What do you do when you hear a baby cry? 

My first instinct is to run in the other direction. I don’t want to have anything to do with it; the whole thing is the family’s business, not mine. But when my child-to-be starts screaming in four months, I honestly don’t know how I’ll react. I certainly hope I don’t run away. This is a hot-button issue, I’m told, this crying thing, especially as it pertains to sleep. It tends to polarize new parents, most of which fall into one of three camps:

  1. those who let the baby cry itself to sleep (a.k.a. “sleep training”)
  2. those who pick up the kid at the first whimper (a.k.a. “attachment parenting”)
  3. those who go by instinct and are able to discern whether the baby is really suffering, or just crying for the sake of crying (a.k.a. “lying”)

“Ninety-nine times out of 100, the baby cries because he’s exhausted, not because he needs anything,” says an inhabitant of camp one. “And if you pick up that baby, you’re creating bad habits that will cost you dearly, leading to an insecure child with no independence.” Let him scream his fool head off, these folks say, and he will learn eventually to soothe himself and grow to be a self-assured human being. (Then, when he gets to middle school, he can screw himself up on his own.)

“No, no, no,” says an adherent to the second camp. “You should scoop up a crying child ASAP to show him he’s loved. Otherwise, he feels a sense of abandonment from the get-go.” These folks say that if you let the kid cry himself to sleep, he doesn’t even understand that you were trying to teach him a lesson. “The kid’s five months old—he doesn’t know why he’s crying,” says Sarah’s cousin, Yossi, a diehard picker-upper. “Why wouldn’t I pick him up?”

People in the third camp, I suspect, don’t really exist. I certainly don’t know any of them.

I asked Sarah which philosophy she embraces. Her reply: “My mom used to say, ‘What’s good for the parent is good for the child.’” In other words, if Sarah’s mom was going to be a more effective mother because she was getting adequate sleep, then it made sense for her to let Sarah cry herself to sleep. Makes sense to me, and Sarah has never felt the slightest bit abandoned.

Are babies anything like adults? You ignore an adult when they’re whining, and usually they stop whining.

As for Yossi’s children, while they’re wonderful in every way, they still don’t sleep through the night—and they’re now five and three. Doesn’t seem to bother Yossi. Which may have something to do with the fact that he’s a stay-at-home dad and doesn’t have to get up for work the next morning. Just a guess.