Four years into the process, I’m fully aware that parenting is challenging. Sleep deprivation, role ambiguity, the loss of “free time” as we know it—these all figure into the new lifestyle in which engaged parents find themselves. And then there are feelings. Lots of them. Happiness, exhaustion, depression, joy, despair, pride… and anger. Yes, that’s the Big Ugly I ran into this week.
Before they would let us leave the hospital when my firstborn came, they had us watch an educational film called “Purple Rage” (or something like that). It walked us through the possibility of having a “persistent crier”, or a colicky baby. The film interviewed several parents who relived their struggles with a newborn crying for hours on end. Given the shifting hormones, sleep deprivation, and desperation, these parents found themselves face to face with a rage they had never known before. Some of these parents got so out of their minds they actually harmed or even killed their babies in a moment of mindless rage. The other ones who managed to keep it together talked of having to leave the room, take a shower, or go for a walk while someone else watched the baby, just to recover their wits enough to make it through the day. We didn’t think it would happen to us, but it did. Our firstborn was quite colicky for the first 3 months. We tried all of the fallback solutions above, and we did survive. There were moments we thought we wouldn’t. And I had another one of those moments this week.
My youngest is now 15 months, and started out much easier than my firstborn. He is usually quite happy, very sociable, and has a great smile. He is even starting to talk, and we have a great time together, just playing, chattering, or making noises together. He’s my little buddy, and I love him dearly. The last few weeks, though, we have had some REALLY long innings at night. He’ll be up for 2-4 hours in a night sometimes, crying, fussing, pushing away, refusing to sleep. One night this week got particularly bad. It was about an hour before his regular bedtime, and he was inconsolable. We tried walking, taking a bath, getting on the swing, eating, drinking… everything. But he fought harder and harder at each attempt to console him. I was desperate and starting to lose patience. My wife saw me bouncing more vigorously than usual as I tried to calm him, and watched as I wrestled him into a more carry-able position as he writhed, clawed, and screamed, trying to get out of my grip. When I put him down, you would think I had broken his heart, because he cried all the louder. As I tried to change his diaper, hoping we’d finally be on the way to bedtime, he kept up the struggle. I found myself practically shouting at him, and threw his now-mangled diaper on the floor, grabbing for a new one. It just kept spiraling downward, and I could feel my face flushing with “purple rage”.
And then, my wonderful wife stepped in and broke the cycle. She stepped in and insisted that she change the diaper herself, suggesting I go take a break. I went out to the living room, feeling a mixture of relief, guilt, stress, and anxiety. I tried to watch TV to get my mind off of the fight I had just escaped, but couldn’t enjoy it as my conscience pricked away. Did I honestly think my son was trying to get to me? Did I believe he understood what was going on? How dare I read intentionality into his actions when he NEVER gets that agitated? Not to mention the fact that he’s a infant and I’m an adult. I had to admit, my “fight or flight” instinct had gotten the better of me, and I had been defaulting to “fight”. With a baby. Turning off the TV, I felt the intense need to pray. I prayed for forgiveness. I prayed for my wife to persevere through her turn with our crying son. And I prayed for my son to rest and sleep. And all of it came to pass. My wife finally came out of the room of our sleeping boy, still wearing the signs of the struggle on her own face. I immediately asked for her forgiveness for almost losing control, and thanked her for bailing me out. And then we rested. My son slept all night and was his happy-go-luck self the next day.
Have you ever been there? When you’re there, it feels like one of the most lonely places in the world. I want you to know that many other dads, including myself, have faced The Big Ugly and survived. Sadly, some of our brethren have not fared so well, and their children have reaped the consequences. We can’t afford to lose this one, guys. You can beat this monster of anger, especially toward your children who rarely do anything to earn it at a young age. When they are so young, any anger we feel is more of a reflection of us than of them. Don’t do this alone. Reach out for help, whether to your wife, a parent, or a friend. If we’re friends, text me. I will talk to you, and even walk your kid(s) around the block if you’re at the end of your patience. And I’m sure I’m not your only friend that would be willing. But you have to be vulnerable enough to admit you need help.
Be real. Get help. Be the father they need you to be.