Don’t Feel Bad When Your Crying Baby Makes You Crazy

Someone came to my blog with this thought the other day: “can’t cope with baby crying makes me angry then feel guilty”

Oh, sweetie. Don’t feel bad, we’ve all been there. Know that unless you are somehow abusing that child for crying, you’re fine. And, like everything in parenting: this too shall pass.

And that when my baby’s crying used to make me insane, I would go downstairs and beat up the washing machine. (Sorry, Dave.)

Know that a baby’s cry is DESIGNED to bother us. They are helpless, and their cry is their way of getting us to take care of them. There is scientific proof that when a baby cries, our pulse and heart rate increase. I know it’s true, I can feel it all the time. To this day if there’s a baby crying in my house it gets me totally agitated. And that’s what the sound is supposed to do. It’s so you’ll go running over and help that little baby. Mother nature knows self-preservation.

When I had my babies my mother used to say, “You check them and if they’re fed, changed, burped, and they don’t have a pin sticking in them – they’re fine.” (She had me back in the olden days when diapers had pins, apparently.) She told me stories of her friend who would put the baby in her crib and go outside and walk in circles around the house until the baby would stop crying because she couldn’t stand the noise.

I thought, Who were these cretins who raised us!? We don’t let our babies cry! We rock and soothe and calm them lovingly until they drift off into peaceful baby slumbers.

But let’s be honest. How well has that worked for us? We create babies who can’t fall asleep on their own and cry and cry until we pick them up, and we create endless back and neck aches for ourselves because we’re soothing them all the time.

Not to mention the stress on you and your family when you spend a good chunk of your day attempting to soothe the baby, while food goes uncooked and clothes go unwashed and the rest of your life, in general, falls to pieces.

I also remember when Mom and I first went shopping for baby stuff together. She was wandering up and down the aisles saying, “Where are the playpens? Are these the playpens?” (Referring to the pack-n-plays.)

Oh Mother, that’s just another thoughtless, horrible, neglectful thing that we don’t do to our children anymore.

OK, I hate to say it, but… my mother was right. (Just kidding Mom!)

But back to crying. Babies cry, it’s what they do. I remember hearing, “You’ll learn to read his cries,” and thinking, are you nuts? I have no idea what this baby wants! (Except to torture me.) But it’s true. If nothing else, you can at least tell the difference between real distress and just fussy-crying.

If they’re fussy-crying and you’re losing it, put them down (crib, bouncy seat, whatever) and walk away. They’ll be OK, and you need to calm down or things will just escalate for both of you. I make it a rule not to carry around a crying baby (unless it’s real distress). Why do I want to bring that noise closer to my ear?

Sometimes we think that they need us to comfort them when honestly, they need a break too. They can get fussier from being over-handled, which is definitely something I never learned with my first. That poor kid was man-handled for months. Every time he peeped I went running over to soothe him. And he didn’t learn to fall asleep by himself until he was over a year old. My fault.

If your baby is still little (6 months or less), I would highly recommend swaddling. Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block has a good description of it. You have to do it right – nice and tight, don’t be scared – for it to really work. I guarantee you it does. I know you’re worried about squishing their little body but think about how squished they were in your belly! That’s tight. So they’re used to that feeling, it’s comforting to them.

If your baby is crying all the time, can’t be settled, and just seems unhappy, you’ve probably already considered colic. Talk to your doctor about it. They might agree and help you out, or they might tell you that babies cry and to live with it. If the crying is bad enough to distress you, I would advise that you push your doctor. Even if they still think it’s not colic, maybe they can help you get some support.

I had one delightful, sweet, beautiful girl in my day care who, even up until she was about three years old, cried every day. When she was a baby her mother would worry and I told her, “Babies cry.” She seemed to think that was a good answer (thanks Shelb!). Miss A was just a very emotional little thing, and it’s how she dealt with her feelings. As she got older I could tell she needed this release to help her move on with her day. So when she started to get wound up, I would encourage her go in the hall and cry all she wanted. When she was done she’d come back in the room with us and literally be fresh-faced and happy. Honest.

I don’t know if you’re having trouble with the baby sleeping, but I’ll get on this tangent because I know it was my biggest weakness when my son was first born.

Would you like to know how we got him to sleep? I remember trying to put him down to cry it out and my husband and I sitting on the edge of the bed biting our nails, and after ten minutes looking at each other and saying, “I CAN’T DO THIS!” If we’d only waited five more minutes!!! So we would do one of these awesome tricks: Drive him in the car. Walk around the house pushing him in a stroller (inside the house, it was January). Walk around and bounce him in the baby sling. Stay up for hours while he fussed. Or I’d lay in bed nursing him for hours on end.

Not a pretty picture.

So having said that, I’ll admit that nowadays I do I Ferber-ize babies. When infants first come to me, I soothe them to sleep until they’re about six months old. It is easier then because they nod off while feeding and you just have to lay them down without waking them up. As they get older, I don’t have the luxury of holding one baby until they sleep when I have four other kids who need to go down for nap too. Plus once they get to be 6 months and over, I pretty much can’t hold them anymore unless I want my back out all week. It does work if you can stand the crying. Once they understand that you’re not coming back, and that when they’re in the crib with music/white noise on, lights out, binky/bear/blankie in hand, they get the cues. Ferber-izing really works after a few days (and it’s not as evil as the rumors say; check the link above for some really good information).

If you can’t stand that method, use Supernanny’s. Or stay in the room with them so they can see you and they’re not scared, but give NO response. The idea is you don’t want to engage with them. As soon as you do they’ve won and any time you’ve put in up until now is shot. No eye contact, no picking up (unless they’ve crawled out of bed), no talking, NOTHING. You can even pretend to go to sleep yourself. In fact this method is pretty close to Ferber-izing anyway.

I’ll admit it’s easy for a day care provider to say that these methods work, because it is easier to listen to a baby cry when it’s not from your loins. But I’ve raised about twenty babies now (and even more toddlers and preschoolers who didn’t want to sleep either), and they’ve all done pretty well. They may go to sleep yelling, but they wake with happy smiles for me.

And I want to tell you, never beat yourself up for being human. The world puts a lot of pressure on us these days to be Perfect Mommies. And the world forgets that babies aren’t perfect, and they cry alot. Loudly. And no mommy, no matter how perfect she is, can tolerate that all the time, especially after that baby kept her up all night. We are not saints! But we’re expected to be the sweetest mommy there ever was, even when they are making us insane. It’s not logical. We are human and we feel upset too, and guess what – we still have needs (even if our lives have suddenly been hijacked by a very demanding 10-pound need-machine).

And, um, this isn’t the first time you will lose it on your child and then feel guilty. You should probably get used to it because it never ends. It’s just the fun of parenting! And being human, remember? Refer to this post if you’re totally depressed now.

It’s the dark side of parenting. It’s the part of parenting that all the baby books and experts and even your mommy friends don’t tell you about. They don’t tell you how much labor actually hurts, or what it feels like to be up at 3AM for the fifth (or sixtieth) night in a row, or how really, really hard it is to raise kids. They do it because, well, they want you to be happy. And who wants to make their new mommy friend depressed?

And how would you explain it anyway? Because just as you can’t explain the hard stuff, you also can’t explain the intense, completely foreign, almost cosmic* connection that you have with your baby. And how you love him so much that you ache inside.

But anyway. Babies aren’t always as sweet, calm, and content as the ads and tv shows and, basically, parenting culture, would have us believe. Sometimes they are demons, and we have to learn how to control our own response to the very strong emotions that brings up in us. As I said earlier, just walk away. At any age. Gather yourself and don’t come back until you’re calmer. You don’t want your first response to be the one your child remembers. Because they are wonderful and beautiful, they just need our love and guidance and HELP to make it through this whole growing-up thing.

So put that baby down, take a breath, brew some coffee, and go back to help them when you’ve got a better grip on yourself. Or go beat the crap out of the washing machine.

*I actually looked in the thesaurus (yes I am a total geek) to find another word there because “cosmic” felt too hippie crunchy. But the definition of cosmic was “immeasurably extended in space or time; vast,” and yeah, that’s pretty much how I feel about my kids.

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