I think we’ve all heard that when a baby is fussy it is a reflection of the parent. I’m not sure how many of us have bought into this theory entirely. I know I generally think of this as a blanket statement indicating that the baby is fussy all of the time or it’s not. Hailey is generally a happy baby so it would be easy for me to say that’s a reflection of how relaxed I am and others with fussy babies are clearly doing something wrong.
However, when I think about this statement as more specific to certain incidents it becomes less of a label and more of a way to observe how my baby is feeling related to how I’m feeling. Let me give you a personal example that was a big eye opener for me.
It was halloween and we had plans to get-together with some other moms and babies. We were going to dress up the babies in costumes and do a fun photo shoot. I’d spent many hours making a cute costume for Hailey. The morning of the get-together Hailey woke up with a cold. I decided it would be best to keep her home. I was very disappointed that we couldn’t make it. I had been looking forward to the outing for weeks. Over the course of the same day I got tension headache. The headaches that I often get start in my shoulders and work their way up into my head. I usually don’t like any pressure on my shoulders and sometimes my bra straps will seem like too much. Hailey, being sick, wanted to be held the majority of the day. Holding her in my arms or putting her in the carrier on me seemed to be the only thing she wanted. Both hurt me because they put pressure on my shoulders. She didn’t want to nap by herself and every time she fell asleep on me and I put her in the crib she would wake up. By mid-afternoon I was a wreck and having momentary breakdowns and praying that my husband would come home from work. At one point I was standing at the kitchen sink doing dishes, Hailey was crying because she hadn’t really napped all day, I was crying because I was in pain and wanted a break. As we were both having this meltdown my husband came home from work. I immediately handed him Hailey. She stopped crying instantly. He took her into the living room to play. They played for the better part of two hours and she didn’t fuss one bit.
I had assumed she was fussy and crying because she was tired and sick. But clearly that was not the case. She was happy as soon as she was away from me. Evidently she was picking up on my distress and mirroring that back to me.
This was a glaring example of how my emotions were affecting her. The thing is, I didn’t even realize I was distressed until I broke down in tears mid-afternoon. I thought I was doing perfectly fine. She saw right through my charade before I even knew it was there!
This incident made me really stop and wonder how often this type of thing happens but perhaps in much smaller, less obvious ways. If she’s fed, has a clean diaper, is well rested and she’s still fussy is it because of me? Is she picking up on my emotions?
Now I understand that my emotions and mental state affect her, but so what? What can I do with this new found information?
This incident showed me that I really need to take care of my well-being as much as I’m taking care of hers. If my unhappiness is causing her to feel unhappy then the best thing I can do for her is to do things that make me feel happy. This seems like a selfish thing to do as a mother but if I’m not happy then it appears I don’t stand a chance helping her to be happy.
I also need to figure out a way to teach her that she doesn’t have to take on my feelings or anyone else’s. Anyone with who has spent time with several babies has probably observed that when one starts crying then the others start crying. They take on each other’s emotions. Over the course of Hailey’s life she will interact with thousands of people, hear things that upset her, and see other people that are upset and ‘feel for them’. However, she needs to be able to ensure that other people’s emotions don’t become her emotions. It appears that most of us grow out of this extreme sensitivity to other people’s emotions since we don’t see people melting down in a domino effect, but why wait? For now, I just keep telling her that when she seems upset by someone else that she doesn’t have to take that on.
Next time your baby or child is upset check in with the way you feel. This is not meant to point the blame toward the parent but rather another way of troubleshooting the situation. Sometimes I find myself taking several deep breaths before trying to console Hailey. Even if I’m not the problem an extra moment to check in with my emotions is not going to hurt her and it’s only going to benefit me. I have nothing to lose and even if it only makes me feel better that’s one out of two that’s better!