Someone in my house is always crying. Or whining. Or needing something.
Actually, that’s not true. Someone isn’t ALWAYS crying, but when they are crying it feels like they have always been crying, are presently crying, and will be crying for the eternity to come. Sometimes all four of my kids cry simultaneously in a chorus that resounds through my being leaving me feeling inadequate, empty, at a loss, clueless really. And rage-ey. When all my kids are upset and look to me and I don’t know what to do, I get rage-ey, as in full of rage.
Strategies I’ve tried to get my kids to stop crying…
- Hold them
- Listen to them
- Bribe them
- Cry right along with them
- Ask them politely to please give me a break
- Tell them directly to stop crying
- Walk away from them
- Distract them
- Act silly
- Act disappointed
- Tell the older ones I will turn on the tv when they stop crying
- Lay on the floor and play dead much like a possum
- Play music to change the vibe
- Feed them
- Give them something to drink
- Put the babies in the bathtub (they love water)
- Walk around the block
- Take a drive in the car
- Stop at the drive-thru ice-cream place
- Go in the bathroom and close the door for a few
They always stop crying eventually. The intense overwhelm I experience always passes. Sometimes when they are upset I can remain patient and respond by listening, tuning in, giving them a little love, offering up some options, and keeping it cool, calm and collected on my end. I have moments where I’m a real parenting role-model. I’m present and peaceful amid the storm. I allow their stuff to be their stuff. I play a supportive role as they resolve their own dramas with appropriate guidance and encouragement from Mom.
Other times, my fifth screaming child demands all my attention and the rest of the kids are left to fend for themselves emotionally. My fifth screaming child is a real persistent crier. She demands that I pay attention to her and meet her needs before I have any chance of getting to the other kids. When she’s screaming real loud, that’s when I scream or yell or walk away in frustration or bribe or ignore. At times, she requires so much of me and my energy that I become short-tempered, impatient, and generally want to escape my present environment. I want to run away from her but I can’t because she lives inside me.
I used to try to get this baby drunk so she would stop with all the crying. Never get your baby drunk.
I’ve learned over time that I have to soothe her with the same techniques that are most effective with my children. And if I don’t, then I can’t tune into the babies outside my being because my internal baby gets so fussy she interrupts my connection with others. Imagine you are trying to snuggle with a six year old and read a good book but there is a screaming baby right in front of you. You would have to quiet the screaming baby and then return to the connection with the six year old. It’s the same for my inside baby. When I’m trying to calm or discipline or even play with my kids, if my inside baby is fussy or in a full-blown meltdown, I have to soothe her first and then bring my good energy to my kids.
I hear this same story from moms all across the recovery world on social media. Moms who feel helpless to deal with their kids, their coworkers, their partners, their friends. Moms who feel out of control. Moms who fear their big feelings – the five alarm inside baby meltdown – will lead them to drink or use drugs just to shut off the feelings. I get it.
Here are some steps to soothe your inner baby.
Step One: Learn to recognize when the baby is crying. When my baby starts crying, my chest gets tight, I get a bit scattered mentally, I feel adrenaline, I may feel angry, I start getting controlling and having lots of expectations (“they should be…” “I should be…”).
Step Two: PAUSE. When you hear your inside baby start to cry, STOP what you are doing and say to yourself, “Inside baby needs me.” You are the wise woman, the perfect blend of your emotions and reason, the great mother, the part of you that transcends your minute to minute ups and downs. You are the great internal calm that is always there for you to call forward. Sometimes I have to envision Oprah or Pema Chodron is these moments.
Step Three: Breathe and tune in to baby. Take some deep breaths and check in with the screaming inside. What does baby need? Here’s a quick checklist that applies to me…
Food? I tend to always think my baby is hungry which is why I spend lots of time hiding around the corner from my children eating pretzels and Twizzlers. Food usually isn’t really what’s going on for me, but I use it to numb the baby. I don’t think I’ve really been hungry since 1998 but this one might apply to you.
Water? Yes. This is a big one. Sitting down and drinking a glass of water calms me down. And my kids can keep whining while I do this. I’m not hurting them by taking a second to drink some water. They are watching me calm down.
Sleep? This is the biggest one for me. The darkest periods of my life post-babies have always included sleep deprivation. When the twins were 8 months old and I hadn’t slept more than four hours at a time in 8 months, I tried to sleep train them by letting them cry it out. Listening to them cry for hours on end while my husband slept peacefully sent me into a full-blown rage which included me punching the wall. Not my finest hour. But I was so tired. Bone-hurting, crazy-making, shouldn’t be driving a car tired. I handed the babies over to my husband and spent two nights at my parents’ house to sleep. I was no good to anyone in that state of sleep deprivation. Sleep is huge for me. Ask for help if you need sleep. I had to physically get out of the house. I swear my babies can smell me in the other room.
Connection? Calling a friend or going to a meeting or social gathering is crucial. I have to talk to grown people about me and how I’m doing and I have to hear about other people and how they are doing to gain perspective. One of the biggest gifts of my life is my little sister. We talk on the phone 8 times a day about everything and nothing. When I’m checking in with her I can’t spin out too much because I say what’s going on with me out loud and that takes some of the heat off my problem of the day.
Soothing? This has been the hardest one to learn. How to soothe myself? I started out clueless. I’m an addict so I just thought soothing meant numbing. But when something is numb, the pain is still there… we just aren’t aware of it. Soothing helps meet the needs of the baby and calm her down so she isn’t feeling the pain because she is no longer in pain or distress. I used to try to calm myself down in mean ways, almost shaming myself into a controlled state, but it never felt peaceful. Here is what I used to say to myself when I was screaming inside…
- “What is wrong with you?”
- “Get a hold of yourself”
- “You don’t know what you are doing”
- “You are out of control”
- “You can’t do this”
- “You don’t want to do this”
- “You hate this”
Much like with my kids, these types of tactics don’t work and tend to prolong the pain and escalate the meltdown. I’ve found that this works better…
- Shushing myself (doesn’t have to be out loud)
- “It’s all going to be okay”
- “You are okay”
- “Nothing has to happen right now, just breathe”
- “This will be over soon”
- “You are doing great”
- “You are right here with your kids”
- “Parenting is hard but you are strong”
- “You are showing them by calming yourself”
- “Be what you want them to be”
- “Do what you want them to do”
Movement? When I’m really full of feeling, I find that moving helps. Maybe that is dancing or stretching or running in place for a second. I think my anger gets stuck if I just stand still or clench up. A walk around the block can change my perspective.
Expectations? These are huge for me. When I get really emotional about something related to my kids it’s usually because I’ve tightened up some type of control and develop expectations about how they should be behaving and then I expect myself to expertly get them to comply with my every command. If my expectation is that my four year old will get ready for school in the morning without prompting from me, then I’m going to be pissed every morning. If I pay attention to what she is doing well in the morning and accept that I might have to tell her to get her coat on seven times then I am much more peaceful. Allowing myself to feel sane rather than freak out if stuff doesn’t happen in the exact moment I want it to happen means we might be late for school or an event occasionally. Nothing is so important that it is worth me losing it with my kids. And we are rarely late.
Step Four: Know that your baby is there and that you will get better at meeting her needs with practice and patience. It might take a while to recognize when she is crying, to stop the cycle you are so used to repeating that it has become automatic, to get quiet and figure out what she truly needs (not just what she wants), and to commit to taking care of her from a place of self-love and benevolence. Be patient with yourself as you figure it out. Your baby won’t stop screaming because that’s what babies do to get their needs met. But you can feel capable of caring for that precious little baby from a grown, evolved, wise perspective.
A gift of recovery has been to feel all my feelings. A challenge of recovery has been to feel all my feelings. With time and work and patience, I am figuring some of this stuff out. The screaming baby used to kind of be the primary voice of my life. It was just so loud that it demanded my attention. The screaming baby couldn’t run my life. Temper tantrums in your thirties are not a good look. The screaming baby also can’t parent my kids. I am learning I am bigger than the screaming baby. I soothe the screaming baby. I parent my kids. I am wise and rational. I am calm and centered. I am creative and strong. All I have to do is show up.