“Is she a good baby?”
The question still stings a little, eight years later. I didn’t know this was a typical conversation for mothers of infants, so it took me by surprise.
“What do you mean by good?” I would ask.
“Does she eat and sleep well?” they would say.
“Oh…no. So, I guess she’s a bad baby,” I wanted to throw back. Thankfully, I usually came up with a more considerate way to describe how much I loved my baby, despite her random screaming and sleep patterns. But the truth is I spent much of the first three months of my daughter’s life trying to figure out what was wrong with her. Why was she so upset while nursing? Was it gas? Not enough milk? Why couldn’t I find a cause for her cries?
One night our one month old little bundle of joy flipped a switch and started screaming so loud in our apartment that we swaddled her up tight in two blankets, held her upright on my chest, turned up the fastest heartbeat track on our white noise cd and held tight as we carefully bounced up and down. To our great relief, the switched flipped again and she was sound asleep.
Colic. Gas. Spoiled. These were not helpful distinctions for us. The only explanation that made sense was that our baby was overwhelmed and needed help settling down. It was tempting to get frustrated and blame our baby for how she inconvenienced and embarrassed us, but the truth is, it wasn’t her fault. She wasn’t being bad, we were unknowingly allowing her to become over-stimulated. Her little nervous system didn’t know what to do but to try to get our attention.
The heart-beat noise turned into a fan and then music and now a conversation before bed. As the years go by, I learn more about the physical and emotional needs of people who are sensitive. Now I recognize that tears and anger are a sign that our child is overwhelmed, not just spoiled or defiant.
There are certainly times when our children are defiant and in need of corrective discipline, but many times they just need help to calm down.
Many times, I need help to calm down.
I see myself in the baby who screams when she’s too tired, cries when she’s hungry and shuts down when she is around too much chaos. I see myself in the child who gets angry when he senses injustice, runs away when he needs to cry and lashes out at his mom when he can’t take another minute of the bright lights in the department store.
My child does not generally have control over the amount of sensory stimulation she experiences, but I generally do. I set the bedtime routine. I set the schedule. I can say no to long playdates and bright lights and late nights for both of us. If she lashes out after hours of people-chaos or a sleep-less night, I can comfort and offer my calming presence.
Because God has offered His comfort and calming presence to me.
When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
your love, O LORD, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought joy to my soul.
Psalm 94:18-19 (NIV)