My husband and I were reflecting on our boys as babies the other day. Like many parents do, we were reminiscing about how cute they were, and how much they’ve grown and changed in the intervening years.
We also commented on how challenging they were as infants. Our boys could be summed up by all the standard descriptors you use to describe infants who don’t sleep much, fuss a lot, and generally don’t conform to adult expectations—“colicky,” “high-spirited,” or “high-need.”
In passing I said something along the lines of, “Well, I’m kind of glad they were challenging because it taught me a lot about motherhood early on.” He looked at me sort of incredulously and said, “Like what?”
In our culture many people find it hard to believe that anything can be learned from having a cranky baby…or a child who poses any sort of challenge to our typical parenting mindset.
Having had a few years now to reflect on my boys’ infancy period, I can see now the gift of having had cranky babies
A child’s mood has nothing to do with a parent’s skill.
Part of the difficulty of having a cranky baby is the fact that somewhere along the way we as parents subconsciously understand our child’s happiness as a reflection of our parenting. Of course, this is not completely a bad thing—it shows we feel some responsibility for our child’s well-being.
However, whether or not our child is crying, cheerful or smiling cannot be a complete reflection of our parenting skill. If a parent is meeting a baby’s needs and he’s still crying, it’s not necessarily a reflection of the parent.
Kids each have their own individual personality. Some kids have an easy-going temperament and smile easily. Others are more serious or react easily to stimulation.
From a developmental perspective, learning to love your child’s unique personality often means trying to make meaning out of his behavior. This can often involve learning more about developmental “spurts.” call these periods of disequilibrium or “wonder weeks,” but what they really mean are a period of rapid brain or physical development.
In infancy these alternating patterns of calm equilibrium followed by cranky disequilibrium can happen as quickly as every two weeks. Some days you can almost see their little brains abuzz with activity—they are eager to interact, but also hard to settle down.
They may sleep less, eat less and cling to you more. Their brains are going through an amazing amount of growth in a very short period.
Understanding these patterns often gives meaning to baby’s crankiness and helps relieve you that you are really not doing anything wrong.
Growth doesn’t happen in a single, smooth line
The beautiful aspect of working through your baby’s crankiness is that you start to have wonderful insight into her growth and development. After a development leap, you will see how she has learned a new skill or task.
Early on, this might be hard to see but if you observe closely you might notice her staring more at colors and patterns (a leap in the sense of sight) or she might start to babble in a new or more complex way (language development).
As you learn to pick up on these developments, you may even feel privileged to be able to take part in the development of this whole new unique person that is your child.
Understanding your baby’s crankiness in this way also gives you insight into the process of growth in general. What these developmental leaps teach us is that growth happens in a bumpy, often stressful fashion.
Growth is often not a simple linear process like we might imagine as adults. That fact, it seems, is the perfect analogy for motherhood.
We too grow with our children in an often bumpy, stressful, almost fitful way.
One day we think we have motherhood figured out and our kids are acting lovely. The next day, our perfectly planned day falls apart and our kids are a fitful mess.
On these days we are forced to grow a bit more, expand our hearts, grow in patience and learn from our mistakes. The bumpy road of growth happens for all us, whether you’re six weeks old or 36 years old.
Having a cranky baby was surely not how I envisioned early motherhood. However, in finding meaning in his struggles and mine, I gained insight into motherhood that has sustained me for the subsequent years.