Where angels fear to tread
~ bedtime routines from infancy and on…

Lullabies, nursing, rocking chairs, walking the floor, snuggling, prayers, stories, co-sleeping – for many of us these things all represent a special time in a child’s life…the time before a simple good night kiss is the last you see of your child at night. I want to be clear up front…parenting is a risky business to write about. We all make different choices and most of us feel strongly about our choices. Frankly, if I didn’t feel strongly about things I doubt that I’d be inspired to write about them. I have made some wonderful friends when others read my articles and loved them. I’ve also been ostracized and utterly disliked based on sharing my opinions. I realize that many agree with what I’m about to write and – more than likely – far more will disagree. This is not meant to be a diatribe to the families who disagree. I will willingly share this, though: while there are many different ways to approach parenting and not all of them are one-size-fits-all, there are some things that shouldn’t even be tried on. I know people who have handcuffed children to bed, given them Benadryl regularly to put them to sleep, turned off monitors so they would not be disturbed, locked them in their rooms until morning, and belt-whipped children to exhaustion. I think most of us would agree that these things do not make for joyful child training or happy bedtimes. If you feel they are appropriate, perhaps you would consider re-thinking your methods. This article was originally specifically about lullabies. I’ve adapted it to add some philosophy and some practical tips for those who either share my parenting philosophies or are interested in opposing ideas. I most certainly don’t plan to engage in a debate. Been there. Done that.

Lullabies were cooed long before the days of cry-it-out (definition for the unenlightened—CIO=teach your baby to put himself to sleep while he screams in protest and you kindly pat his back intermittently in short increments until he is conditioned to go to sleep without you…). I know this method has a following and I know many of you believe in it. I know that people I love and respect have done this. I respect the rights of parents to make parenting decisions – but this does not mean that I support the philosophy or behavior. Simply put this is about why I don’t do one thing, but instead choose to do another. Remember, this is not a diatribe. I have read countless articles about this and absolutely nothing has persuaded me to believe that this is nurturing. I understand the training philosophy, but that doesn’t mean I agree with it. If you are a CIO proponent and are not interested in hearing opposing viewpoints or are easily offended, you might want to hit the back button on the browser right about now.

I have come to the conclusion that the heart of the matter is our different perceptions about the act of crying. Good parents disagree. After discussing this with several who are not quite so opposed to CIO, I have concluded that how we look at crying may determine how we respond. One particularly poignant memory comes to my mind. Many years ago, I was in the ER with two of our children (spider bites while traveling which became blood poisoning) … Jonathan was with the one who was being tended to first and I was waiting in a hall way with the other child. Beside me sat a very very young mother. I can still picture her. She was probably a young teenager and she had an infant. I asked her how old her baby was and she told me … just a few weeks old! I told her that the baby was precious and smiled at her. She looked at me and said these words I will never forget, “But she’s so mean. She cries and cries.” I almost burst into tears. To think that her baby was crying out in need and she interpreted that as meanness. It was heartbreaking to me. I finally understood something that I’d never understood before. We don’t all see crying the same way. We come from different places; have different experiences and levels of education. This child truly didn’t understand that her baby wasn’t mean. Either no one told her anything about babies, she had no experience with babies, or she was unable to understand what she was told. She honestly and ignorantly believed her baby was mean. Do you know how much I wanted to ask for that baby? Tell her that I’d give it a good home and answer those cries? Instead I told her that her baby was talking to her and just needed her to meet those needs. I’ve often wondered about those two children and where they are now…

All babies cry. Sometimes it is simple to console them, sometimes it is quite difficult! It seems that I have always known that babies cried for certain reasons and it was up to the caregivers to figure out what the baby needed…I babysat, had nieces and nephews as a very young child, worked in a daycare, and did lots of reading. Many of us have years of experience with babies before we are ever blessed with our own! We learn these things in Health Class, Child Psychology, and countless other places. Babies cry because they are hungry, wet, hot, cold, tired, and sick – meeting baby’s cries is critical. Baby learns that her caregiver is there, learns her needs will be met, and learns that she is loved. Moms nurse, change diapers, change clothing, give naps, tend to illnesses and meet the physical needs of their babies – hopefully patiently! But this is not all. Babies cry for things beyond the physical. Are you ever frightened? Do you ever have bad dreams? Do you ever want to be held by your spouse? Do you want to talk to your mom? Do you crave the warmth of a human body, the sound of a beating heart? Your baby had all of that in the womb and, yet, when she breathed her first breath, things changed! No longer was mom’s voice always within hearing range, no longer was mom’s heartbeat always close by, no longer was she encapsulated in a warm place where all her needs were met instantaneously! If Bible verses about mothers’ comforting children and common sense aren’t enough, studies of babies in orphanages over the years have definitely made it quite clear that physical needs are not the only human needs. Babies need more. Babies genuinely need a mother’s touch, they need comfort, and they need to be held and spoken to and loved in a million ways. Studies done over the years have proven this beyond a shadow of a doubt. Furthermore, studies have also made it clear that leaving babies to cry is unhealthy…crying for extended periods causes a rise in heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. And, that is the least of it.

The cries that are not easily pinpointed are the most difficult. Emotional needs are usually the ones good people disagree about. I believe that this is what makes the ignorant (those who believe that crying doesn’t matter at all or is somehow malicious or who are not moved by the sound of a crying baby) different from those who just take a different approach to crying. Where some of us believe that babies and young toddlers cry to communicate the need for comfort and are not manipulative or stubbornly attempting to control their environment, others believe that when a mother answers a baby’s cries immediately, the baby learns to manipulate and becomes stubborn and wily. Because they want to train their children, they feel compelled not to answer baby’s less-easy-to-pinpoint cries. These are often at bedtime and naptime and are interpreted as stubborn or defiant. This is where it gets complicated for us because we are giving, giving, giving and it can be overwhelming. So, when we are tired and baby is crying and everything should be right in his world, it is not really convenient to interpret his cries as needing mama. For those mothers who feel 100% confident that their baby is manipulative and stubborn, it follows that using CIO or other more gentle sleep training methods will train their child to be self controlled, less dependent and less self absorbed. So good mamas hear a cry and knowing that physical needs are met, they offer sporadic comfort or ignore the cries entirely. But, here is where I struggle. I cannot possibly know for certain when my baby just wants to cuddle. I cannot possibly know for certain if my baby just plain needs me or is somehow a manipulative little sinner. (Disclaimer: I willingly acknowledge that children are self-absorbed, but that doesn’t equate to sinfulness in a small child. I also acknowledge that not everyone who shares the sleep training philosophies believes in heredity depravity, but I know that it is the basis for several popular child-training books so I am including it as one view). And, that’s where good people disagree. I don’t see babies as little sinners. I don’t believe that they are born in sin. I believe they are innocent and totally dependent on me for their care. And, I am not willing to turn a deaf ear to their crying just because I am not entirely certain why they need me. I am not confident enough, even after raising 6 children, projecting manipulation on a baby. What if I left my baby to cry at night and they were frightened or had a nightmare? What if they are stressed about something that I don’t even fully understand and need to be consoled? They are crying, they need me and I am there. That’s what I expect of my husband and – most importantly – my God! I grew up surrounded by people who believed in tending to crying babies with comfort…nurturers who believed that crying babies were always communicating needs. I learned that God was always there for me. I learned unconditional love from my parents who were always ready to answer my cries and I am thankful for a husband who is there to meet my emotional needs. My attempts to nurture and comfort my children are directly related to the thankfulness I feel for the nurturing that I was given and continue to receive.

I know that there are loving parents who CIO, but I still don’t support it. I also realize that some people do various forms of CIO and feel very good about them, that some children who CIO’d have grown into perfectly well adjusted adults, that some CIO parents do not follow the CIO guidelines by the CIO proponents and that some CIO babies fuss to sleep in five minutes for one night and never again. Realize, please, that when I refer to CIO I am referring to what is suggested by people like Ferber and Ezzo … men who I would never ever recommend to anyone under any circumstance. Those are books that I feel are only good for a bonfire. If you cannot stand nurturing your baby at night or if you believe that you must sleep train your child through countless screaming nights, or if you have low energy or at least less than your child, please consider trying some of the many nurturing methods to assist your child to sleep alone. Consider looking at Dr. Sears’ website for ideas for helping babies sleep. My motto is that crying demands one of two things: comfort or correction. If you read anything I have written about babies and toddlers, you will understand how I approach these areas.

As for me and my house, I vehemently hate the “let the baby scream” philosophy and I’m afraid it just cries out ‘without natural affection’ to me and I could not do it in good conscience. Sleepy time nurturing just must be in my blood-don’t bother telling me that it will hinder a child going to sleep. Absurdity. Lies. Far too many of my loved ones did the rocking, walking, singing and nursing to sleep for their babies, too. Nurturing. Snuggling. Precious Times. Our children all share the same natural affection toward babies … nature or nurture? They’ve had both. I do not have any regrets about my nighttime nurturing. If you are legitimately interested in infant sleep, I highly recommend the Infant Sleep Articles by Dr. James McKenna. You can find information here: http://nd.edu/~jmckenn1/lab/. Dr. McKenna is working at Notre Dame and has done countless hours of research that provides very interesting information on the mother-baby relationship.

I do regret our one and only short stint with one of the girls who stopped falling asleep with nursing, singing and walking…we tried to let her teach herself to sleep and it was miserable—she was ten months or so and quite strong willed. She did learn to go to sleep on her own in a manner of speaking, but years later had a hard time falling asleep that the others never had…we nurtured her through that as best we could, but I still had the ‘too little too late’ feeling. If I had to do it over again, I’d just cuddle her until sleep took over—I learned that with her and never left another child to cry. As a matter of fact, well over a decade after her sleep training, I was afforded a do-over in the form of her little brother. Sleepy time nurturing was the answer and he was quickly cured of his nighttime uglies.

I also regret that bedtime in our home was not always peaceful during this time for the other little ones. I never questioned nursing babies to sleep. That was a given for me. All my babies nursed to sleep or rocked or walked for nearly the first year. Those are beautiful memories to me. Yet, during the short stint with CIO, I began to look at bedtimes for older babies differently and I began a new approach. After following my instincts for night time nurturing for several years, this was a time when I found myself with several little ones and lots of bedtime advice (most of it unsolicited). I doubted my instincts and tried to go against them. I began to wonder if I should be following a different path. I wondered if a simple kiss goodnight was the goal – I wondered if rocking, singing and bedtime nurturing were all somehow permissive parenting behaviors. There were times when I had a perfect routine (classic method: drinks, potty run, books, prayers, songs, kisses). I tried to be a loving mother throughout the entire routine. When the routine ended and I did not have several sleeping children, I was annoyed. Never fool yourself: children are not lacking in intuitiveness when it comes to their mom.

Looking back, most of the times that my new routine failed were because of me. Yes, that’s right. Me. I was the culprit. When we had the hardest bedtimes, I had several little ones, a nursing baby and a husband working shift work. I was in charge of bedtime and I wanted it to run smoothly. My new routine had all the bells and whistles but it was still lacking. I was uptight and trying to play the part of the loving mother. Inside, I was anxious to bid the sleeping children good night, anxious for them to be peacefully dreaming and me to be doing something other than mothering. I was short fused, easily irritated, annoyed and frustrated. After all I’d read countless books, done drinks, potty runs, prayers, snuggles, and answered dozens of questions…What followed wasn’t pleasant. I allowed myself to become the bedtime Nazi instead of the nurturing mom. I wasn’t finding the joy in my children. I was ready to hang up my mom hat and soak up a novel or watch a show. I was so busy with the correction that I missed offering the comfort. My perfect routine was missing joy and comfort. I began to enforce rules to keep the children in bed, turned a deaf ear to nighttime needs (with the exception to a child who suffered night terrors), and sat in my recliner reading and expecting absolutely no noise or movement from the tucked-in-children. There was a penalty for getting out of bed and even for calling me. Gone was my nighttime nurturing…enter the going through the motions (classic method sans joy and comfort) just to tuck them in and become The Enforcer. The Enforcer was successful in deed, but she didn’t win any awards for loving mother. She got the job done, but she missed out on the chance to comfort and nurture. She turned a deaf ear to her children’s needs.

Don’t think for one minute that I believe that mother=martyr. I am no martyr and I am certainly not a proponent of martyrdom. But, I have come to realize that my motives were wrong. My philosophy was marred. In my attempts to train and correct, I failed to comfort and enjoy. I needed to learn a lesson. I needed to understand that mothering doesn’t work by the clock. A mother is always on call. Yet another disclaimer: don’t misunderstand; I am also not a proponent of mothers putting children before husbands. If you’ve read my other writings you know that I am all about loving my husband and putting every single one of his needs before any other needs. If you doubt this, ask him. He is a perfectly content, fulfilled husband. In our home, tending to our children has never interfered with our intimacy. Nighttime nurturing did not in any way conflict with the wonderful intimate relationship between us….if it does for you, fix it.

So, I did a 180. I returned to my night time nurturing. I retired the Enforcer and became just a mom. I did not allow a free-for-all. I always had a routine for bedtime. But, I did not make rules that would require countless penalties. I happily read the bedtime stories without reading at top speed; I didn’t breathe down the neck of the tooth brushing children or demand bed-readying in an instant. I patiently listened to several little prayers of various lengths without rushing them through. I put away the penalty piece and responded to calls gently reminding the tucked-in-children to sleep peacefully. I sent any little wanderers straight back to bed. This gentler, less stressed approach did not result in children running wild, staying up later or getting twenty drinks and making ten potty runs. This approach allowed for individual children to have their individual needs met. Some drifted off to sleep quickly, some needed more comfort and sometimes even correction. They hadn’t changed much, but I changed a whole lot. I was no longer tucking them away for the night. I was tucking them in their beds and I was still available if they needed me.

Finding a good bedtime routine that works for your family is important. Exhibiting the fruit of the spirit in your parenting is critical. Love your children. Enjoy them. Respect them. Train them. Teach them about their Father in heaven by exhibiting His willingness to listen to His children, His desire to comfort them, His promise to hear them and not forsake them. If you are a nursing mother, print out all the many passages about nursing mothers from God’s word. You will be amazed. God paints a picture of a nursing mother as a comforter.

If your child is not nursing to sleep or requires other comforting, consider just snuggling next to them or singing lullabies. I have precious memories of my mother listening to my prayers and then sitting with me while I drifted off to sleep! I also have memories of being welcomed into my parents’ bed when I’d had nightmares…something that plagued me as a child. If your child fights sleep, needs to go to bed earlier for you to have time with your spouse, or seems to get cranky during your bedtime routine evaluate your schedule. Ask yourself some questions: Am I giving plenty of tender loving care? Am I exhibiting stress, frustration or irritation? Am I giving my child lots of time to be active and exert all his energy? Am I over stimulating my child too close to bedtime? Is something going on in our home that could cause stress? Are we eating healthily? Sometimes simply evaluating your routine and making changes will help make bedtime routines go more smoothly!

Does your child seem to need your presence while he falls asleep? I’m not sure when this began to be portrayed negatively. I am fairly certain that it is the westernized push for independence and separation. If your child is struggling with sleep, sit in his room with something to do while he falls asleep: handiwork, a novel, an iPad, take your pick. I have enjoyed taking the time sitting with some of mine who needed this extra time and using that quiet time to meditate or pray. I’ve cherished these times of quiet introspection, sitting next to a sleepy child peacefully drifting off to dreamland. Sometimes I’ve nursed one child sitting next to a not-quite-ready-to-drift-off toddler.

As for naptimes with lots of little ones: I kept mobile by wearing sleeping babies in wraps or some other baby-wearing device while I took the other ones outside, to the library, to the park, or on any number of outings. Baby wearing makes for happy babies and great naps…it also allows for mom to give comfort to the littlest one while not neglecting the different needs of the older children. If we were not going to be out and about, I read or played with the toddler and older children while nursing the baby or wore the baby (who fell asleep easily in my back carrier or mei tai wrap)…they napped that way quite often.

Never be so determined to train your children to be independent that you leave them to themselves. Never be so self-absorbed that you turn a deaf ear to their needs. We are not alone. We belong to God and to one another. Just as a wife seeks comfort in the arms of her husband and a husband seeks comfort in the arms of his wife, a child seeks comfort from His parents. Comfort them now and you will pave the way for them to lean on their perfect Parent someday.

What will you and your children remember about bed-time in your home? Are you having a difficult time finding joy during the bewitching hour? Are you barely getting by, are you paving the road with regrets or are you creating happy memories?

If this is a difficult topic for you and you can’t find a realistic solution for your circumstances, try evaluating what you are doing and finding out what’s broken. Forget the clock in the beginning. Just find a good routine first. Are you planning enough time for your routine? If you are rushing through it and your children are awake past your desired time, start earlier without worrying about the time at first. Then once you estimate a realistic time for your routine you can change the optimum time to begin. If they are not tired enough, exert more energy during the day, but not too close to bed time. Consider beginning with a relaxing bath right after dinner, read a number of books together, say prayers, sing a song or listen to some music. Our youngest has had a playlist on the computer for years. He’s got all kinds of music on there and often requests a favorite or two just before he is tucked in for the night. If you have several children, gather in one place for most of the routine and then spend a few minutes (or as long as you need) with each individual child as you tuck them in and listen to their prayers.

And, when you have a wonderful routine and your children are all peacefully sleeping, take some time to relax! Some day you’ll be in bed before them and they’ll come give you a kiss in bed! And, you’ll look back on all those hours you invested in nurturing and count your blessings!

Here are a few lovely lullabies that I often sang…I also sang countless hymns and spiritual songs!

Appalachian Lullaby

Well I love my baby sweet and fair

You've got the sky in your eye the sun in your hair

I rock you to sleep most every night and sing you this song

While I hold you tight


Sleep my baby the angels keep you from harm and your father above

Cradles you in his love safe and warm

Sleep my baby nestled in your mama's arms

Sleep my baby the angels keep you from harm


My baby you'll be sleepin' soon

Kissed by the golden stars and moon

I have just one wish for you

may your every dream come true


Sleep my baby the angels keep you from harm and your father above

Cradles you in his love safe and warm

Sleep my baby nestled in your mama's arms

Sleep my baby the angels keep you from harm


All the Pretty Horses

Hush-a-bye don't you cry,

Go to sleep-y, little baby.

When you wake you shall have

All the pretty little horses.

Blacks and bays, dapple grays,

Coach and six white horses.

Hush-a-bye don't you cry,

Go to sleep-y, little baby.


Brahm’s Lullaby

Lullaby and good night, with roses bedight

With lilies o'er spread is baby's wee bed

Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed

Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed


Lullaby and good night, thy mother's delight

Bright angels beside my darling abide

They will guard thee at rest, thou shalt wake on my breast

They will guard thee at rest, thou shalt wake on my breast.


Frere Jacques

Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques,

Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?

Sonnez les matines, sonnez les matines

Ding dang dong, ding dang dong.

English Version:

Are you sleeping, are you sleeping?

Brother John, Brother John?

Morning bells are ringing, morning bells are ringing

Ding dang dong, ding dang dong.


Hush, little baby

Hush, little baby, don't say a word.

Papa's gonna buy you a mockingbird

And if that mockingbird won't sing,

Papa's gonna buy you a diamond ring

And if that diamond ring turns brass,

Papa's gonna buy you a looking glass

And if that looking glass gets broke,

Papa's gonna buy you a billy goat

And if that billy goat won't pull,

Papa's gonna buy you a cart and bull

And if that cart and bull turn over,

Papa's gonna buy you a dog named Rover

And if that dog named Rover won't bark

Papa's gonna buy you a horse and cart

And if that horse and cart fall down,

You'll still be the sweetest little baby in town.


Sleep, baby, sleep

Sleep, baby, sleep

Your father tends the sheep

Your mother shakes the dreamland tree

And from it fall sweet dreams for thee

Sleep, baby, sleep

Sleep, baby, sleep

Sleep, baby, sleep

Our cottage vale is deep

The little lamb is on the green

With snowy fleece so soft and clean

Sleep, baby, sleep

Sleep, baby, sleep



Rock-a-bye baby, in the tree top

When the wind blows, the cradle will rock

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall

And down will come baby, cradle and all


Golden slumbers

Golden slumbers kiss your eyes,

Smiles await you when you rise.

Sleep, pretty baby,

Do not cry,

And I will sing a lullaby.


Cares you know not,

Therefore sleep,

While over you a watch I'll keep.

Sleep, pretty darling,

Do not cry,

And I will sing a lullaby.


Day is done

Day is done,

Gone the sun,

From the lake, from the hills, from the sky.

All is well, safely rest,

God is nigh


The White Cliffs of Dover

There'll be bluebirds over

The white cliffs of Dover,

Tomorrow, just you wait and see.


I'll never forget the people I met

braving those angry sky's

I remember well as the shadows fell

the light of hope in thier eyes

and though I'm far away I still can hear them say

Sun's up

for when the dawn comes up


There'll be bluebirds over

The white cliffs of Dover,

Tomorrow, just you wait and see.


There'll be love and laughter

And peace ever after.

Tomorrow, when the world is free


The shepherd will tend his sheep.

The valley will bloom again.

And Jimmy will go to sleep

In his own little room again.


There'll be bluebirds over

The white cliffs of Dover,

Tomorrow, just you wait and see.


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