Anyone who has ever been pregnant knows people are more than happy to dole out unsolicited parenting advice, however unwanted, with the carefree whim of a drunk sorority sister. Your grandmother’s funeral, airplane mid-nosedive, running a marathon – all fair game to them! It can be annoying and relentless, for sure, but becomes downright rage inducing when you are the parent of a fussy baby.
Strangers gawk and clutch their pearls at the way you have learned to tune out the incessant screeching wails. Family members tsk-tsk when you seem less than thrilled to be living with a champion sleep evader. Everyone offers their advice. Everyone seems to think they know your baby better than you. And everyone is always one thoughtless comment away from a clean sucker punch – or a blatant eye roll… probably the eye roll… parents of fussy babies have no extra strength for strenuous physical activity.
If, like me, you’ve traveled this less-than-enticing road, you’ve probably heard at least some of the following:
“Put him down”
Well, hot damn! Why didn’t I think of that? Guess I should’ve read a few more baby books, amiright? Except no, this advice offers nothing other than a not so subtle critique of your parenting. Never mind the fact that if you let your baby scream like a banshee in front of the very people who offer this advice, you would then be accused of lazy parenting. It’s a no win situation.
My son was a velcro baby, quite literally attached to me 24/7. If I attempted to set him in a swing or a bouncer, he would scream until the the moment I picked him up. And fussy babies are dragons. They breathe fire. There’s no soft whining. I’m talking full on blood-curdling screams. When you have to listen to that every second you are cooking dinner, getting dressed, or even daring to pee, you are liable to go crazy. There’s a reason this is used as an actual torture device!
What people with “normal” babies tend to overlook is that we don’t have the luxury of choosing a parenting philosophy. It chooses us and we adapt to it. If that looks like attachment parenting then so be it. We do what we must to survive. If that means doing everything one handed for an entire year, then we learn to love our one giant bicep.
These babies are just hardwired to crave physical contact with their primary caregiver. And I’m not sure why we think that’s such a bad thing. I’m not one to coddle my children but I’m also not going to ignore their needs. Fussy babies are really amazing, if super obnoxious, communicators. And boy, was my son adamant about his needs! If ignoring that somehow qualifies me for parent of the year, I’m not sure I want to participate. I’ll go ahead and pick up my screaming child whenever I damn well please, thank you.
“Let him cry it out”
This is similar to the “put him down” comments in that it assumes you are causing the behavior and that you must teach that good-for-nothing spawn of yours to follow the rules of the roost! “Come on, baby! You’re almost two weeks old. It’s time to get with the program!”
Now I am not besmirching the Cry It Out Method as a whole. I totally understand it works for some kids. And if both mama and baby can handle it, I say give it a go! But what these people are totally ignorant of is the fact that fussy dragons don’t give a shit about your expectations and, more importantly, are mind-numbingly relentless. To give you an idea, when we tried a modified Cry It Out with my daughter (where we reassured her at intervals without actually removing her from the crib), she went full force for two hours before finally resorting to banging her head against the wall. And, folks, she was our easy baby…
There is a special tenacity to these fussy babies that will surely pay dividends someday; but in the moment, it’s totally exhausting. And the thing is, we very quickly recognize this personality trait in them. It’s impossible to miss. So when people insist that Cry It Out will work for our little ones, it eventually becomes insulting. Please stop pretending you know my child better than I do. And please stop assuming his fussiness is a learned behavior for which I alone am responsible. You have zero idea what you are talking about.
1.) Eff you. 2.) Get out of my face.
Ok, now that I’ve got that off my chest… The idea here is that baby recognizes when you are stressed and responds to said stress with even more fussiness. And, to be fair, it’s totally legit. If your baby is extremely sensitive, as many fussy ones are, it’s definitely possible that your agitation is conveyed to him. And while I concede that this line is usually well intentioned, it’s still difficult to hear in the midst of baby hell. The situation already has you feeling crazy and helpless so having a loved one reiterate that you are part of the problem can feel incredibly painful.
Try this instead: “Here, I brought you a giant bottle of wine. Now go relax while I take the baby for a walk.”
I guarantee mama’s heart rate will slow to a pace she hasn’t experienced in months and she will be better prepared for the inevitable onslaught of fussiness when it comes. But telling her to calm down? That will accomplish the exact opposite of its intent.
“Stick to a schedule”
Anyone who insists this is the cure for your ails is surely the parent of a unicorn baby. They live in a world of rainbows and cupcakes and fail to recognize that the term “fussy”, by it’s very definition, means your baby is disagreeable and not likely to submit to your plans. I can guarantee that mama has tried this, repeatedly, with little to no success. These kiddos don’t care that you’ve read Baby Wise cover to cover. They’ve probably ripped out half the pages and tried eating them instead of recognizing that they were supposed to be sleeping fifteen minutes ago. But they refused to eat when Baby Wise said they should and now you’re down one useless book and wasted a nap.
Look, it’s totally fine to mention this once. It’s not that the suggestion itself is rude. But people have a tendency to assume all babies respond to this and, when yours doesn’t, continue mentioning it with the insinuation that you are either too dumb or too stubborn to give it a genuine shot. Don’t be that person.
If you are a breastfeeding mother of a fussy baby, someone, somewhere, has surely recommended you stop drinking caffeine. Maybe it was your pediatrician. But what the hell does she know?! Ok, her advice is probably worth considering but… PLEASE GOD DON’T MAKE ME DO THIS!!
When you can’t remember the last time you slept long enough to dream, sometimes a cup of coffee is the only thing strong enough to make you feel human again. The thought of forgoing it entirely is almost as scary as the thought of getting pregnant again. For real.
Obviously, we love our screaming little bundles just as much as you love your peacefully sleeping ones. We would do anything for them, including giving up the only good thing left in our lives. I’m only slightly kidding. Besides, if giving up caffeine would actually end the horror, we would drop it like the bad habit it is without a second thought. The truth is, we have already given it an honest shot. We know whether or not our kid responded well to the change so give us the benefit of the doubt here. If you see us walking around with a giant carmel macchiato with whipped cream and chocolate sauce, assume it’s the rare treat that it probably is and lay off the guilt trip. You should know better by now than to upset a mombie.
If all this sounds overly sensitive, I’m right there with you. It totally is. And I recognize that, insane as this advice might be, it’s almost always well intentioned. But what you need to know is that parents of fussy babies are incredibly vulnerable. They feel like their parenting is exposed for the world and the uninvited suggestions often feel like criticism. Next time a friend confides that her baby isn’t quite the cooing angel she imagined, resist the urge to bombard her with your advice. Make it a point to lift her up, to keep her positive, and to let her know she’s a great mom. Because she is. She really is.
**C also writes for POMP USA, a start up company promoting businesses owned by service members, veterans, and their spouses.