When you study today's philosophies on parenting, you'd think we were centuries away from the way children were parented in the '90s. Just over twenty something years ago, if you asked a mom if she was an "attachment parent" she would probably think you were speaking French. From the types of toys parents bought their babies, things just looked a lot different in the '90s, for better or worse. The ways parents sleep trained in the '90s versus now is, of course, another thing to marvel and behold. After all, how many ways are there to help a kid sleep, right?
When I look back at the way my own parents taught my little sister – who was born in the early '90s – to sleep through the nigh, it's hard to even call their method "training." I don't think my parents ascribed to a particular philosophy. They basically put my sister to bed and if she cried, they let her cry, and if it became unbearable, they picked her up and calmed her down. They weren't timing anything or reading a book with a million suggestions. I don't remember it being a big deal, or anyone talking about it that much. It just, you know, happened.
In short, sleep training really wasn't a thing back in the '90s. It certainly pales in comparison to the big freakin' deal I made of it with my own two kids when they were infants. So, yeah, things change and parenting choices evolve, and that's never more obvious than when you look at sleep training in the good ole '90s. Ah, nostalgia.
They Didn't Use A Video Baby Monitor
When my little sister was being sleep trained, or whatever the lazy-man's version of what my parents did to ensure she got a solid night's sleep, I can't recall any type of monitor being used in our house; video or otherwise. I believe my parents' feeling was that if she cried, they'd hear it eventually. After all, we didn't live in a palace and if my sister wanted to be heard, she'd let everyone know.
Now, when I go to my friends' houses where there is a new baby, there's a number of fancy devices. I could be in a 700 square foot apartment and there will be three separate monitors set up to anticipate the baby's every move.
There Was No Sleep Expert On Call
Sleep experts? Ha. The closest parents in the '90s got to a sleep expert was calling their own parent or in-law. There was no $500-a-night professional you could pay to sleep at your house and restrain you from going into your baby's room while you were crying it out. In the '90s, if your baby cried, you hid in the bathroom and let the shower run, or you went in and got your baby and watched infomercials till dawn.
They Didn't Treat Bedtime Like A Science Experiment
Parents in the '90s didn't really bother with things like moving bedtime 20 minutes earlier to see if that would give their baby a longer "first stretch" of sleep. They didn't measure out thimble sizes of milk to see if the amount their baby drank affected their sleep. Well, at least my '90s parents didn't.
When my sister was a baby, if she woke up within the first few hours of going to bed, there was no big freakout or a, "What could have caused such a thing to happen oh my god!?" moment, followed by an hourlong consultation of internet web boards and all the books about sleep. They simply picked her up, changed her diaper, walked her around a bit, and settled her back down.
In The Bookstore, There Wasn't An Entire Aisle Dedicated To Baby Sleep
I'm not sure that back then there were more than a couple books about babies in general, besides What To Expect When You're Expecting and a book by Dr. Sears, let alone books (or aisles of books) dedicated to baby sleep alone.
Now you can go into a book store and pull your hair out trying to decide which parenting "method" you ascribe to and what kind of sleep training camp you belong in. There are so many different approaches to baby raising, sleep training, feeding, you name it, it can make a person long for a much simpler time. Like the '90s.
Sound Machines Weren't A Thing
I'm pretty sure my parents did not have any fancy shmancy sound machines to aid in their sleep training. If my memory serves me correctly, there was an oversized Fisher-Price super light up sound machine that was a cross between an aquarium and a spaceship, that my mom halfheartedly attached to the side of my sister’s crib (and that probably kept her awake more than it aided in keeping her asleep).
Sometimes Babies Just Fell Asleep While (Gasp) Watching Television
It wouldn’t be completely out of bounds for a ‘90s parent to let his or her baby fall asleep while swinging in a little motorized chair in front of Barney and his buddies.
My sister took many a nap in front of the television and my mom didn't write page-long confessional blog posts about what a horrible mother she is for doing such a thing. (My sister still ended up going to Vassar and being a super rad young feminist, so she wasn't "ruined" by any means, either). Still, I still feel bad about all the times I let my children nap in front of the TV when they were babies because, I was too afraid to move them because it might wake them up. Sigh.
They Didn't Record How Long Their Baby Slept On An App or Any Type of Mobile Device (Or Anywhere)
In the ‘90s, if a baby slept, that was it. People didn’t keep a journal about it, or log it into some kind of device. My parents barely even discussed how long my sister’s naps were or when she went to bed the night before.
With both of my children, I recorded every minute of shut-eye from birth until about a year, on various apps on my iPad and iPhone as well as handwritten journals, because, well, I am crazy and also a glutton for punishment. During sleep training, I recorded how long they cried down to the second, which only drove the knife into my heart even deeper.
Rubbing A Little Bit of Scotch On Baby's Gums Was Considered A Reasonable Sleeping Aid
Is teething ruining your baby's slumber party? The ‘90s parent didn’t think much of rubbing a little bit of Scotch onto a baby’s gums to help bring the kiddo to dreamland.
Today’s parent jokes about this kind of thing, but we wouldn’t dare admit to doing it like, for real real, without incurring major judgment from the other parents in the neighborhood.
They Put Babies To Sleep On Their Stomachs
It wasn’t until the mid-‘90s that pediatricians began urging parents to put babies to sleep on their backs to lessen the risk of SIDS. So, when it was time for bed, babies probably slept a lot better because they were all sleeping on their tummies – which, as a lot of parents know, helps babies expel gas and tends to make them feel all around better.
I remember the many times that I helped put my little sister to bed, and it was always on her stomach. Which, I'm sure, is why my mom and I had so much trouble seeing eye-to-eye when I had my own children. Whenever she would watch my babies, she would say, “But even your sister was put to bed on her stomach, and that was practically just yesterday! How could so much have changed?” My mom swore that my kids would sleep for longer stretches if I only listened to her and put them to sleep on their stomachs.
They Didn't Have A Facebook Mommy Group To Commiserate With (Especially At Night)
While most of the things of yesteryear make a modern mama yearn for simpler times, the one thing that my mother and I can agree on is the indispensability of the Facebook Mommy Group. While my parents didn’t do any formal sleep training with my sister, my mom would have loved to have company to commiserate with – even if it was virtual company – while fighting to keep her eyes open as my sister wolfed down her bottle at some ungodly hour in the middle of the night.
I will always cherish the sense of community I felt, knowing that I wasn’t alone in the middle of the night. Those groups were especially helpful when I felt frustrated by a sleep regression period, or was starting to convince myself I was going to lose my mind if I had to try crying it out one more damn time.