A House Divided: What to do when one parent wants to sleep train, but the other doesn’t

The first week we came home from the hospital, my husband exhaustedly said, “Just let her cry it out.”

Olivia wasn’t necessarily a colicky baby – she was just hungry, or tired, or wanted to be held. All the time.

His suggestion turned my stomach. There was no way I was going to let my daughter just cry it out. I’m not wired that way. I have an internal instinct to respond to her crying and comfort her.

A few months later, we had reached the breaking point of Olivia’s sleep routine process.

Every time she took a nap or went to bed for the evening, we put her in her sleep suit, laid her on the bed, and laid down beside her until she fell asleep. Some days, she was out in 10 minutes. Other days, I was falling asleep and waking up an hour later, only to stumble out into the rest of the house and have to wash dishes, clean, and get ready for bed.

The days it took her 10 minutes to fall asleep weren’t an issue. I enjoyed snuggling beside her. The days where it took her 40 minutes, however, were frustrating. It wasn’t so much a frustration with her, but rather with the hundreds of other things I still had to complete.

And that’s when I began researching sleep training. I still wasn’t okay with letting her cry it out, but I knew something had to change – she couldn’t be 4 and still needing mom or dad to lay down next to her to fall asleep.

When we started the process of sleep training, Olivia cried. We put her in her crib and she wouldn’t have it. It was a delicate balance for me of trying to provide her the space she needed but also my desire to respond to her cries.

About 3 days in, my husband was the one who couldn’t handle it. I never let Olivia cry longer than 3 minutes, but he couldn’t do it. He would storm into the room when I was in there with her and demand that I hand her over.

Remember when he was the one who wanted to let her cry it out?

I quickly realized that my husband and I were on different pages when it came to approaching Olivia’s sleep. For him, he didn’t mind laying with her for 10 minutes until she fell asleep. But he wasn’t the one who had to lay with her in the evenings when it took her 40+ minutes.

He didn’t mind when she woke up throughout the night, because, while he did wake up to help during feeds, he didn’t wake up with full breasts needing to pump. Due to latch troubles, I mainly fed my daughter expressed milk. So when she woke up at 3 am, I’d feed her and then pump, and wouldn’t be back in bed until 4 am.

My husband and I were living in the same house, but had entirely different realities.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, whether you’re the one who wants to sleep train or the one against it, it’s important that both you and your partner are on the same page. In fact, I won’t even work with families until both parents are in agreement.

I Want to Sleep Train, My Partner Does Not

If you’re the one who is exhausted and wants to sleep train your child, but you’re met with opposition, I encourage you to figure out why your partner doesn’t agree with you.

Are they believing the misconceptions about sleep training? That your child will have to cry it out, go without eating at night, or stay alone in their room? If that’s the reason they aren’t on board, share this blog post with them. Sleep training does not have to be a difficult process and can be as gentle as you’d like.

Talk with your partner about what they are against and what they’d be willing to do. Are they totally against allowing your child to cry unattended? Okay! You can stay in the room during the process. Figuring out what exactly they are opposed to will help you understand their point of view, and also will provide insight to your consultant if you decided to hire help.

Understand their feelings. All opposition stems from a place that we need to understand about our partners. Maybe your partner doesn’t want to sleep train because they enjoy the cuddles they get laying in bed with your child. Why is that? Are they not getting enough quality time during the day with your child? Is there something you can do to change that? Maybe giving them time in the evening or encouraging your partner take over bath time and story time.

Explain your heart to your partner. If your partner is living in a different reality than you are – they are sleeping through the night while you’re getting up to feed, they don’t handle meltdowns at bedtime but you do, etc. – then you need to have an honest, vulnerable talk with your partner and explain to them that your experience is different than theirs. Are they willing to help you with the challenges you’re facing? If so, great! If not, then ultimately, sleep training isn’t a decision that impacts them and it’s up to you to make that call.

My Partner Wants to Sleep Train, I Do Not

If the roles are switched and your partner has been pushing you to sleep train your little one but you aren’t ready, here are some suggestions for how to navigate the conversation.

First, understand why you’re opposed to sleep training. In order to effectively communicate your feelings to your partner, you need to understand why you believe what you do. What is it about the process of sleep training that you don’t like? Do you feel stressed when your baby cries? Do you want to keep the evening bonding you experience?

Then, understand why your partner wants to sleep train. Listen to them. Often, when one person wants to sleep train but the other doesn’t, there is a difference in the realities they’re experiencing. Is your partner experiencing a different reality when it comes to your child’s sleep? Are they waking up more often during the night while you sleep? Are they struggling at bedtime while you have it easy during naps? Find where the differences are and truly understand where your partner is coming from.

See if you can come to an agreement. As it is, a lack of sleep can drive a wedge between a couple. Don’t let this decision drive that wedge even further. What compromises can both of you reach? Can you begin sleep training when your child is a little older? Can you sleep train but leave the overnight feedings? Can you sleep train at bedtime but not naptime? Discuss the different options with your partner and keep an open mind.

What it boils down to is this:

How can you step up to help your partner? How can you communicate your needs to your partner?

If sleep training isn’t for your family right now, that’s okay! But that’s a decision that both parties need to come to together. Open up, be vulnerable, and share your heart with your partner. And if you’re on the receiving end, listen and understand where your partner is coming from. It will only make your relationship stronger.

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I’m Katie

certified pediatric sleep consultant

Fueled by equal parts caffeine and passion, I spend my days helping exhausted mamas get their babies the sleep they need. 

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