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Jun 28 2013

Sleep Training with the Shema

By at 10:08 am

baby lying awake on bedSleep training. Like just about every other parenting decision, the controversy rages about how to get an infant to go to sleep. I’ve heard that some babies snuggle down for a night of uninterrupted sleep, and will even take naps during the day. But my 4-month-old daughter seemed afraid that if she went to sleep, she might miss something exciting. She thought that a nap meant resting on my lap with her eyes open for 20 minutes, and that sleeping from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. with a wake-up call for snuggles every two hours was “sleeping through the night.”

With such an overtired baby and no longer able to get through the day ourselves, my husband and I knew something had to change. Like many first-time parents, we had imagined a calm bedtime routine. She had her bath, got a short massage, read a story, nursed, and then was supposed to go quietly into her crib as we sang the Shema and Adon Olam. For a while, everything went according to plan, except for the part about going “quietly into her crib.” Instead, we would finish the routine with a baby who appeared to be well on her way to dreamland, but who, as soon as she was placed in her crib, began to cry as though she was being tortured. It wasn’t gas. She wasn’t still hungry. She had been sleeping in her crib by herself for several weeks, so it wasn’t a scary or unfamiliar place. She just did not want to go to sleep. 

After reading every book on the subject and spending hours online searching for a solution, we spoke with an infant sleep consultant. We learned about babies’ natural sleep cycles, how to help her soothe herself with a pacifier and lovey, and how to get in and out of her room lovingly, quickly, and efficiently. And so we were able to reframe our conversation from being about sleep “training” to being about teaching our daughter a skill she needed to be happy and healthy. 

“Veshinantam levanecha v’dibarta bam beshivtecha b’veitecha u’vlecht’cha vaderech u’vshochb’cha uvkumecha: And you shall diligently teach them to your children. You shall recite them at home and away, morning and night.”

These words from the Shema had been part of our bedtime routine to soothe our daughter from the start. But it wasn’t until we listened to them ourselves that we discovered that they could be soothing to us as parents, too. As we settled her into her crib, fervently praying that she would settle down calmly, these words reminded us that our role as parents, as teachers to our daughter, included bedtime.

At almost 5 months old, our daughter is still working on mastering her sleeping skills. And we as her parents are still working on mastering our role as her teachers, in which we always make time for the bedtime Shema.

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