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Trista Sutter: The Best Piece of Advice I Ever Received

A sleeping Max Sutter

My biggest dream in life was to be a mother.  I dreamt about it, took the role playing “house” with my friends when I was little, and for as long as I can remember, prayed that God would bless me with babies of my own one day.  After meeting the man of my dreams (oddly enough on television!), I hoped that that dream wasn’t far off, but besides babysitting and working as a pediatric physical therapist for four years, I had incredibly limited experience.  I’m pretty sure I’m not in the minority there.

No matter what age you are, unless you’ve had to endure the struggle of raising your own siblings or had hands-on experience as a nanny, I don’t know many mothers who feel particularly prepared when they get the news that they are expecting for the first time.  Personally, I had learned all about the human development in graduate school, but knowing what Apgar’s are is very different than knowing how to calm your tiny bundle of joy who isn’t sleeping through the night. There are thousands of books on parenting, but none comes with a hypoallergenic magic potion to sprinkle on your baby, so I took bits and pieces of anything I read or heard and relied heavily on conversations I had with friends, family, the nurse in Mommy and Me class, and fellow mommies.  I knew about a bedtime routine of bathing, reading, feeding, and burping.  I kept his room at 72 degrees and made sure he was tightly swaddled into a human burrito so he felt safe and warm.  Nothing seemed to be working, until I happened to bring our dilemma up to a fellow parent and got advice that would change the Sutter house forever.

It was January 2008 and Brad Paisley was playing at the Pepsi Center in Denver.  After appearing in his “Celebrity” video in 2003, I was lucky enough to call him a friend and make it on an almost annual basis to see him and his band perform.  This year he was actually able to hang out a bit and not immediately hop on a plane or bus to hit the next stop on his tour.  Backstage, we gabbed about the milestones our baby boys had hit (Huck and Max are only 5 months apart) and how proud we were to be parents.  I’m not sure why, but sleeping, or our kids lack thereof, became a hot topic.  Not only could Brad completely relate to the struggle we were having getting Max to sleep in his own room, but he offered the BEST piece of parenting advice I probably will ever hear.  He said: “Have you tried having him cry it out?”  After going through exactly 3 nights of crying, it worked for them like a charm.  I was at my wits end and willing to try everything…so the next week we did.

The first night, I sat glued to our video monitor.  Even though I had the sound turned down, I could still hear his wails coming from the next room.  It was torture.   However, knowing his brain was mature enough to actively calm him and that he was perfectly safe, I activated what tiny willpower I had and tried to stay strong.   Besides, if I showed up at any point after I had blown him kisses and closed his door, he would learn that I would give in and come to the rescue.  It took over 2 hours, but he finally relaxed and realized that he wasn’t going to be rocked to sleep and that dreamland may be the next best option.  The next night, it was about an hour and then the third night, he only cried for 20 minutes.  Just as Brad had experienced, it took 3 nights and our house was peacefully sleeping…in their very own beds.

Am I telling all parents out there to do this, or else?   Of course not.  Every child is different and as parents, you do what is right for your family.  It worked wonders for Max, so when the time came for our baby girl to move from the bassinet in our room to the crib in her glamourized pink nursery, we didn’t hesitate to repeat the process. It is never easy to hear your baby cry, but I truly wouldn’t change a thing.  Not only are my kids excellent sleepers now, but I’m pretty sure getting through those first few brutal nights themselves helped build the foundation of their little pillars of self-confidence.

So, on behalf of my kids, my circadian rhythm, my marriage, and my sanity…thank you to Brad Paisley (and his beautiful wife, Kim).  Your advice was the best I have ever received.

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  1. Regina says:

    This sounds a little like getting my son to be a good sleeper (minus the Bachelorette and Brad Paisley part)! It was truly terrible to hear him cry but I knew going to him was not going to solve anything. It was especially difficult for my husband to bear. Being a firefighter, he felt like he spent enough time away from our son and didn’t want to leave him alone. I told him that was fine, that he could have bedtime duty for a while then. As you can probably guess, that did not last long! Colton was sleeping in his crib, without a fuss, within a few days and has been a good sleeper ever since!

    Looking forward to more guest writing! Thanks for a great blog!

  2. Blair says:

    I am not a mother but I have been babysitting regularly for almost 20 years! Several of the kids I currently sit for have all been “sleep trained” (aka…the Cry Out method) and I cannot tell you what a huge difference it makes it their temperament, focus and overall well being. When kids are rested they are happy, and therefore so are their caregivers! I am sure it will be a challenge someday when I have my own but I already know that I will let my kids cry it out as well. It’s a short term sacrifice for a very long term reward!

    Just in case people want some reading material: Healthy Sleep, Happy Child by Dr. Weisenbluth has been a popular book among the parents I sit for and Richard Ferber has been mentioned as well.

  3. Debra says:

    Being a mother of 3, I too have had the anguish of putting babies to sleep. I could not agree more – they will cry it out, sleep better, and everyone is happy. I go one step further; I didn’t start them out in a bassinet, I start them out in their crib from the hospital. This way they don’t even have to adjust to a new bed! Of course, monitor was used but had them sleeping through the night in record time.

  4. Trista,

    Sleep training can be the most difficult thing for most families, especially mothers, to experience! I just recently helped sleep train the little boy I nanny for and it’s such a joy to see how much happier families become once the child is sleeping well. In NYC, there is actually a company called the Dream Team that will come in a suggest a sleeping plan for your child as well as stay in the same room with your child at night to help them along! I’ve actually thought about becoming a sleep-training professional :) Loved this story and let me know if you ever need any advice too :)


  5. Meredith says:

    I’m a parent of 2 and have done CIO with both children and it’s worked like a charm. And amazingly, I have a very loving, connected relationship with both of my children (contrary to what “attachment parenting” gurus say will happen). Common sense parenting seems to have gone out the window and we are being fed this silliness, and parents have more guilt than ever. You are the parent and you know what your child needs. In case of sleepless nights, this is SLEEP (your child isn’t the only one who needs rest, you are such a better parent if you are well-rested). If your child says they don’t want to brush their teeth, you are not going to say it’s cruel to make them brush their teeth. The same goes for sleep. There are plenty of areas in life where you know what is best for them, and they don’t know what is best – this is why you are the parent! – and sleep is just one of these areas. As long as you know your child has a clean diaper, is well fed, and they are old enough (4 mos min), CIO is the best! My sleep “Bible” is “Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child.”

  6. Laura says:

    We did this with my little boy Dill. I so belive in this! I love this article so much I am sharing it with all my mommy friends. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Donna says:

    I have put in alot of years raising 2 nieces,
    Our miracle son, 13 daycare kids, a nanny for the last 13 years
    And a Nama to of 2 and this method really does work.
    I have had so many different types of kids and each one
    A unique personality some very easy like our son potty trained with a doll in 3 days.
    And some made me feel like I had gotten in way over my head.
    I guess you can say I was meant to be with kids.
    It has been very rewarding for me.
    They all range from newborn to 29 and I will always be there for them.
    I am a firm believer in this method.

  8. Suzznne says:

    Thanks for you article! I have two little boys, and I KNOW all about the sleeping and crying thing. Oh, I dread that with the next child, but at least I have a game plan, right?! : ) I couldn’t bear the thought of letting my first baby cry, even though he was about 14 months when I finally put my foot down to having him falling asleep in my arms every time he woke up. I found this AMAZING book at the library, at that critical time, called “Good Night, Sleep Tight.” It’s solution is called the Sleep Lady Shuffle, and it was such a blessing. Basically, it’s all about letting your child cry, but you sit in the room, very statue-like and can occasionally reassure your child, until they fall asleep on their own. This way I didn’t feel like such a jerk. And I’m not saying y’all are jerks. I know y’all are some awesome mommies. I just didn’t have the will power to sit out of the room and hear the screaming. Anyway, after about a week of doing this with my son, I didn’t have to rock him anymore, and I still thank God for that miracle.

  9. Karen says:

    When my now 26 year-old son was a toddler, we had this sleeping issue as well and his pediatrician gave us the same advice. I will never forget sitting at the top of the stairs outside of his closed bedroom and silently crying right along with him at the time…it hurt me just as much! BUT….within 5 nights or so, it worked! Just make sure your baby is safe and is not hurting of course, you wouldn’t want to ignore THOSE types of cries!!

    I also have to add that it miraculously worked when we tried to break him of the pacifier as well.

  10. Momma F says:

    This was fun to read. But now that my kids are teens, I sorta wish I did not rush the whole crying it out process. If I had a do-over, I would hold them until they went to sleep. You will understand when you no longer have babies in the house.

  11. Erica Gold says:

    Oh goodness how I can relate! Having 3 boys and now pregnant with a little girl, I don’t think letting them “cry it out” is ever easy. Our pediatrician told us w/ our first that we had to start doing it, since Ryan (my oldest now) was taking forever to sleep through the night. Letting my baby cry was like pure torture for me! But, I have to admit . . . IT WORKED! So, when the others came along, I also learned and “let myself” put the babies to sleep awake – I would always rock them, but would lay them down still awake so they could really learn how to fall asleep on their own. Also, the book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby” was WONDERFUL!!

  12. Momtofour says:

    I instituted a 10 minute rule with my children very early (only a few months old). My children adapted very quickly and I learned which cry was for a real need and which one meant my child missed my. I am thankful, though, that my third and fourth children happily settled themselves and I don’t even recall using the rule with them.

    What is true is that we parents train ourselves to believe that children can’t settle down without us, but they can. I must say though, start young, because the longer you delay, the harder it will be to let them learn to sleep on their own.

  13. Jim says:

    Baby #1. We had to rock her till she was almost 2! And slept with us till she was three!
    Baby #2. We let her cry it out at 10 months! Started sleeping through the night! My wife almost had a heat attack!
    Baby #3 we let him cry it out at 6 months! The best thing did!’

  14. Amy says:

    Obviously I don’t know you personally. However you were the reason I started watching the Bachelor series. You and Ryan were meant to be and it was beautiful to see you fall in love, well see a bit of it anyway. I follow Trista on Twitter and love hearing the tweets on bachelor nights. Through the years I followed the growth of your family and your beautiful children. I’m encouraged when I see parents raising wonderful kids. All I have ever wanted to be is a mother. I did have a miscarriage in 2007 that really devastated me. Then in early 2009 found out my endometriosis had clogged both my fallopian tubes completely, nothing could get through. I also have lupus and got very sick in 12/09 and had to leave a job that I had been at for ten years. Since I have been hospitalized, diagnosed with new diseases on top of the rest. Not to mention daily prednisone for two years made me gain tons of weight! I had been thin all my life and very active. Now I’m so sick that I don’t even have periods. My endocrinologist says I have the hormones of an 80 yr old woman, not what you want to hear at 36. My live in boyfriend left me 2 months after I got sick, even though I had supported him through months and months of unemployment. So, I’ve had some bad luck. BUT, I love hearing about raising kids and seeing all the baby pictures and being Auntie Amy to my close friends kids. I appreciate you always being so open to share stories about your family. My family now consists of 4 furkids, most rescues. Thanks again and look forward to hearing your scoop on the bachelor next week.

  15. Kristen Wi says:

    My hubs and I did the CIO after seeing how well it worked for my sister with our nephew. I agree with you- best thing we could’ve ever done for our family! Our little man goes down so well and sleeps through the night since he was about 4 months old from 7pm to 7am and as he’s getting older (19 mos) about 8pm to 7:30-8ish. It made a world of a difference in him and in our marriage for him to be consistent and for us to get our alone time together after he went down and for us all to get sleep! I have a question for you- with baby #2 in our plans for the near future, how did Max do when y’all did the COI with Blakesley? I get nervous with their rooms next to each other it will interfere with the oldest sleeping? With it only taking 3 nights I guess it wouldn’t be a huge deal but I just wanted to see from someone who has done it.
    Thanks for sharing your story! You may have just helped a very tired mama (& daddy) find the answer and get some much needed sleep!!

  16. Cat says:

    I whole heartly agree with Momma F – I rocked my now 24 year to sleep everynight until he was 3 and would not trade 1 minute of that special time we shared. All too soon your little ones will be grown and gone – then you will understand this centimental Mommy!

  17. Debbie says:

    BEST thing I ever did was let my kids cry it out. It was pure torture though! You had it much worse than me, Trista. My sons both cried for 45 minutes the first night. Night two it was 10 and night three, they whimpered a tiny bit until I closed the door. They both cried it out at 6 months. They are both great sleepers now, at ages 17 and 13…have been since 6 months old!:) I did it at 6 months because it was recommended by their pediatrician. She said it would be the best thing to let them learn to fall asleep on their own. Sure was and sure is!:)

  18. My husband and I allowed our children to sleep with us, and our children slept through the nights. Now our son in-law and daughter sleep in the same bed room as our grandchildren of 19months and 31/2 yrs old and they never wake up during the nights. Our granddaughter of 19months is still breastfed. Our grandson has been breastfed until three months before the sister was born. They are both very happy kids. They sing and dance and laugh alot. Both grandkids love bedtime because mommy will let them choose their books to be read to them.

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