Last week was a really tough week. My 11-month-old, J, had a cold and cough and the nights were terrible. It was really, really hard. Tonight’s article is a bit different than usual. To be honest, I’ve hesitated a lot about sharing it. But I think I need to. Getting angry with a baby is an uncomfortable topic, but I think it’s something we need to talk about.
I shouted at my baby
Last week I had a couple of hours of broken sleep a night for five nights in a row. On the third night I had been sitting rocking J for about four or five hours whilst he cried. I was exhausted and struggling and I couldn’t calm him. The thought of shaking him to make him stop crying went through my head. I screamed “what do you want from me, just shut up and go to sleep”.
Unsurprisingly, this didn’t calm him down. He cried more and so did I. I held him and rocked him more and sobbed and told him how sorry I was, how much I love him and that I was sorry for shouting and I was just exhausted and didn’t know what to do. I sat alone in the dark with him and I poured out my heart to him. I talked and talked.
Hours later he fell asleep and we got an hour or so of sleep, cuddled up together.
The morning after – I’m a monster
The next day I cried on and off until I picked my eldest up from nursery at 1pm. J was clingy and miserable but didn’t cry when he was in the sling so I walked for hours to keep him calm.
I kept thinking about the night before – shouting at my baby and, worse, that fleeting thought that I could shake him. I berated myself. I felt like an absolute monster.
I am fortunate to have a group of mum friends and, in desperation, I reached out to them. I wrote:
“J isn’t well – nothing serious, cough, cold, fever, bit miserable. He seems OK during the day but is horrendous at night.
He has been up pretty much all night for the last three nights. We have had a couple of broken hours of sleep each night and no more. I tried to go to bed at 6pm with him last night as I’m so exhausted but he woke up nearly immediately. We’ve been co-sleeping the last few nights as he won’t settle any other way. He is obviously tired and falls asleep but then wakes up coughing. He is sick he coughs so much. I’m pretty sure it’s just a virus.
The main thing is he won’t let my husband help. He’s normally great with him but literally screams (high-pitched screaming) at the top of his lungs the whole time my husband holds him at night. Last night I went downstairs to try to get an hour’s sleep but couldn’t as I could still hear him screaming.
I am really struggling. I’m absolutely exhausted and last night I ended up shouting at J. I would never, ever hurt him but I even had thoughts of shaking him (I’d never act on them but I was just so tired and desperate and I’m horrified that the thought even entered my mind) to make him stop crying.
I just don’t know what to do or why he won’t settle for my husband when he always has before.
I realise this makes me sound like an abusive mum and I just want to reiterate that I have never and would never hurt my babies, but I can’t believe that the thought of doing it even entered my mind and I’m so horrified and disgusted with myself that I can’t stand it.
Any advice or suggestions would be appreciated.”
I was afraid of condemnation, of them thinking that I didn’t deserve to be a mum to my two amazing children.
Instead, these incredible women responded with empathy and support. What’s more, they shared stories of times they too had shouted at their babies or had thoughts of hurting them.
They reassured me that these thoughts are not abusive, acting on them would be (and would require professional help as soon as possible). I realised that I am not alone. Other parents have felt like this.
Why do we get angry and what can we do about it?
I’ve been giving this some thought since the other night – I’ve now slept for a few hours so I’m a bit more rational and my brain is functioning again!
I got angry with J because I was exhausted, stressed and because I felt guilty that I couldn’t help him. I love my children more than anything in the world and I would do anything to help them and keep them from harm. So watching my baby suffer and not being able to help was awful. When I couldn’t soothe him my distress turned to anger.
I’m not alone in this – The Mental Health group ‘MIND‘ say that feeling frustrated and powerless is one of the most common causes of anger.
And funnily enough, after I’d shouted at J, I felt calmer. I was upset and stressed but I could talk to him and continue holding him and soothing him and I didn’t feel angry the rest of the night. Shouting at him released enough of my stress to allow me to cope again.
I’ve written before about how I’ve helped my daughter to manager her anger, of helping her to know that feeling angry isn’t wrong, but what we do about it can be. I’ve given her positive tools to use when she is angry or frustrated.
So why did I spend a whole day feeling like an abusive mother for getting angry with my baby?
Simple – we are taught that being a parent is a privilege. And it is. I know there are people out there who would give anything to have a baby and I do not underestimate how incredibly lucky I am to have my two wonderful kids.
But because I have been blessed with two children, does that mean I can never admit to finding it hard? We don’t like parents getting angry, especially with babies and little kids. It’s more socially acceptable to post on Instagram about how ‘#soblessed’ we are than to say that we shouted at our baby in the middle of the night.
Anger is a reality though. Jaaxy reports that last month 633 online searches were done for the phrase ‘angry with baby’. That’s a lot of tired, desperate parents and caregivers looking for help.
So perhaps it’s time we took a leaf from my three-year-old’s book and learned to let ourselves be angry.
I’m not saying we should be shouting at our babies, there are other anger management techniques that will be better for us and our kids. But if we are pushed to our limit and we do shout at them, or if we have to put them crying in their cot and shut ourselves in the bathroom for five minutes to breathe and calm down, it doesn’t make us monsters.
We need to take care of ourselves as parents so that we can take care of our kids. We need to learn to be kind, to ourselves and to each other.
Don’t dwell on your failures
I spent five nights holding J – sitting up with him in the dark, rocking him, singing to him, talking to him. One night I sang his favourite song for three hours solid until my throat was too sore to continue. A lot of the time I just held him so that even though he was feeling scared and ill and upset, he would know that I had him and that he was safe and loved.
The few hours that we slept each night, it was curled up together in my bed so I could comfort him when he woke.
During the day, when he could only nap fitfully and on me, I walked him in the sling and I held him. I did my best to look after him.
So those moments on the third night when I was angry with my baby, they don’t define me as a mother. They aren’t something that I’m proud of, but they aren’t the only thing I’ll remember about last week, or (I hope) something J will remember.
It would have been easy not to write this, to pretend they never happened and that I’m not the sort of person who gets angry with a baby. But that wouldn’t be honest and, who knows, maybe some other parent out there needs a reminder that they aren’t alone, just like I did.
So if you’re getting angry with your baby, stop and give yourself time and space to deal with it. Understand that it’s OK to feel angry sometimes. If you’re at breaking point, put your baby down somewhere safe and walk away until you calm down. Call someone to come and give you a break. Forgive yourself and remember that it doesn’t detract from how much you love your child.
I really hope that you’ve found this article helpful. Please leave me a comment and let me know how you cope with anger!
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