Crying baby nights are etched into my brain.
When I look back over the last 28 years since I became a mother, I am sometimes amazed that I survived. Being a parent has been the most challenging thing I had ever done.
I thought I did everything right. I married a good man, had a stable home, and was prepared financially to be a parent. My parents provided a good example and I seemed to be a perfect candidate to be a great mother.
I was overwhelmed from the very start. He cried all the time and so did I. I’m not sure even now what I could have done differently or done to be more prepared and at ease. A challenging child and a high strung mother is a dangerous combination!
An infant who cries day and night is exhausting and frightening. If you can’t comfort your child, what kind of mother are you? A bad one, that’s what kind. Your confidence ebbs with every passing day. The same woman who planned and prepared for motherhood is suddenly unsure she can even parent a child.
What do you do if your baby cries all the time?
You put one foot in front of the other and make it through the day. You ask for help from friends and family, and you decide that you will survive. You understand that this will eventually get better and you love and protect that child.
My first advice is to talk to your pediatrician. If your pediatrician does not take you seriously and help look for solutions, find another pediatrician! I let my doctor minimize my concerns and dismiss my anxiety. I struggled through the first year without a doctor who understood our predicament or had a desire to help me. I wonder even today, how much easier things could have been if I had decided to change my pediatrician early on. Maybe nothing, but I regret not trying.
The first step is to make sure to eliminate any physical problems causing your baby to cry. I can remember hoping my son had an ear infection. An ear infection could be fixed, no physical problem meant no solution. He didn’t have an ear infection, and I didn’t get an answer.
I decided that breastfeeding was the best option for me to provide him good nutrition and build his immune system. I returned to work full time after 5 weeks and made my life infinitely harder by avoiding formula. I was adamant that he receive breast milk only and the struggle to produce and pump enough milk was unbelievably stressful. It was also unnecessary.
One thing I have since learned is that being inflexible hurts you and your child.
If you are a person who plans and maps out everything, a hard baby can rattle you to the core. All the plans, expectations, and anticipated results just go up in smoke. You must learn to adapt and change. Your inflexibility will make your life much harder than it needs to be.
Learn to let some things go. Re-prioritize and set new goals. I had to learn that keeping him safe and me sane was the most I could expect on some days. The perfection that I dreamed of and hoped for had to be released. I had to grieve the loss of the picture I had in my mind of sweet cuddly moments of bliss with a happy baby. I had to re-imagine a new path going forward and scale back all my expectations.
We had made a decision that my husband would be a stay at home dad for the first few years of our son’s life. I had many more opportunities in my career and was less suited to be home daily. Once I was back at work, I worried every day that my husband would decide he couldn’t stay home any longer. That the stress and frustration would overwhelm him and we would be forced to place our son in a daycare setting.
Somehow he managed to trudge through and stay at home until our son finally began to cry less. We did trade the constant crying for limited outbursts. But those outbursts were frightening. We walked on eggshells to avoid an eruption but they still seemed to become part of every day.
The terrible twos were nothing new for us. The tantrums, stubbornness, and defiance were no surprise and the challenges continued. Our son always had to push to see how far he could take everything. If the answer was yes, he would keep pushing until he finally got a no. If I said yes to a cookie, he had to keep asking for more until he got a no. That no was the signal for a meltdown.
A broken piece of toast or a shoe that didn’t fit correctly was cause for a tantrum. You could never be sure what would cause it but you could always be sure it was coming. Calming him down or consoling him took a long time and a great deal of effort.
The tender moments of holding and cuddling with a baby are important as a respite from the tough moments and tasks. We didn’t get those moments either. Our son would stiffen and push away when we tried to hold him and interact. We got all the difficulty without any of the warm, sweet moments. I even had a friend ask me once how we could deal with not getting those warm “fuzzies” to balance the hard things. My answer was that I had no choice.
One day he was trying to get his arms out of his coat and managed to fall on his face. I picked him up to comfort him, and he finally fell asleep against my chest. When my husband asked how long I was going to sit with him my answer was, “For as long as I can.” I would have stayed that way for days if I could have. It felt as if I was getting my battery recharged.
Watching him sleep at night, I could enjoy seeing him at peace instead of fighting everything. Sometimes it would break my heart because I felt so powerless to help him.
It still breaks my heart sometimes when I can’t fix something that has hurt him. He may be an adult now but as a mom, I think we always want to be able to fix things for them. Our job is to teach them how to fix things on their own. We are always their champion but we must prepare them to stand on their own.