threw up, or defecated, their whole body raging with cortisol, adrenaline and fear – desperate for company and care – would you feel ethical with the decision to leave them alone until they understood the world is a hard place so its best you learn no one cares and is here to help + hold you?

What is so radical with the decision to respect our infants as sentient beings VS insist on painting them as toys we like to buy clothes & prams for? What’s so radical about having the desire to see a world where community and support reinvents the long forgotten systems women need to parent from a balanced, healthy, optimistic place?

And why does this insistence persist? Desperation, fatigue, exhaustion, confusion – generations of parents being indoctrinated with the belief and ‘advancements’ sold at the time, preying precisely on that exhaustion. Generations of women & people having their instinct & intuition pummelled out of them, being taught stories about the detriment of maternal instinct and instead being taught that spoiling your child is worse than abusing them. The historical context and literature I have come across on CIO and it’s origins has freaking blown my mind.

“Sleep time was no exception. In The German Mother and Her First Child, Haarer wrote, “It is best if the child is in his own room, where he can be left alone.” If the child starts to cry, it is best to ignore him: “Whatever you do, do not pick the child up from his bed, carry him around, cradle him, stroke him, hold him on your lap, or even nurse him.” Otherwise, “the child will quickly understand that all he needs to do is cry in order to attract a sympathetic soul and become the object of caring. Within a short time, he will demand this service as a right, leave you no peace until he is carried again, cradled, or stroked—and with that a tiny but implacable house tyrant is formed!”

The above is a perfect example of how distorted views & practice around child rearing is as much cause for concern as it was then, as it is now. You can read all about the Nazi regime urged German mothers to ignore their toddlers’ emotional needs in order to better raise hardened soldiers and followers HERE. Attachment researchers say that the harmful effects of that teaching is affecting later generations, and this is exactly why CIO needs to be dismantled TODAY.

“All the data we have tell us that if we deny a child sensitive caring during the first one or two years of life, as Johanna Haarer suggests,” you end up with children who have limited emotional and reflective abilities. (Sourced at the Scientific American)

“Ultimately, if none of those tricks worked, the mother must absolutely enforce nighttime rest. The most “heroic method” for a young mother, in their opinion, was to let the baby cry it out.  In their work, the infant’s behaviour is suddenly characterized not only unhealthy, but also bad and in need of correction. Sleep had become a battleground and the child was the enemy. Bergstermann notes that the influence of Nazi ideology here is unmistakable and that the need to portray the child as a problem in need of correction was definitely politically motivated.”(Sourced via PHD In Parenting

Beyond the issue of devastating consequences for the newborn child swimming in fight or flight, desperation, defeat and submission, my concerns also lie in how this method continues to propagate the belief that women & parents are in no position to parent confidently from a place of deep rooted confidence, self-belief and trust in their instincts. If parents only knew that the best way to feel less stressed, less overwhelmed, more confident and more excited about being a mom (or care provider) was to actually slow down, honour the voice inside, parent in the ways their instinct commands and ask/pay for help in order to create the space for this to happen – so much would change.

If only parents knew that the logic behind caring for our bodies and our health, honouring the need for fatigue, food, drink, fun, boundaries, fresh air, getting physical (all notions I teach in my Dynamo Doula Training) is actually the place to start (because parenting from a place of stress, desperation, scarcity and insecurity is a recipe for disaster) – so much would change.

The answers are not in the outer sign posts and outward journey, or things you can buy or read. The answers are in YOU. What is your heart telling you? What is your gut telling you? The answer is always inside you. And if you aren’t practicing self-awareness, self-connectedness, self-respect, joy as the priority, belief in yourself as the foundation – you can spend all the money and hire all of the people but nothing will ever work. We are animals. We are hardwired to work a certain way – fighting that makes life astronomically more difficult than it needs to be – for our babies AND for us AND for the world.

Much like birth, parenting is supposed to be fucking hard. It is supposed to be challenging. But it is also meant to be wildly rewarding. The opportunity for growth & evolution is expensive beyond what your mind can fathom – not prioritising instinctual and attached parenting will mean the demise of humanity. Creating robotic babies who are detached, complacent and submissive as a means to cope & survive will never be the solution to how we cultivate a future of connected, compassionate, collective humans.

My last prompt for you today would be – how can I make parenting more enjoyable for both my baby and I? And how can I implement parenting practices that respect my child as much as they honour my unique needs?

3 Comments
  • Nicole Lakin
    Posted at 05:49h, 28 January Reply

    Thank you so much!!!! This is such a great reminder for me as a new mom, and all moms, that the answers are all inside of us!! We instinctually feel things and we get to follow that !

  • Nisha Gill
    Posted at 14:31h, 28 January Reply

    Truth bomb – thank you Ange.

    Yes neglect. Yes abuse. But there’s enough science now to support the sentience of babies that ignorance can no longer be an excuse for our actions.

    Our mammalian roots have meant that we’re hard-wired for connection prenatally to feel safe and to settle without our threat detector going off constantly. Babies and young children don’t have the capacity to self-regulate and need attuned caregivers for CO-REGULATION. To deny them this basic need is to set them up for developmental/ attachment trauma.

    They then navigate life through the lens of the-world’s-a-dangerous-place which in turn affects their overall development. Parts of their nervous systems never come on line and they remain in survival-only mode. The energy of resignation and submission is a kind of prison. And this early neglect becomes a life sentence. The ACE (Adverse Childhood Events) study has added much weight to previous speculation about the impact of early childhood trauma.

    NO MORE EXCUSES.

  • Katherine
    Posted at 15:48h, 28 January Reply

    Absolutely love this!!!! As anew mom there is so much “advice” out there. When I finally let ALL of it go, pulled my sweet daughter close to me during every night I finally felt peace. My job as her mom is SUPPOSED to be hard, I am here to grow, honor and help guide her wonderfully free and beautiful spirit, and what an honor ❤️

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