But now I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me illustrate. My beautiful little girl is six-plus months old now. She can easily roll from her back to her stomach in no-time flat. Rolling from stomach to back is a little trickier. She can do it; I’ve seen her. But she often still finds herself stuck on her belly and unsure of what to do. Like a turtle in reverse, there she is on the carpet, seemingly stranded with her arms and legs splayed out around her and no options before her. She fusses, she cries, and she quickly gives up all hope of rescuing herself and begins screaming into the floor.
But where is she able to perform this task that otherwise feels impossible? In the crib. Often when she’s half asleep. She likes to sleep on her side, and from there it’s easy to roll onto her stomach. And then, without even thinking, she’ll roll back to her side again. She is safe and secure in the crib and she’s more interested in resting than she is in protecting herself. She’s free from anxiety, and this allows her the freedom to explore how she wants to sleep. In the floor, she seems to feel vulnerable, even if I’m there with her, and this anxiety keeps her from realizing that she has the ability to do what she wants. But in the crib, she feels safely “held” enough to risk exploring a little and rolls over without even thinking about it.
However, there is still some freedom we have to give her. When we were still swaddling her to sleep, she couldn’t move at all. She was so strictly held that she wasn’t able to explore at all and this kept her from opportunities for developing motor skills. Some freedom is necessary. And with that freedom comes a small, tolerable amount of anxiety. Some nights she doesn’t like being left alone in the crib. So we have followed the “ferberization” method of sleep habits laid out by Dr. Richard Ferber. This is essentially a method of good-enough parenting acted out at bedtime. If your baby cries in the crib, go in and briefly comfort her without taking her out of the crib. Leave, and give it three more minutes. Repeat this, but increase your time in between checking on your child by five minutes until she falls asleep. This both holds the infant by letting her know that you have not abandoned her and are still there for her, but also increases the anxiety in tolerable doses so that she will learn to soothe herself. I realize this may not work for every child everywhere, but it’s sure worked for our little girl: we have yet to have to check in on her more than twice a night, and since we’ve started this method, she’s consistently slept ten to twelve hours straight.
There is a balance between holding the child and allowing her the freedom (and anxiety) to explore on her own. Of course, there’s no perfect balance that works for all children everywhere. Each child is different, and finding the middle ground is different for each. Some children need more holding than others, and some are more ready to play on their own. But it is this ambiguity that ultimately has freed me up to quit worrying so damn much. I don’t know how to do everything right the first time, but if I did, no one in my household would learn anything. If my little girl never feels anxious at all, she’ll never learn to take care of herself.
This teaches me two things. First of all, I have to learn to get comfortable with my own anxiety. Winnicott talks about how a mother who cannot tolerate her own sense of anxiety in the face of her crying child will actually impinge upon the child’s development by constantly rescuing the child; the mother constantly reacts “perfectly” to the infant’s expressed needs, and “the infant does not really come into existence, since there is no continuity of being; instead the personality becomes built on the basis of reactions to environmental impingement.” Meaning, all the infant learns is that every time she cries she immediately gets what she wants. This leads to the infant feeling as if she is omnipotent, and then when she inevitably learns she isn’t when the mother isn’t around, she is overwhelmed with anxiety. So, in order to do my child a favor in growing into a conscious human being, I have to learn to accept my own anxiety in hearing her cry and fuss. Not always easy to do, but it’s certainly easier when I remind myself that it will make me into a better parent and make my daughter into a real person.
The second thing it teaches me is that it’s OK. It’s OK that I don’t always know what I’m doing. That’s fine; in fact, that’s better than fine, it’s good. We’re learning together. My little girl doesn’t know, either, so I can help her learn by being comfortable figuring it out as we go. There’s no perfect one way to do it, which means there are lots of good-enough possibilities. There’s definitely anxiety on my part, but I can tolerate my own anxiety along the way. After all, if I weren’t a little anxious myself, I also wouldn’t do my own necessary developmental work.
I’ll conclude these blog posts with a story my spouse told me a few days after giving birth. During the pregnancy, she was anxious about breastfeeding, worried about whether she would be able to figure it out. She read several books and took a class at the hospital, but was still nervous. In the wee early hours the morning of our little girl’s birthday, the lactation consultant came in with our girl for my spouse to breastfeed her for the first time. Of course, our baby hadn’t read the books or taken any classes, and she wriggled and squirmed and fussed as she tried to figure out what was going on. My spouse looked up at the lactation consultant and asked, “Am I doing it right?”
The consultant, a woman in her late sixties, answered, “Honey, it’s been a long time since I breastfed.”
Nervous and a little irritated at this unhelpful response, my spouse said, “Well, does it look like I’m doing it right?”
To which the consultant replied, “You look like a mother who loves her baby.”
It’s OK if we don’t know what we’re doing all the time. I love my baby more than I can describe, and that’s always good enough.
 See Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1986.
 Winnicott, D.W. “The Theory of the Parent-Infant Relationship.” International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol 41, 1962, pp. 585-595.
 Thank you, my dear sweet soulmate, for sharing this story with me, as it’s been significantly important to me in my own development as a parent and a human being.