The 20-something new mom approached me and asked, “What should I do when my baby cries?” She was already feeling overwhelmed and beginning to slip into postpartum depression. Her mother-in-law suggested she talk to someone and recommended yours truly.
“What have you been doing?” I asked.
“I pick him up,” she said.
“You always pick him up when he cries?” I asked.
“And when you pick him up, then what?”
“Well,” she said, “I try to get him to stop crying—you know, I walk with him, bouncing him up and down, and I sing to him, and I talk to him, trying to comfort him.”
“So,” I said, “he cries, and you walk him and sing to him and bounce him up and down.”
“And he seems to be crying more and more.”
“Do you like ice cream?”
“I love ice cream, chocolate chip mint mostly.”
“If you discovered that the only way you could get chocolate chip mint ice cream was to scream at the top of your lungs and jump up and down like a lunatic, what would you do?”
She looked at me for a few moments as the wheels began turning. Then she said, “Oh.”
“Yes,” I said. “Oh. With the very best of intentions, you’re creating an ice-cream monster who can’t get enough of your ice cream. The more you give, the more he wants. Do you use drugs?”
“Do I use drugs? No! I’ve never even smoked pot!”
“Good, but here’s the deal: You’re already setting precedents that may well cause you to become a legal drug user. If you don’t stop thinking that it’s your job to keep your son from crying, then I predict—mind you, I flunked fortune-telling in graduate school, so this is nothing but a very experienced speculation—I predict you’ll be on at least two psychiatric drugs before he’s three, one for depression and one for anxiety. You don’t want that.”
“No, I don’t want that.”
“Then you have to let him cry, not always, constantly, of course, but sometimes you are just going to have to walk away from him when he’s crying.”
“Walk away? I’ve started carrying him around in one of those front pouches.”
“I bet he loves that.”
“Seems to, yes.”
“That’s fine if you’re going out somewhere, but it’s not fine for you to carry him around in a pouch all day long so that he won’t cry. That’s like putting him on an ice-cream drip. Use the pouch only when you’re going somewhere. Furthermore, as soon as he can hold his head up reasonably well, switch to a baby backpack so he can look around at the world while you’re doing your thing.”
“I read an article about high-need babies, and he fits the description. It said I should—it said, ‘wear him.’ ”
“That’s attachment parenting bunk-ola. It’s bunk-ola that’s going to make it very difficult for him to accept anything less than being worn by you. Wearing him like you’re still pregnant with him is another bad precedent. Sweetie, babies cry. They cry because that’s what they do. Some do it more than others, but they all need to learn that their mommies are not at their beck and call, and the sooner, the better, for both baby and mommy.”
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (817) 295-1751.