What do you do when your baby drives you to the edge?
You know, the point where you say, "I can't take it any more!!!" and "Why me?" You feel so frustrated and angry and more than anything else, guilty, because: "She's only a little baby!"
I heard a story from a dad that has stuck with me.
Apparently, his son had cried day and night from the time he was born. After 6 months, he was desperate. He looked his son in the eye and said: "If you don't stop crying, tonight, I will throw you out the window." And he meant it.
"You mean, you were really going to throw him out the window?" I asked.
"I was. I didn't care anymore. Something in me gave up. I didn't want to be responsible for him anymore. My life was hell, my wife was crying almost as much as he was. This was not what I wanted. I pictured showing off my son in public. A smiling, happy, bouncing, baby boy, swinging in my arms, cooing at grandma, walking down the street.
"Instead, we dreaded going out and we felt like people were avoiding us, even our families. We could never tell how long he would be quiet for. All of a sudden, he would start screaming or crying. He was obviously in pain, but it seemed like there was nothing that helped. We went to the doctor. We tried everything. In retrospect, it doesn't make any sense. It didn't make any sense then. I was beyond sense. We still don't know what was wrong. And you know what? That night, he didn't cry. It was like he heard my desperation. I don't know why, but he never cried like that again."
"He's 15 now and he says things that make me wonder if I damaged him that night with what I said. It haunts me."
There are two things to look at in this story.
The first is the father connecting his words to his son's current behavior and the second is his guilt around "the damaging action".
When you are a parent, you try so hard to do everything right and yet you will still you make mistakes. Some of these mistakes will haunt you even after it seems like your baby is OK. And sometimes your child will behave in a way that you can directly link to a specific event. One example might be a nursing strike. which is often a response to being scared or startled while nursing. Another might be leaving the baby with a babysitter and getting the the cold shoulder when you get back.
Most of the time, parents understand their child's distress and comfort them. This is appropriate, healing and what all humans, not just babies, need.
So, what causes the trauma and scarring? It's not what you think... literally.
It's what your baby thinks is hurtful that matters.
Three people can go through the same experience and come out of it with totally different perspectives. One may be deeply wounded and set up a protective response to ensure that that type of event never happens to them again. Another may shrug it off as "all in a day's work" and never think about it again. The third may relish the challenge presented and revisit the memory as the catalyst to their present success.
And as a parent who feels guilty, it can be very hard to know what your child has felt about an experience.
With babies, if you are responding promptly with love and attention most of the time, and keeping them company even if you can't figure out why they cry, that's all you have to do.
So what do you do about the guilt?
- Understand that your baby is going to hit some tender spots from your childhood. You are going to have times when you act irrationally because you are still mad (or sad or frustrated from your childhood. These memories may be obvious or may not. Forgive yourself.
- Accept that you are going to make mistakes. You can't be perfect at what you don't know. Even if you have had other babies, you have never had THIS baby. Forgive yourself.
- Most great parents agree they are "good" only about 50-75% of the time and "great" about 5% of the time. Forgive yourself that other 50% of the time.
So... the father in the story?It has a happy ending. It turns out that his son was going through a breakup with his girfriend. It wasn't really about the father's remembered situation.
We all want to do a better job than our parents.
We all want to keep our child from suffering and harm. Overcoming guilt is about acknowleging your imperfection and your baby's needs and doing your best, even when it's not perfect. What your baby needs is not a "Perfect Parent."
What your baby needs is you to be loving, gentle and patient to the best of your ability. You have plenty of time to figure it out, though you will always be guessing, and you will get better at it as you go along.