Parenting With Grace-Book Study: Chapter Five

(Intro here, and Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four)
Everything in quotations can be directly attributed to the authors, unless otherwise noted.  These are my own very brief personal notes/interpretation/things I want to remember

Part II
The Five Fabulous Phases of Childhood
Infant, Toddler, Early Childhood, School-aged, Teen


Some parents find a way to dislike every stage of their children's lives-infants are so "demanding", toddlers are "terrible", school-age kids "never do what I tell them to do", and teenagers...."don't even get me started."

We can do better, and should have higher expectations to enjoy each stage:
"we are empowered by grace to experience truly joyful, intimate relationships with our children; to find real meaning and fulfillment in their joy and heartaches inherent in parenting; to thank God every day for another opportunity to share both life and faith with our 'closest neighbors'-our children.

*Special section from authors briefly, there is no one way to parent, but these methods are offered as an invitation to enter a "fullness of family life".

Chapter Five 
Parenting Your Infant With Grace
-Point of self-donative parenting is to know your child's heart at every age and stage, so the child will come to you first for love, guidance, and formation.  This kind of intimate knowledge is called attachment.

-Attachment is established in infancy and toddlerhood.  To a parent of an infant and toddler this means:

"I am here to meet your needs.  You can count on me."

Three ways to foster this trust:
1. Staying physically close to your baby.
2. Responding promptly to cries.
3. Self-donative feeding.

Staying physically close:
-Babies are born "too early"-entrainment is the invisible but very real umbilical cord that exists between a mother and baby after the first year of birth-extraordinarily important for health and well-being of the infant.

-Toddlers hold their parents hands to learn to walk, babies use their mothers bodies to learn how to breathe and regulate systems properly.

-When a mother stays physically close, carries infant close to body, and sleeps close to infant, the babies body is "trained" (breathe properly, cope with stress and other systems) "sync up".

Benefits of Sleep-Sharing or at least Room-Sharing:
-Sleep-sharing is often frowned upon in American culture, but not for scientific reasons, more for philosophical reasons ("my mom didn't do that")...90% of babies around the globe sleep with an adult.  SIDS is most prevalent in Western cultures, where mothers don't sleep with babies.

-Sleep-sharing can be done safely (list of "rules" here.)

-Facilitates breastfeeding. 

-If don't feel comfortable with baby in bed there are many co-sleeper cribs that attach right to mom's bed, so baby can be responded to promptly.

What is "bonding"?  It is not just a warm-fuzzy psychological phenomenon, it is MUCH MORE-a physiological process also!  A baby needs security to develop as healthy and efficiently as possible.

"Babywearing"-Downloading the Music of Your Life:
-During pregnancy, baby was in security of mother's womb and perceived consistent rhythms of heart and respiration.  

-After birth, baby needs to continue to listen to same "music" from his mother.  In other arms that very young infant's music soundtrack would sound like it was "skipping"-the rhythm is off.  We can all tolerate "skipping" in short bursts, but for long period of times, it becomes stressful.

On "Crying It Out":

-Babies left alone to cry are experiencing a real trauma-the music has died.

"God didn't design babies to be alone, 
and their crying is a natural God-given response to this unnatural state."

-Many parents hear that the best thing for babies is to let them "cry it out" (at night or other times) to teach them independence.

-But that flies in the face of science and reason-independence can not develop if trust is not developed first.

-Trust is developed by attentively and generously responding to baby's cues.

Responding to baby's cues for feeding, sleeping, cuddling, playing and changing is the singe most important factor in laying the foundation for a proper parent-child relationship and good mental healthy for your baby.

-Whether to let baby cry it out has been a matter of debate between many parents, grandparents and moms and dads (and doctors!)

-But new developments in scientifically understanding baby's developing brains allow an assertion of definite answers-shouldn't be debate-able anymore!

(Great article on this science here.)

1. High levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) are found in systems of children who are left to cry it out.  If cortisol remains in system over long period, it damages brains ability to recover from stress.

2. Vagus nerve resets all body systems affected by stress-long-term exposure to cortisol damages vagus nerve and impairs body's ability to calm body after stress.  Physical comfort, affection, and affirmation (even in adults) stimulate the vagus nerve when human is crying and upset and helps the body get rid of cortisol more effectively.

3. Studies have shown that even when babies are forced to cry-it-out, they maintain high cortisol evels in their system for hours.

-Crying-it-out promotes learned helplessness' "When I cry, nothing happens, so why bother?" NOT  mentally, emotionally, or physically healthy for a baby.

"...if we believe that God's intention for human relationships is revealed in the design and function of the human body, than we cannot dispute what science tells us about how the practice of crying it out does serious violence to that design and how responding promptly to a baby's cries makes for a healthy baby."

"...by anticipating a child's needs through keeping him close, feeding him on request, and protecting the invisible umbilical cord that regulates bonding and neurological development, the child does not learn to cry-or at least does not cry as much-in order to get his needs met.  He learns to trust.  First in his parents...and then in God."

Breastfeeding Is Fascinating:
-Greatly benefits process of entrainment as nature intended.
-Babies who are breastfed tend to be more alert, because their bodies don't have to work so hard to digest formula.
-Mother's body will automatically produce antibodies to combat infection
-Breastfed babies are :
-60 percent less likely to develop ear-infections
-3 to 4 times less likely to have diarrheal diseases
-80 percent decreased risk of lower respiratory infection
-400 percent less likely to contract infections that lead to meningitis
-Recent studies indicate that breast milk combined with enzymes in baby's stomach creates a chemical that actually kills cancer cells! 

Nursing mothers:
-Risk of breast cancer is dramatically less.
-Improves bone strength.
-Burns up to 800 calories per day.
-Oxytocin "hormone of love" from mother's milk helps BOTH mother and child to feel sense of calmness, attachment and love.

Unfortunately, many American hospitals do not meet standard set by WHO Baby-Friendly Hospital initiative (14,000 participate in the world, only 84 in the US!), which strongly endorse attachment parenting practices.  Poor education, lack of support, and psychological factors lead women to believe they "can't" breastfeed-a problem that hardly exists in the most impoverished, undernourished countries.  Most physicians have little if any training.  

Self-Donative Parenting: A Lifelong Relationship, NOT a Technique-they lay a foundation for a way of life.

Two smaller sections of this chapter (brief outline once again):
Self-Donative Fathering and the Infant
1. Take the initiative in baby care that you can do.  
2. Appreciate the differences that you bring to the table.
3. Dads are the number one prevention tool for post-partum depression.
4. Take charge of your relationship (be present to your wife as much as possible).
5. Pick up slack around the house during this intense time.

FAQ'S About Self-Donative Parenting in Infancy
(There are 12 questions...I am just going through the first three.)

1. "Won't We Spoil Kids If We Raise Them This Way?"
"Children are like fruit.  They spoil when they are left to sit."
"God is the one who created the infant to be wholly dependent upon its parents.  And God is the one who gives parents the resources to respond to those needs."
God created babies to be dependent, to be touched, to be fed with the food He created for them, Western culture is not supportive of this plan and we are paying the price for this.

2. "Won't Self-Donative Parenting Practices Inhibit Our Infant's Capacity for Independence?"
Children naturally want to be with their parents-not with other caregivers.  "When children feel like they are being pushed out the door, they tend to hold on that much harder.  It is secure attachment that allows a child to have the solid platform he needs in order to spring into the world."
True independence can NOT be given, it MUST be taken.

3. "We Don't Want To Be Manipulated by Our Baby"
Certain so-called Christian parenting authors warn parents against infant manipulation.
"The ability to manipulate requires intellect and conscious will and the completely dependent infant has little of either."
This thought of manipulation springs not from Christianity but for Jansenism.  One example of a Jansenist parenting author is the Ezzos of Babywise, who teaches that infants are inherently evil from birth and promote deprivation and corporal punishment.  It is an unscientific, uncharitable, un-Christian, warped view of children.  (For an in-depth evaluation of Ezzo go here.)
The infant has strong drives for hunger and physical affection-he has been given a voice to cry out for a reason-so that we meet his needs.

My extra note:
Besides all of Dr. Sears books, an excellent book (really, this is the manual that we should all be handed along with that baby! :) is called The Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland.  It explains (in an easy format to read, apply and understand) the science behind infant, baby, and toddler needs.  It's fascinating and one of my favorite books.


  1. I love your blog because it's right along with what I believe about parenting. I think you would REALLY really like the book called Raising Your Child Not by Force, but By Love. It was written in the 60's or 70's but the principles still apply... all about treating them how you would want to be treated and using things Jesus taught - kindness, love, acceptance no matter what. It was eye-opening and changed how I parented. Highly recommend it!

  2. i love this. all of this advice follows basic mother's "instincts" which were given to us by God. i have five kids...my youngest is 21 months and still needs her mom. a lot. and i'm OK with that.

  3. I just wanted to leave a note to thank-you. I found your blog a few months back, and goodness, I have just truly loved reading and being inspired by you in so many ways. I have so enjoyed reading you notes on this book. A lot of the wisdom shared has been such an answer to prayer. Thank you, thank you for your wonderful example.

  4. Christlike Parenting by Dr. Glen Latham is another fantastic one. He is a Mormon, so it has a Mormon slant, but it is my favorite parenting book.

  5. I have tried to raise my 3 children with attachment parenting. I've never been able to let my babies just cry it out. THey need me. I feel it and see it, and can't ignore their needs. But I do find myself burning out. Especially when they go through periods of not sleeping at night whether it's from illness or teething. I get out of the house by myself once a week, exercise, and eat fairly healthy. But when I don't get enough sleep for several nights in a row, I go downhill pretty quickly. How do you combat this?

    1. HI Jill! Can you email me? I'm afraid my reply would be too long for the comment form! :)

  6. As a pediatric nurse I totally disagree with the idea that sleeping with your baby is safest, there are many scientific studies that show that this is NOT true. If you notice in the list of "don'ts" it includes being exhausted, which happens when you have a baby. The safest way for a baby to sleep is in a crib or a bassinet in the parents room on a firm surface.

  7. Wonderful information! I teach childbirth and new baby classes and share much of this information with the parents. The Science of Parenting is one of my favorite books - so informative yet easy to read!

  8. I love being a mom of 8 kids ranging from 22 down to 4 years old but I need my sleep to keep up with life and we have learned over the years that a week of letting our babies cry in the night when they are a year to a year and a half, when I have started to wean them, and just going in to tell them its still bed time every 15 minutes or so until they fall back to sleep but not picking them up has done wonders for us. It is a long week but they start to sleep through the night and we have a happier home. I just make sure to give them plenty of love during the day. None of them remember me letting them cry but we all get plenty of sleep except for those sick nights which aren't too many these days. I know everyone has different view points on this but I know that I am a better mom when I get my sleep. Thanks so much for your blog and sharing your life with us!

  9. I'm enjoying these chapter summaries. Like Leah, however, we do advocate sleep training our kids. I'd point out that most of the statements in the chapter have to do with crying it out, but crying it out is not the only (or even the primary) method of sleep training recommended by sleep doctors, and that the book's presentation of the science involved is somewhat one-sided. There are many negative health effects associated with disturbed sleep for both small children and parents, and 60-80% of children who still have disturbed sleep at 8 months generally continue to show disturbed sleep and night wakings into the preschool years.Sleep physicians typically only recommend crying it out as a last resort. They primarily recommend gentle sleep-training initiated before four months of old as it is gentle and effective. No negative (and many positive) health benefits for this sort of training have been shown in studies. Sleep training before four months typically involves consistenly putting a baby in bed drowsy but awake (of course newborns fall asleep anywhere and everywhere - this doesn't mean denying yourself the pleasure of snuggling sleeping newborns!), and setting a timer for 10 minutes when they cry at night before going to get them. This gives the baby a chance to learn to settle themselves, while providing reassurance as needed. The method does not generally work after four months because a child's sleep habits and cues for falling asleep have been set by their parents by then. It is possible, alternatively, to cause stress for a baby by making them ONLY able to fall asleep when soothed by a parent, and leaving them unable to get back to sleep if they wake in the night. The idea that babies "should" wake in the night could be argued to be mainly a view in anglophone countries. In many countries (France for example), where gentle sleep training with a pause before picking up is initiated around a month or two, it is normal for almost all babies to sleep through the night by four or 6 months. I don't want to start an argument - just to present an alternative concept about the overall health picture for babies from sleep training as I do feel the author's statements about cortisol and brain damage are a bit of scare-mongering by the authors not validated by quality long-term peer reviewed studies of children raised with varying sleep training methods. I appreciate you sharing all the ideas from this book and don't want to be obnoxious! I do firmly believe that every family should be free to lovingly parent their children as they thoughtfully and prayerfully deem best. (As background, my husband is a physician, and shares his clinic with a sleep physician trained in pediatric sleep).

    1. Oh goodness, that was long...sorry! Didn't see the full length in the comment box :).

    2. Hi Sarah! I will try to reply to your comment in a post about my own journey with sleep training, etc. when I have more time. I appreciate your comment, and understand your point of view for sure. Thanks and don't worry about length! :)

  10. Hi I agree that sleep training seems to be misunderstood. I have 4 children and tried the cosleeping approach and fed "on demand" my first child. As a result, neither my child or I got any consistent sleep for 1 full year! It was NOT for me. I was forced to let her "cry it out" when she was 1 year old...With babies 2,3, and 4, I put my babied to sleep "drowsy" as Sarah describes above, after a full session of breastfeeding and "awake" time, and my babies learned to put themselves to sleep. I NEVER had to let them cry it out. The Babywise books only use that as a last resort and also they are a HUGE advocate for breastfeeding.

  11. I'll definitely have to get this book. We are pregnant with our 6th and have always taken a gentle approach to parenting and especially sleep - my twins were the only ones who haven't slept in our bed from being little babies but that was purely for safety and they were great sleepers through the night. I've always done it safely but I do know that it isn't for everyone and especially heavy sleepers.
    So lovely to find a parenting book from the catholic perspective and I look forward to reading it

    thanks for sharing