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Crying Babies: Know When to Hold ‘Em, Walk Away and Run

crying-baby-585Babies can be some of the most precious creatures on the planet. Those chubby cheeks! Those gummy grins! Those baby giggles!

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

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  1. Sarah says:

    I find when I’m frustrated and my almost-6-month-old refuses to calm down that the shower works wonders. I just make sure that she’s changed, fed, and swaddled and lay her in her crib. I tend to get agitated and pacey and upset when she gets really cranky so it is a way for me to make myself get away and I can’t hear her for a few minutes. 9 times out of 10 when I come back she is asleep.

  2. Atisheh says:

    I’m starting to become convinced that the now-prevalent idea that moderate crying damages kids permanently is a really dangerous one. Of course, children who are abused, whose needs are *never* or rarely met, will suffer longterm consequences. But ten minutes of crying now and then, especially when you know the child is not sick or in need of anything — it’s not going to do harm.

    Of course, I am a Terrible Mother, because I can actually stand to hear my baby cry a bit. I don’t like it, and I can’t stand to hear him cry when he’s in pain (to my own surprise, I cried during his vaccination today — longer than he did), but when he’s just crying because he’s tired? It doesn’t drive me nuts. It’s just a problem to be solved — by sleep.

  3. Jess says:

    My 6 week old was born with a mild soft palate cleft. We left the hospital totally lost and still trying to breast feed. Fortunately, we started pumping at home and now know he can’t latch. Since he is my first, I have the NEVER-GIVE-UP attitude on consoling him, plus the unknown of “he isn’t a normal baby; maybe it’s my fault” thing along with, I THOUGHT BREAST MILK CURED EVERYTHING! Reading this helped me this morning. Drinking my coffee with my swaddled, squalling baby. Appreciated. -Jess

  4. Jo says:

    I was a mother twice almost 40 years ago.One of my sons constantly cried and after a doctor checking him out and me checking all had been done for him,One day I tried putting him in his bassinet and walking in to the next room and reading a book.He settled,I wasn’t frazzled and he learnt to settle himself.Sometimes you cannot do any more for them and the best thing is to give them time on their own to calm down and so can you.He is a happy healthy man now…..with a screaming baby of his own!

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