The reason we chose to do sleep training with Gwen when she was only 7 months old was simple: I didn't want her to be able to stand up in the crib and shriek, "MAAAAMMMMMAAAA!" when I left her there to learn to fall asleep on her own.
Let me dig into this tangent for a second. That is what sleep training, in any form, really is: assisting your child in learning how to fall asleep without your help. That's the objective view, at least. From the child's point of view, of course, you are heartlessly abandoning them and will NEVER LOVE THEM AGAIN.
There is a school of thought that allowing babies to cry themselves to sleep will cause brain damage. I am not here to rule on whether or not this is accurate. What I will say is that the intensity and the length of time for which Gwen cried (at seven months old) prior to falling asleep, was acceptable to us, her parents, as safe and non-damaging. We do not believe that her emotional state or her physical brain were harmed in this process. NOTE: this does NOT mean it was easy to listen to her cry, just that we believe she was safe while doing so.
We also followed the philosophy of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth, M.D., who compared the crying of a child learning to fall asleep without assistance is similar to the crying of a child upset because his mother won't let him climb up on dangerous playground equipment. It's protest crying. And just as we don't let Gwen do things that are dangerous, no matter how she cries or fights or fusses, we don't let her compromise her sleep simply because we are unable to withstand her protests. Dr. Weissbluth also brings forward many valuable points about just how important sleep is to productive learning and later success in life, concluding that not doing whatever it takes to get your child a good night's sleep is just as dangerous and neglectful as letting him climb that jungle gym.
So. We did sleep training, and it was a resounding success. And then this trip came along, this trip where Gwen could climb out of her playpen and suddenly my strategies of just leaving her alone until she was ready to go to sleep were totally null and void. And I had vowed before going on this trip that I was not going to stress about her sleep, so I didn't. If she didn't want to go to bed, she didn't. I wasn't going spend two hours arguing with her about it.
Which brings me back to: there's a reason why we did sleep training when she was a baby. Because now? Now that we are back home and trying to get into a routine and she's had a week or so of staying up late, watching TV before bed, and snuggling with Mama? Now she argues about it. And it is INCREDIBLY hard not to get drawn into it, because she's a very smart little girl, and I'm a patient and compassionate Mama, and I want her to go to bed but I also want her to feel GOOD about going to bed, and that means that I want her to understand what's going on and participate in it voluntarily.
The fact that she can speak full sentences tricks me, without even realizing it, into expecting her to be a reasonable, rational person, and as a result I treat her that way. If a rational, reasonable person were crying and begging me not to leave, well, I would not leave. I would stay and help them through whatever they needed help with, in whatever way possible. But Gwen, despite her language proficiency, is NOT a rational and reasonable person. She lacks the self-awareness to say, as anyone else would, "Okay, I'm feeling better now. Thanks for the hugs. I'm really tired, so I think I'll go to bed." And as much as I'd love to believe Gwen is capable of self-regulating like that, she really is not. The second half of our holiday proved that in a very loud and emphatic way.
We've been back from our trip for a full week now and we are still having some real struggles at bedtime. And it kills me, it really does. I have had to work to pry her limbs off my head, where she has wrapped herself like some kind of face-sucking alien. And let me tell you, that girl is strong. But it's not the physical battles, it's the emotional ones. All she wants is for me to lie down with her until she falls asleep. (Is that so wrong?) And some nights, the only reason I don't do that is because I don't want her to get used to it. It's like the mentality that makes us go to the gym and work out so that we will look good in our exercise clothes when we're at the gym. Whafuh? It's a cruel joke that kids are too young to grasp the concept of "sometimes", as in, sometimes Mama will snuggle with you, and sometimes she won't, but either way THE WORLD WILL NOT END.
I guess if she were a rational, reasonable person, she would know that already.