Our first month ESPECIALLY with Merritt was a doozy. Literally it felt like every. single. waking. moment with her she was crying. It really sucked for 2 reasons: 1) I feared I may go insane and 2) I felt so, so, so bad for the little one. The scream crying is the worst and just makes my heart ache for them. It’s also a knife in the chest of insanity. But the love definitely trumps the insanity.
I am BY NO MEANS AT ALL an expert on what makes a kid not cry, but I think Chris and I sort of, kind of, maybe, in a small way figured out a way to at least cope with the constant crying and fussing those first several weeks (and the fussing continued past that, it just wasn’t quite as constant. Thank god.) Here are the things I think at least helped us through that time:
1. It helps to have a partner
And this one just flat out sucks if you’re doing it alone. And holy fucking shit I don’t know how single parents do it alone. For Chris and I it basically always worked out that one of us was slightly less annoyed than the other, so that person was the picker-upper. One of us was on the edge of our seat of insanity having had a bad night of sleep, or a hard day of work, or just tired of crying, and it ALWAYS helped to have the other one tap us out and relieve us of baby duty. Having someone who can even just spell you for 15 minutes makes a difference. It allows you to recharge, even ever so slightly. And the nights when she would cry for 3-5 hours near constantly we usually tapped each other out pretty frequently. One of us bouncing her, rocking her, holding her, feeding her, etc., and then relieving the other when it got to be too much. Because it does get to be too much at times. A partner always helps.
2. Try to remember that you love your partner
This one sounds a little stupid, but sometimes you can forget how much you do in fact actually love your partner. The day to day tasks of raising kids become a job and your partner has become more of your co-worker. And for Chris and I, we actually are co-workers because we run a business together, so it’s extra important for us to remind ourselves that we are in a LOVING relationship, and not just one of work and raising hooligans. Remember to say, “I love you,” when you leave and give each other smooches. Just a hug in the hallway is nice and reminding the other person why they’re special to you. I know this sounds like an after school special, but in all honesty I feel like it makes a difference. That bond with your partner is an important source of strength in raising your kiddos, so it’s important to remember that it’s there.
There is a lot of science behind exercise making us happier people. And I believe it. I find I am a much bigger bitch when I don’t exercise (I’m always a bit of a bitch, but that’s part of my charm). Of course in those first couple of weeks you’re not “allowed” to exercise, but that doesn’t mean you can’t walk. I strapped that little nugget into a carrier and walked and walked and walked around the neighborhood with her. It satisfied 3 things: 1) it helped her fall asleep, 2) it helped me feel close to her and 3) it helped me feel happy because I was getting my body moving, sweating and feeling like I was getting something done. After every single walk with her I felt better. Sometimes I didn’t want to do them, but I always knew that after I would feel so much better, and that was great motivation. Once you get a doctor’s clearance you can resume normal exercising (if that was your jam beforehand like it was mine), but even if you aren’t a gym goer, or runner, or otherwise, those walks can really make a difference in your mental and physical health.
4. Pick something exciting to watch
You WILL be up late at night or at weird hours, so you might as well entertain yourself. We slept with Zoe in our bed as well as Merritt and in order to have this be successful we turned the brightness on the TV WAY down and basically listen to it on mute with closed captioning. If you sleep with the baby outside of the room, this is way easier. I know this sounds terrible and many people do not advocate TV in the bedroom, but hey, Chris and I do. This was a life saver at times. When I normally would loathe going to bed for fear of the screaming, I would look forward to whatever show we were binge watching. With Zoe it was American Dad (and we got through SEVERAL seasons), and with Merritt it was Newsroom. We made it through the Newsroom fairly quickly and haven’t found something yet that we love just as much, but it really makes a difference. I enjoyed being able to watch a show that was entertaining or interesting and it was a great distraction from the crying. This may or may not work for you, but it definitely worked for us.
5. Make sure you do SOMETHING for yourself
Chris and I have instituted a policy that we each get two nights a week where we get an hour to ourselves after the girls go to bed (we’re trying desperately to get Merritt on a regular schedule faster than it took us with Zoe). Sometimes this doesn’t work out because Merritt has a particularly bad night and we follow Rule #1, but more often than not we stick to it. I usually spend my time writing posts 🙂 or working on an art project. It’s a nice moment that we have to ourselves to recharge a bit. Having alone time is SO IMPORTANT and it feels like you’re giving yourself a treat. Which you definitely fucking deserve.
6. Have a mom date (or, alternatively a dad date)
NO ONE knows what you’re going through like another mom (or another dad). It helps SO MUCH to get to cry, vent, talk or just be around another mom. I am very lucky to have many girlfriends with kids around the same age and we have play dates or even text dates. Getting to understand that it’s not just madness in your own house can give you peace of mind. It helps to commiserate. You tend to think the toughness is only being fought by you – but every. single. mom knows what it feels like to want to go to the bathroom and lock the door. Because we’ve all done it. Remember, our friends are here to support and love us, so make sure you share that.
7. Make sure to ask the Dr.
Sometimes they really are crying for some reason. We noticed Merritt jerking around and making a gagging reflex, so we made sure to call the doctor to make sure that she wasn’t just crying for no reason – we wanted to make sure there wasn’t something wrong. Sure enough the poor kiddo has REALLY bad gas AND acid reflux. Since getting medicine for both it definitely helped her fussiness. That’s not to say it completely went away (wouldn’t that be wonderful), but it certainly helped (and eliminating dairy has made another improvement). And nothing makes for happier parents than to know that your kid isn’t suffering (or isn’t suffering as much). She no longer has the gagging and she is able to pass her gas A LOT better, and that is wonderful to see.
8. Track it
Zoe is a kid that needs to be on a schedule. We tried to acclimate her to us as soon as she came out, but that was a dissaster. She wants scheduled naps and bedtimes and she responded to it amazing well once we figured her out. So for round 2 I started tracking Merritt’s sleep habits at about 3 weeks. I track when she wakes up, how many naps she takes, how long they are, whether there are patterns, whether those patterns impact her evening sleep, etc. Since I started tracking things we definitely locked down her first morning nap. The afternoons are still a bit more of a question mark, but I have noticed that a longer mid afternoon naps tends to contribute to a better evening of sleep. The sooner you can figure out how happily your baby likes to sleep, the sooner you will have a happy baby. At least for us.
9. Accept that it’s going to be HARD
I don’t think I was really fully aware of how hard it was going to be, much like when I became a first time parent. I hear people say, “Oh, we have such an easy baby, I thought it would be so much harder!” Seriously? I want to punch those people in the face. I’m glad that they have an “easy” baby, but I also jealously wonder, “How THE FUCK did they luck out with such an easy baby?” Neither of our children – so far – have been little chill zen babies. We make crazies – just like we are 🙂 What goes along with that is just coming to the realization that life is going to be HARD until you get used to things. You’re going to feel like you’re treading water, and sometimes even drowning, but just know that there are BILLIONS of other people who have survived. I try to think about that when I see some idiot out in the world do something really stupid: “That moron raised a kid, I probably have my life together more, I CAN DO THIS!” It really is a marathon though, and we’re all there with you.
Yup, just do it. Sometimes (maybe even every day. I’m on an every 3 days bout right now) you just gotta LET IT ALL OUT AND CRY. It’s okay. We all do it. Hell, that baby in the other room is doing it. We may have more emotional tools to deal with our frustration than they do, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel better to just grab your friend, parent or partner and just sob into their shoulder. I’ve been known on occasion to go lock myself in the bathroom and sob. That’s what the lock on the bathroom is for, right?
11. Celebrate the little victories, because you will feel like a failure. A lot
The other day I had both kids napping at the same time and I almost pissed my pants. Before that, TWO nights in a row Merritt put herself to sleep without screaming bloody murder. And we went to a kite festival a couple weeks ago and the kid looked THIS HAPPY
There will be victories, and you NEED to celebrate them. You NEED to think you are awesome. You NEED to think you are doing a good job. Being a parent is a fucking marathon, and those victories are your water breaks and mile makers – it is SO GLORIOUS to see them. Give yourself a pat on the fucking back when those things happen. It is so easy to only remember the rough things, but there are so many moments you don’t want to forget because those great moments are what you need to think about when you just feel like you’re failing. We have those failing moments and we feel so helpless, so remember those moments when we felt like we were kicking life’s ass. Because those are even more important.
12. KEEP PERSPECTIVE
I think part of the reason I get SO frustrated (and Chris too) is that we really expect a lot out of Zoe and Merritt. Zoe makes a mess with her toys and we want her to pick them up. If she hurts someone, she needs to say sorry. She wants to cook, then she has to learn to try and not spill everywhere. With Merritt we want her to learn to put herself to sleep. It’s rough with the crying, but these are the lessons we really want our kids to know. It’s tough to pay attention SO MUCH, but it makes for a better kid in the long run the more you pay attention. Sure, it would be a lot easier to just sit them in front of the TV (and believe me, that’s the only way I get a shower most days), but the energy you put into your kids – even if it tires you the fuck out – pays off in the end. Zoe is great at picking up and won’t leave day care until she’s picked up her toys and whenever she hears a kid crying she insists on going over to them and giving them a hug. It is great to see things pay off – the things we put so much work into actually functioning properly (sometimes). And that’s the lesson: the more work we put in, the bigger the payoff. It’s certainly more exhausting, but it ends up being more rewarding.
So, there you have it. I have certainly NOT mastered all of these things by any means at all, but they are the lessons Chris and I try to remind ourselves each and every day. And those smiles, hugs and development are so worth it. Even if there are some tears along the way.