But babies can also be the most frustrating creatures on the planet. Any parent of a colicky baby knows how frustrating it is to have a baby who cries for hours nonstop. And I assume most parents know what it’s like to have a baby who is well past the age of colic who, for whatever reason, is just pissed off at the world.
As I’ve mentioned, nap No. 2 of the day for my daughter is a Battle Royale. My husband is able to put her down for that nap with no problem, but if it’s me doing it, she’ll wake up, give me the stink-eye, and then proceed to cry her little stink-eyes out. It’s too bad that this afternoon nap is necessary—she’s clearly exhausted—because it’s by far the worst part of our days, and I would love to avoid it altogether.
For the most part, I’ve remained a calm, responsible parent. But there are the times where I’ve clenched my fists in the air, dramatically asking “Why???” and maybe letting out an expletive or two. There are the times when I’ve simply had to put my dear, inconsolable daughter down and walk away. And I felt terribly guilty for having to walk away. Terribly guilty for getting mad at a person I love more than anything.
After one particularly rough day last week, it took a reassuring conversation with my mom to make me realize I’m not a terrible mother. I realized that I shouldn’t feel guilty for getting angry or for walking away. Sometimes walking away is the best decision a parent can make. When you’re in the thick of things, sleep-deprived and have done all the tried-and-true baby-calming tricks, it’s easy to get lost in the moment. To feel totally helpless. A step away to take deep breaths, regroup and refocus can make all the difference.
I read a blog post last fall by a dad who admitted to shaking his baby. His baby was fine, but the dad was wracked with guilt about losing his temper. He risked ridicule from the masses simply to raise awareness that it’s okay to step away from your crying baby. His response to a commenter hit close to home for me:
“Unfortunately, some folks—like me—get so caught up in the I-have-to-be-there-for-this-kid, I-must-soothe-this-baby mission that bad things can happen.”
I’m familiar with that mission. I’m familiar with that bone-deep need to make everything okay for my baby. So when that becomes Mission: Impossible, it can be demoralizing, oh-so-frustrating, and frankly, maddening, especially when you know nothing is truly wrong. You feel like a failure for failing to stop the crying, and then you feel like a failure for getting angry.
Stepping away from your baby, of course, will always do less harm than losing your temper and “snapping.” The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome says that shaking occurs frequently when a frustrated caregiver loses control with an inconsolable crying baby. The condition is absolutely preventable, but caregivers need to have a plan to deal with frustrating situations such as this. Most importantly, the association says parents and other care providers “need assurance that allowing a baby to cry is okay if all their needs have been met.”
So next time your baby cries and you’re about to lose all patience? Take a step away. Go take a shower. Go grab the mail at the end of the driveway. Call a loved one. Regaining your composure and a fresh perspective will help immensely…and then you can go soothe the baby with renewed calm. —Erin