Two mothers were dismayed that this column advised parents to let their 2-year-old go to sleep without a parent in the room, even if he cries.
Q. If we do not parent for our own convenience and by-the-clock during the day, why are "rules" different at night?
Parents need to listen to their hearts and their children. I'm not advocating a structure-free or "child-controlled" household, but I don't see anything wrong with keeping a child company until he falls asleep.
I also think your advice to abandon a 10-month-old baby brother to a sitter for an hour in the afternoon (to be with the older child) is appalling.
Children require responsible, unselfish, full-time love and caring.
And from another mother:
I was glad you recognized Jacob's need for more attention during the day--some of it undivided--but I don't think it can make up for the sense of abandonment a child feels when his cries go unanswered.
All parents set up situations that seem convenient at the time but are more trouble than they are worth. The solution doesn't lie in hurtful or drastic measures.
There are many alternatives, because there can be many causes.
Are the parents putting the child to bed too early? Does he resent going to bed before his little brother? Is there too much roughhousing before bedtime?
Bedtime can be postponed an hour with a warm bath and some stories. The mother (or father) stays with him if needed, without slipping out as soon as she thinks he is asleep, or he will stay awake just to make sure she is still there.
Two-year-olds need to know that someone is in control, but not that the person is thoughtless and unreliable.
A. Parents should try other solutions -- perhaps making things quieter at night, extending the child's bedtime hour or at least tucking him in a little later than his brother, but these are unlikely causes of little Jacob's tears. After all, the child in question is 2 -- the age of autonomy. He needs to test his limits, but because this show of strength has gone on for a while, it is a fairly ingrained habit. It will get worse for a few days when the parents try to break it, but within a week or so it should disappear -- and then he'll find another way to test. It's the curse of the age and the blessing, too. This is how a child grows up.
Parents should answer a crying child; to do otherwise would be heartless and possibly unsafe. They probably will have to give him a quick check and a kiss every 10 minutes or so for an hour -- although they won't be as cheerful the last time as the first -- but they won't stay with him until he falls asleep, even if he cries each time they say good-night. A child gets attention for good behavior, not for bad.
This doesn't mean that parents who let their child fall asleep on his own are uncaring, selfish and irresponsible. They're simply giving him the respect he deserves.
They know he needs to become his own person and that it's pretty scary but still they let him take as much responsibility for himself as he can because they think he can handle it. That's the epitome of respect.
We encourage this independence when we let a baby inch over to reach a toy, even if he yelps in frustration, and when we let a toddler scramble up the steps, when he could get there so much quicker in our arms. The child who is allowed to discover his own independence at 2 and 12 will be much stronger for it at 20.
Parents give this freedom out of love, but it's never easy. There are times when only the sight of a sturdy, competent child -- a child who can survive on his own -- gives parents the courage to let go a little more. This makes a child's self-esteem stronger and makes him feel more successful, which in turn makes parents feel successful, too.
Parents are also respectful when they recognize that each child needs individual attention. Leaving a contented 10-month-old with a sitter isn't abandonment, and it certainly isn't selfish--not when the time is spent with his older brother. Each child deserves time alone with his parents, together and separately.
Parents also need time alone, individually and with each other. If they don't accept this natural need, they eventually will explode with rancor. They know that parenthood is the most important job they'll ever have, but it is not a full-time one. Parents have many other roles. They are spouses and companions and lovers, they are workers, they are friends and neighbors, and above all, they are themselves -- irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind, with unique ideas and dreams.
To expect parents to give up these other roles, or sublimate everything on the altar of parenthood, could smother a child, sour a marriage and leave parents with a bitterness where sweet tastes should belong.
And with good reason. The 2-year-old who routinely gets his way when he yells for it will become the 4-year-old who gets what he wants at the grocery store, the 6-year-old who expects everything on his list at Christmas and the 8 who still worries so much about what he's going to get that he hardly thinks about what he's going to give.
This same child becomes the teen-ager who will think he can talk back to his parents; play his records as loud as he wants; do his schoolwork -- or not -- and leave his dirty clothes on the floor.
And this is the child whose parents will say, "What can you do?"
Actually you can do a lot to change the process, at any time, but it's much easier if you start on the right track. Nature is a series of actions and reactions, but it's for the parents to decide what the issues will be; not the child. It is one thing to be responsive to the needs of the child, but quite another to respond to his demands. For those who might be tempted to walk that path, cuddle up with a new book called Manipulating Parents by Paul W. Robinson (Prentice Hall; $7.95). The author is a psychologist who has sired, adopted and fostered enough children--and counseled enough parents--to know what works and what does not.
Although parenthood is not a full-time job, it does last a parent's lifetime. If it's going to be fun, parents have to respect themselves and their children, too, even as young as 2.