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The Cry It Out Method Is Brutal But My Wife Sleeps Through It. What the Hell Is Wrong With Her?

A dad, struggling with the cry it out method as his wife sleeps through the screams, wonders if there's something wrong with him — or her.

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Goodfather,

We’re sleep training and it’s hitting me harder than I ever thought it would. My wife and I both work and our leave will be wrapping up soon, so we need to get baby on a schedule. We talked to some sleep training experts who asked questions about our life and said that cry it out is probably the best method for us. It’s tough, sure, but a clean break from the up and down and up we’re doing now. We both work in places where we need to be well-rested (hospital and manufacturing) so we really need strong parameters that we can come back to.

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So here’s the problem with the cry it out method so far: It’s exposing my wife to be an unfeeling person. The baby cries and cries and it’s just a gut punch, man. I practically tear-up listening to my daughter trying to cry herself to sleep. I can’t sleep through it, but my wife does. And she sleeps soundly. 

I asked her how she can stand it and she told me to stop worrying about it and just let our little girl acclimate. What feeling human being could react to cry-it-out like this? I know It’s going to be over soon, but my faith in my wife’s emotional intelligence has been shaken. Should I be worried? 

Crying Out in Culver City

 

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I’m hoping that by the time you read this you will have passed through the rubicon and found yourself sleeping in a peaceful house. After all, cry-it-out (CIO) works, if you happen to have the fortitude to go through with it. Because you’re right: for some people, CIO is too much to bear. That’s the primary reason it fails. But some parents have a unique tolerance that allows them to persevere. It sounds like your wife just happens to be one of those people. You? Not so much. And that’s okay, as long as you can avoid making it a moral issue.

Speaking of moral issues, I’m not going to debate the merits or dangers of cry-it-out here. I tend to put the technique in the realm of personal preference. There’s simply not enough evidence from legitimate scientific research to suggest that it leads to poor outcomes for children. So, if CIO leads a child to learn how to self-soothe and sleep through the night, then there’s no reason to take it off the table. 

I feel like that’s an important point here simply because some people are passionate enough about the supposed dangers of CIO that they will call it abuse. The reason for such consternation is linked to the method’s opening verb: cry. Because the thing is that a baby’s cry is designed to get our attention. It’s an adaptive quality for the newest members of our species who need to communicate the fact that they need parental care to keep living.

Crying just hits in a special way. It lights up our brains. It can make us feel anxious, particularly if we’re empathetic people. The effect of crying is so unpleasant, in fact, that the armed forces will use the amplified sounds of babies crying in siege situations to drive combatants to surrender. 

This would all seem to suggest that your wife could be an unempathetic and unfeeling monster. But we need to hold up for a second. There could be any number of reasons that your partner can sleep soundly as your baby cries.

For starters, is it possible that she’s simply exhausted? If you’re already in sleep training land, you must both be super tired. For some people, fatigue can lead to deep sleep. For others, it can go the opposite way and result in irritation and trouble sleeping. If your wife has been breastfeeding or doing a lot of other physical caregiving, this fatigue is likely to be worse than your own. Is it possible that her ability to sleep through your daughter’s cries is less because she has turned to cold stone and more because she is lost to the world when sleep finally comes? 

Another important thing to remember is that mothers take a hormonal bath leading to childbirth. After birth, their body, once flooded with hormones to support a pregnancy and ultimately start labor, is suddenly in a kind of withdrawal. In some women, the symptoms of this withdrawal are minor and resolved within 8 weeks of delivery. For other women, the symptoms can be severe and last for months after delivery. There is a chance that what you are seeing in your wife isn’t the revelation of emotional ineptitude, but depression. 

I’m also curious if you’ve talked with your wife about your concerns. It could be that in this situation she’s simply being overly stoic. There’s a distinct possibility that her lack of emotion in this situation is a coping mechanism. She must understand that in order for CIO to be successful that she needs to keep herself in check. Who knows what kind of turmoil is happening under her outward calm? Certainly not you, unless you ask her about it directly. 

Finally, I want you to consider your own perspective. Clearly the CIO process has been a painful and emotional one for you. Is it possible that your wife’s calm appears is amplified and sinister in comparison to your own feelings? Is it possible that what’s normal for her appears unfeeling in the light of your big emotions? It’s possible.   

All of this said, there is a vanishingly slim chance that your wife has managed to hide the fact that she’s emotionally crippled until just this very moment in your life. I don’t think that’s the case. But you’re the one who should know your partner best. If you’re not, then maybe you should ask someone who knows her better than you for a second opinion. If there is a consensus that her behavior is concerning then you may want to talk to her about joining you from some counseling. But again, I’m doubtful that it will be necessary. 

Look, man, sleep training is a shitshow. It’s emotionally fraught and deeply difficult. And just when you think you have it down, shit will change and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a sleep regression that will make you feel like you’ve erased all of the gains. If there were ever a time to give your partner a little extra consideration, this would be it. There are a lot of changes afoot in your life right now and you guys need to be on the same team. Be kind to one another. Be quick to forgive and slow to judge. And be over communicative. 

You made this kid in love, right? So parent in love too. It’s the only way to get through.