Crying Babies

Edvard Munch - The ScreamI’m not an art historian, but I’m sure that if I checked, I’ll find that Edvard Munch painted The Scream shortly after his wife gave birth to his first infant.

In the weeks and months before our first babies are born, our world is filled with thoughts of pretty pink and blue blankets, of fluffy stuffed animals, and of holding cooing babies in our arms as we rock back and forth on quite Sunday mornings. What we really want is that little bundle of joy and its unconditional love for us that is supposed to fill every crevice and void in our lives.

This rosy picture of parenthood begins to change with the first pangs of real labor. After birth, we are sent back to our homes with this little bundle of joy that, frequently, turns into a little bundle of screaming need.

For some babies, their needs can be quickly identified. You find that they were simply ready to eat (again), or maybe needed a new diaper (again), or maybe it was just too quiet, or maybe they just need to be held (again). After all, this baby was held for nine months and it’s just not used to all that stillness.

Yes, for those babies, and for those mothers, life is fairly simple. However, if you’re still reading this post, it’s likely that you haven’t been so lucky. You may be wondering what you were thinking having a baby, you aren’t prepared, you don’t know what to do, this little tiny thing is making you insane!

If these are the thoughts running through your mind, then please take a moment to relax a little. You are in the company of millions of parents who have had to struggle with all these emotions and with all this noise, and yet have made it through OK. The ooy-gooy parental experience will arrive in time, trust me.

One piece of advice I used to share with people (but that I chose not to include in Essence of Wisdom for Parents), is that the best way of dealing with a crying baby is to find a home with more than two floors. This was simply my way of injecting a little lightness into a stressful situation. If you have a crying baby and you’ve checked all the obvious things, then of course go talk to your doctor to make sure that there isn’t anything serious going on. What you’re likely to find is that the baby has colic. Colic is one of those medical terms which have no other value than to make us feel better that the problem has finally been identified. Colic is Latin for your baby cries all the time which also implies, of course, that you are not getting enough sleep which may be causing depression, anxiety, restlessness, and general thoughts of what have I got myself into?

Your doctor will tell you to hang in there and that the crying will settle down in a few months. In seriousness, if the depression and anxiety starts to get to you too much, you need to see a doctor yourself.

Now that my children are older, I can look back on these times and see how they worked to help me grow into a better parent. Those pre-baby feelings of pink and blue blankets are, in a way, selfish feelings. They are focused on how this new baby will make me feel and how the baby will grow up to be a cute little girl or active little boy that will make me proud. In our teenage years and into early adulthood our brains are wired to be self-focused as we make sense of who we are and how we fit into the world. When you become a parent, however, it is time to become selfless focused. It is time to commit your life to taking care of someone else. Parenting is a life of service that if done right, has rewards far beyond any selfish rewards we may have dreamed of.

That crying baby is a wake-up call to you that you are not in control of everything, you are not going to know everything, and this little tyke is a unique little independent human being that you may never fully understand. The baby is not here to serve your need for love, but rather, to provide you an opportunity to express your love through a life-time of patient service, through kind words, through measured discipline, and through endless forgiveness (hold onto that last part for twelve or thirteen years, it will make more sense then.)

So when the baby is crying, do what you can, but then when there is nothing more that you can do, then do nothing more. Spend a little time in prayer asking the Lord for another day of strength and wisdom, maybe watch a little TV (these two things are not interchangeable), and if you are lucky, perhaps ask a relative of friend to come watch the little one while you either go out (yes you have to come back) or get some sleep.

These few months of crying are one of those things that make you stronger and more compassionate as a parent.

Oh, and if it makes you feel any better, almost everyone I’ve spoken to that has had a colicky baby, indicated that only one of their children has been colicky. So if you had always wanted a larger family but are now terrified (a feeling shared by every parent of a colicky baby), then fear not.