One of the known methods of torture is sleep deprivation. It can make a person desperate. That is why parents of small children, as soon as all the common-sense strategies backfire and a woozy reality sets in, start combing bookshelves for a sleep guru. Someone who will please explain, preferably in three easy-to-follow steps, how to get their baby to sleep.
I know this because I'm one of them. My program, developed by a woman my husband and I call the Baby Nazi, instructs parents to schedule what baby and mommy should do at every given moment. Severe as it sounds, it seems to work. Since the age of three months, our little Beatrice has slept from 7 to 7. When they hear about this, hardened parents choke back a combination of disbelief and envy. "Just wait until the four-month sleep regression," cautioned a friend. (Never came.) "Are you sure something's not wrong with her?" asked another with faux concern.
Perhaps none of the dread offspring archetypes--the thumb sucker, the binky addict, the colicky screamer--is more feared than the bad sleeper, and parents will try any formula that offers the prospect of some rest. Sleep manuals outsell even the baby bible What to Expect When You're Expecting. For years, parents have clung to competing sleep-training camps (Never wake a sleeping baby! No naps in the stroller!) in hopeful desperation. So when Dr. Richard Ferber, author of the best-selling 1985 book Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, seemingly backpedaled on his signature "cry it out" technique last week, saying his program was never "meant to be the way to solve all sleep problems," bleary-eyed parents across the U.S. were startled awake by the news.
Ferberization is one of the most popular, if harrowing, sleep techniques. Recalcitrant sleepers are left shrieking in their cribs for progressively longer periods at night so as to learn to soothe themselves. Deeply conflicted parents are instructed to ignore howls and wails until the allotted moment, at which point they can coo at--but not pick up--their babies before leaving them to suffer themselves to sleep. For parents who successfully Ferberize, the method is a godsend, if by way of purgatory. Even fans shudder at the recollection of those tear-stained nights, when every fiber of their bodies called them to console their unhappy babe.
Dissenters (many of them failed Ferberizers) are often drawn to his night-and-day counterpart, Dr. William Sears, another best-selling pediatrician. Sears' ideology of "attachment parenting" has achieved cultlike status among earthy mamas who wield their babies in slings, eschew pacifiers, breastfeed on demand and, at night, curl up with their babies in their (preferably king-size) family bed. Co-sleeping adherents believe Mom and Dad should actively parent into the wee hours, if a sleepless baby so desires. Opponents accuse the Attachmentites of sacrificing adult independence to infant whims and ask what happens when the grownups finally decide they want their toddler out of there.