There is one thing, one insidious thing, that makes life with a high need child 10x harder than it needs to be.
It’s not the fact that your little one wakes up 5 times a night.
It’s not that he’s a fussy eater who can’t go more than 1 or 2 hours between feeds.
It’s not that she’s unpredictable, and hard to soothe.
Yes, there is no doubt that all these things are hard. Parenting is hard. Parenting a high need baby is beyond hard.
But there is one thing you can do, believe it or not, that can make this whole gig easier.
It won’t make your life perfect. You’ll still be exhausted, frustrated and you may still grieve the child you thought you would have. And all those feelings and thoughts are okay.
But the thing you CAN do, that CAN change how you view life, sleeplessness and your fussy, high need baby is this:
Let go of your expectations.
That insidious thing I mentioned before is your expectation of how your baby should be. Of what she should or shouldn’t be doing. Of what YOU should or shouldn’t be doing.
One of our moms wrote this on our Facebook group today:
Like Jennifer, have you ever found yourself feeling pressured by thoughts like:
Why isn’t she sleeping through the night yet? Every other baby her age is.
Why can’t he go more than 2 hours without a feed? What am I doing wrong?
Aren’t babies supposed to be cuddly? To drift peacefully off to sleep in their mother’s arms?
When will she finally learn to fall asleep on her own? Aren’t they supposed to self-soothe at this age?
Whether you realize it or not, thoughts like these are actually expectations, or ‘should’s’. And as my husband always says, “Stop shoulding on yourself!’.
I know things are hard right now. I know this isn’t what you expected. Your life is 100% centered around this little, screaming person. Your marriage is probably at its limit, and you may feel intensely guilty about how this is affecting your other kids.
Changing your expectations won’t magically solve these problems.
But what it CAN do is help you experience a little bit of freedom. To allow you to grieve what ‘could have’ or ‘should have’ been, and learn to accept this little person who is more passionate and more unpredictable than you ever could have imagined.
You can start to let go of some of the guilt you feel, and the constant second-guessing:
Did I mess up his afternoon nap because I let him sleep too long in the morning?
Am I spoiling him because I let him fall asleep on me, or because I feed him every hour?
What am I doing wrong that she’s only sleeping in 2 hour stretches at night?
Letting go of your expectations also means taking things one day at a time – or even one hour at a time. As parents of high need babies, it’s easy to get ahead of ourselves and assume it will always be like this.
It’s also easy to get caught up in the trap of reading baby books and blogs and expecting that our baby should be hitting certain milestones just because they’re a certain age:
My baby is 6/12/18 months old and should be sleeping through the night by now!
They say you should have a routine right from birth, but my baby resists any attempt we make at establishing one.
The experts say to only feed every 3-4 hours at this stage, but it’s the only way I can soothe my baby!
High need babies don’t follow the books or the experts. I’m not saying there isn’t any helpful advice in books or on blogs. I’m also not saying there aren’t things you can do to help your baby space out feedings, learn to sleep better, etc.
What I AM saying is that YOUR baby may not follow the guidelines. May not do things when the experts say they ‘should’.
If you can somehow get up the gumption to consciously say, “I will do what I can do, to the best of my ability and with the knowledge I have, and leave the rest up to him/her”, you’ll find that your perspective starts to change.
Look at the advice given in books and blogs as helpful suggestions and guidelines, and then do what works best for your child.
Plan for success, but hold onto your expectations loosely. For instance, put a bedtime routine in place, but expect that it may still take months for your baby to ‘get’ it. Plan that 8 hour road trip you’ve been wanting to do, but expect that he’ll be crying most of the time.
And then that time that he DOES sleep through the night, or that he does go an hour in the car without crying, you’ll feel like you’ve won the lottery.
But in the meantime, be kind to your baby and to yourself. Do what works. Stop shoulding on yourself.
High need babies and spirited kids can be exhausting, but they’re not impossible to parent! That said, we may need to change up our strategies if we want to raise them in a way that respects their unique temperament. The Fussy Baby Survival Guide will walk you through sleep, effective soothing strategies, tantrum management and more!
Letting Go of the ‘Should’s’
The Fussy Baby Site Goes to Facebook HQ!
How to Raise a Dragon Baby
Stop Crying, Calm Down, and Other Things We Tell Our High Need Kids
How to Distract a High Need Baby or Toddler