Learn From My Mistakes

Every mom would be wise to try and learn from the mistakes of others. This is the story of my biggest one.

I did the CIO thing with my oldest. I “flexibly scheduled” his feedings. If he was crying, and I noted that he was dry, clean, full, and well-rested, I let him cry. Sometimes, it took up to an hour before he would “self-soothe,” while I became more and more callous to his baby whimpers.

No wonder he was nearly diagnosed with failure-to-thrive at six months old, and I was told to wean him, feed him formula, and fry his Cheerios in butter to fatten him up. I had lost my ability to really gauge his needs, because I ignored his signals.

He is now eight years old, and a perfect example of what is so very wrong with letting young babies “cry it out.”

Thankfully, I was better educated before I had my subsequent three children. Oh! the difference! I cannot begin to describe it. I hesitate to write much more, because I don’t want to violate the privacy of my children, but I share because this message is too important not to.

My oldest son is an outgoing, independent kid. He’s smart, an advanced reader, active, and imaginative. He laughs easily, especially at farts, and longs for adventure. He is affectionate and verbal, seeking hugs and giving out “I love you’s” as though there were no tomorrow. I love him deeply, and am so proud of the young man he will grow to be.

Yet, there is something missing in him. The areas in which CIO children struggle most with–even long-term–are empathy and stress response. Two key areas my son has deeply-rooted issues with, that I can trace back to the first time I let him CIO at two weeks old.

These issues are manifest in several ways.

It takes next to nothing to completely set him off, revealing bitterness, anger, fear of failure, and a sense of helplessness. (Really, it’s a “learned helplessness.”) When he is even mildly distressed, he cannot handle it. He believes himself alone, with all the world against him. He cannot control himself at all. All my efforts to teach him to breathe, pray, and calm down feel as though they are to no avail.

He cannot sympathize with other children without great effort and coaching. He quickly gets aggressive–usually verbally aggressive, but he occasionally gets physical–when he feels wronged or slighted. If I ask how he would feel if so-an-so did the same thing to him, he has the same answer every time: “Sad.”

He struggles to express what’s going on inside. He doesn’t think his opinion matters.

He almost never asks for help with anything, because it was ingrained in him that his mother would not help him if he cried out for her. He will drive himself into a flurry of frustration, trying to do things on his own, that I am more than willing to help with. It doesn’t sink in when I tell him that I want to help him; that I’m there for him, no matter what. That all he has to do is ask, and I will respond. Deep down, he doesn’t believe me. His infant brain was hard-wired to understand that I wasn’t there when he needed me as a tiny baby crying for comfort.

I was often in the next room, crying it out myself, or with music up loud enough that I couldn’t hear him.

Occasionally, I have glimpses of hope when he tries to confide in me. On the rare occasions he wants to talk to me, I do my best to listen, and let him know I love him. That I’m a safe place for him to land.

As the articles I will link at the end of this post outline, CIO damages areas of the brain specifically related to empathy and stress response. The two key areas my oldest son struggles with deeply. So deeply at this point, that I’m researching affordable therapy for him.

Yes, therapy.

There is only so much I can do as a mother, and I really am doing all I can to make up for lost ground.

And I share this story hesitatingly, knowing that I am exposing myself to judgment.

I don’t care as much about that any more. The truth is more important.

If I can save one baby from being forced to cry it out – I will be satisfied.

To me, picking up a crying baby and responding to him is an act of love, respect, and common decency toward a fellow human being. How could it be otherwise? We would do no less for our adult friends. Why do we expect our babies to soothe themselves when we can rarely do it for ourselves without a trusted shoulder or a kind ear? It just doesn’t make sense.

I learned from my mistakes, and my other children do not have these struggles. I know, without doubt, that the difference between them and their older brother stems from more than personality or gender differences. I know, as the mother of these four precious beings, how much power I really do have to shape their lives when they are small. I have learned to appreciate and use that power more wisely than I did with my eldest.

The more information I take in from evidence-based resources, and the more I combine that with the heart instincts I was given as a mother, the more I know that what I share here is true. That CIO methods of infant care are no kind of care at all. It is dangerous physically, mentally, and emotionally–in the long-term–for babies. Period.

I hope that those who read this will take advantage of this opportunity to learn from my mistakes, and do things differently. It’s not to late to start responding to your child’s legitimate needs for comfort.

This is the sole reason I share here.

Grace & Peace,
Tiffany Miller, CLD, CCCE

And just for good measure, here is a panorama of good reading on the subject: Sleep Training: A Review of Research This is one of the newest articles out, if you prefer a quick summary: Dangers of Crying it Out


  1. canadianmommytime on December 13, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Wow, it is great that you are able to share this story for everyone to learn from. We are all just trying to do our best!

  2. qtinco1088 on December 14, 2011 at 10:02 am

    I have 5 children and the youngest two were CIO kids It was the biggest regret in all of my parenting. Thank you for sharing your story it is good to know that I didn’t make the mistake alone.

    • faerylandmom on December 15, 2011 at 7:37 am

      Thank you so much for sharing as well – be encouraged that you are still a good mom. We all do the best we can with what we have, because we deeply love our children. Forgive yourself, and keep doing your best, because your best is enough. ((hugs))


  3. Deann on December 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Wow. So beautifully put. Thank you for sharing. I pray you do not get a boat-load of negative replies.,But if you do please come back to these supportive ones, and know you are not alone – in your opinions or mistakes.

    • faerylandmom on December 16, 2011 at 7:32 am

      I rarely get any comments at all, so I’m hoping the negative ones stay far away. Even if they don’t – I said what my heart knew I had to say. Thank you so much for taking the time to encourage me. My hope is that this post does the same for all who read it.


  4. Deirdre deProspero on December 15, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Your willingness to follow your heart, and love your children openly and completely is healing you as well as your oldest. Just keep lovin’ on those babies of yours! You are the very best mama for each of them.
    Thanks for sharing,

    • faerylandmom on December 16, 2011 at 7:33 am

      Thank you, Deirdre. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do! It helps that they blossom so much when I pour on the love. 🙂


  5. Kara on December 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    I too have an 8 year old son who has the same problems you describe, BUT I did not let him CIO ( I didn’t let any of my kids). He was a baby who was very attached to me and I allowed him to be. There were times I did housework (or anything) with him on my back in a backpack becasue he needed that closeness and that was what made him peaceful. I feel like you are beating yourself up over a decision you made a long time ago. The root cause may not be you at all. It might just be the way he is wired. Good luck in your journey with him.

    • faerylandmom on December 16, 2011 at 2:38 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, and for your encouragement. I love that you have never met me, and are looking out for me – that shows a compassionate heart. I’m sure that you are partially right. My son’s personality does play a part, I’m sure. That said, I’d like to reassure you that I’m no longer beating myself up for it. (Though I certainly did at one point!) I know now that I was just doing the best I could with the information I had at the time, and therefore, I don’t need to carry any guilt or shame.

      I look on this as a chance to learn and grow, and the more I learn about CIO, and observe my own situation, the more I know with certainty where my son’s behavior comes from. It’s hard to explain in print. It’s just one of those things that my instincts are in line with the information, and stuff is just “clicking” in my mind and heart at the same time. You know?

      Thank you again – and I hope and pray your comment reaches other questioning moms out there, and helps them breathe a sigh of relief that their kiddo is just like this because it’s who they are.


  6. Ashamed on December 18, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    My first son is two and I have so much regret about following an older mum’s advice to let him CIO. He has so much anger and frustration over the smallest things. Please tell me what you did to get over the overwhelming feelings of regret and shame that I am now struggling with. I don’t know how to forgive myself.

    • faerylandmom on December 18, 2011 at 11:09 pm

      Dearest – First of all, I have to share some truths with you:

      1) You are precious, valuable, and worth your weight in gold as a mother. You are a good mother. No one could be a better mother to your son than you. Period. If someone else could, he would have been given to her. Trust that. You and your son were designed for one another.

      2) We ALL fail as mothers in one area or another. We ALL do the very best we can with whatever information we have at the time. We ALL love our children deeply, and want the best for them. You included. You did what you thought was right, out of love for your son, and ultimately, our motivations are more important than our mistakes. Your son, deep down, knows that.

      3) When we know better, we are able to do better. You now know that there is a better way to do things. Your son has a bright future with a mother who is willing to learn and grow – just like he has to be. This is a fantastic teaching opportunity! You can lead him by example in the changes you make to your parenting style. You have amazing potential for growth here – use it, and both of you will benefit.

      4) You and your son will heal. It will take time. It will take purposeful effort. It could take years – but it will happen. It can start today. What can you do, TODAY, to begin making the changes you want to make? It can start with one more hug for your son each day. It can be that small – and it will make a difference.

      Let your grief over what you and your son lost together drive you to healing. Accept these emotions as part of what is going on in you to bring you to a place of healing. They will pass. Choose forgiveness, which simply means you choose NOT to punish yourself. Whenever you feel that way, I encourage you to reach out to someone who can listen (and if you are a praying person, to pray with you), and walk you through it. You will have to do this many times a day at first. But the pain will lessen. As you forgive yourself, you’ll be able to see more clearly what you need to do differently, and those steps will get easier. I promise.

      I will be in prayer for you, precious woman. I don’t know what your beliefs are, but I cannot resist an opportunity to encourage you to seek out the Comforter that I know, who has helped me more than I can say. His name is Jesus, and he loves you deeply. Let him put his arms around you and heal you.

  7. Val Staples on December 20, 2011 at 8:25 am

    This is an awesome post, and bravo to you for sharing. I have six myself, and I can see as they grow how certain things I did while they were babies are playing themselves out in their personalities now. I definitely have regrets about some of the things I did as a new mother, but I also feel that you do the best you can with what you know at the time. I feel overall that I parented instinctively, but sometimes in a sleep-deprived haze I took advice that did not mesh with those instincts. I think I made up for it in some ways as I had the younger ones, but I do wish that I had known to better trust myself earlier on. I think the best message you can give a confused mom is to trust herself and her baby, and you’ve done a really good job saying that here. Bravo!

    • faerylandmom on December 20, 2011 at 8:46 am

      Thank you for your encouragement. It took me a long time to be willing to share this so publicly, and I want the message to get out to as many as possible. I don’t offer my story as evidence (anecdotal or otherwise), just as confirmation that these individual stories are valid and real, and that there is a way to heal. Indeed, I did everything I did out of love for my son, and a desire to do right by him. I’ve learned that my motivations can often outweigh my mistakes, and that I can put my son on the road to healing now – instead of dwelling on his past hurts.

      Always, Tiffany

  8. Karen on December 20, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    I really liked your article, in some ways makes total sense but at the same time…how do u truly know his behavior with stress is caused from letting him CIO as a infant? My son was a easy happy baby whom i had no real sleep issues…not toi many issues at all until closer to 3 years..i never had to let him cio..i always was there for him when he did cry..in every situation..he never was let to cry, but….those behaviors your describing with your son..sounds just like my son,whom will be 8 years dec.29th….sssoooooo if i didnt allow my son CIO..then wuts causing the behavvior? Honestly i.just think its personality…genetics, hereditary…..not cio methods..just a thought..not trying to be mean…cuz i def.tly understand why u feel that way, i just think its coincidence…

    • faerylandmom on December 20, 2011 at 2:52 pm

      I appreciate your concern, but just for the same reasons you know your sons issues are just his personality, I know with certainty there is more to my son’s behavior than personality. I can’t convey my instinct in text – but it’s very real, and is in line with what I know of brain research.

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation. Tiffany

  9. Searching & Trying | The Faery Inn on May 25, 2012 at 7:33 am

    […] any parenting books, because most of the ones I’ve read are centered around formulas, and one has even been severely detrimental to my oldest son before I learned better. Ever since, I have been very, very leery about reading […]