My in-laws are on the plane, arriving shortly for two weeks over the holidays. They want to give us some nights out to ourselves and babysit our four-month-old, but I’m worried about it, because they believe that crying is a natural and even healthy part of being a baby. When he cries, they talk to him and pat him, but they don’t ever manage to soothe him. He just bawls and they say, “We don’t mind.” Maybe they don’t mind, but I know crying is not good for him. What about those studies that say crying releases stress hormones! It’s not that I don’t want to go out. I’d love a nice dinner and my husband is desperate to get some alone time with me. But how can I enjoy myself knowing the baby is crying the entire time? – Crymommy
It was a big thing in previous generations to talk about how normal crying is. It exercises the lungs! Strengthens the constitution! The whole idea of crying itself as beneficial to the baby is bogus. But though crying is not necessarily good for babies, it’s not really clear if it’s bad for them either. There have been some studies showing that crying releases stress hormones. The babies in those studies, however, were in very specific and unusual situations – i.e., being completely ignored in an unfamiliar place. So it’s hard to know what caused the stress, and we don’t know whether there is any real negative effect of cortisol, or crying. From the number of babies who seem to be doing relatively okay after innumerable crying jags, we’ll say it looks like the effect is minimal.
Fact is, there are situations where the downside of crying is trumped by the upside of whatever’s happening to cause the crying. An easy example is a baby crying in a car while strapped into a car seat. Your situation’s a little less simple, but the equation is essentially the same. There are those who disagree, but we are of the opinion that a night out with the partner is a valuable thing, and that crying is not a reason to forgo it.
Let’s be optimistic: Maybe once you’re out, your in-laws will feel more relaxed and actually bust out some creative moves to help soothe the little guy. Sometimes people feel self-conscious around the mother, and have a hard time dealing with a baby under her watchful eyes. By saying “Babies cry,” they may be trying to make you feel more relaxed, or help themselves calm down in the face of the tears. Maybe they’re no Baby Whisperers, but they did raise your husband to be a functional member of society. It’s likely they’ll be able to handle your child for an evening. They may sing to him when he’s hungry and try to feed him when he’s got a full diaper. But they’ll probably make some kind of effort, and maybe it’ll work. Less optimistically, your baby could cry. Maybe even a lot. But he’ll be okay.
You can give your in-laws some tips, maybe a list of things he usually needs (keep it simple). You can ask that they not leave him in his bed to cry alone, if that’s something you are particularly opposed to. But you can also give them your vote of confidence. Sometimes grandparents just want to be acknowledged for having actually raised a kid or two themselves. Just stating something along the lines of, “You know all about babies . . . ” can put out a lot of fires. You can always add, “. . . and here are a few things about this one in particular.”
There are plenty of mothers in your situation who decided the anxiety was not worth the escape. And that’s a totally valid choice, if you want to make it. Just realize that, eventually, you will have to leave your child with someone else, and when you do, you will probably have some concerns about whether he’ll be as happy with them as he is with you. And the separation may not get easier as time goes on.
So our advice, with loving, attentive, if somewhat retro Grandparents in hand, is to take a deep breath, put on your coat and LEAVE. It’s such a clich’, but making time for your marriage and your mental health has been PROVEN to help with the family in general. Your little baby may be waiting that extra half hour before Gramps smells the poop, but on some deep, possibly-hard-to-imagine level at this very early stage in your parenthood, he will be grateful for parents who date from time to time. And he’ll forgive you for a couple of rough nights pressed to Grandma’s itchy sweater.
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