Ask any woman with a new baby and she’ll tell you about her Mommy Facebook group. For many of us in our spread-out American culture, internet support is our go-to source for information-gathering and commiseration, and despite the cutsey name and dismissive attitude afforded to them by mainstream media, ‘mommy groups’ can be a life-line for new moms. Having a baby is like joining a club – you’re instantly part of this culture of mothering, and like anything new, there’s a learning curve. For the most part, women seem to navigate that transition pretty well. But there are some moms who seem to have a rougher time acclimating to motherhood. While there’s nothing wrong with moving at your own pace, our culture excels at setting things up so that the ‘woman’ is at fault. If you’re not settling into motherhood with bliss the way you thought you would, have you considered the other part of the equation? Mothering is a relationship built from more than one person, so if it isn’t you…
Anytime women with children get together, the chatter inevitably turns to motherhood. And why not? It’s something we’re proud of, both our jobs as mothers, and our little ‘mini-me’s. Imagine this scenario… this is the first time you’ve gotten out the door with your baby (semi-on-time, even!) to connect with your new tribe, and the conversation shifts to ways to console a crying baby. Your blessed hell-spawn is currently (miraculously) sleeping, so you lean in, eager to get all the tips you can, because crying is your life now.
Patricia Perfect sits next to Wanda Whitecouch as they talk about the miracle of swaddling (which your kid hates), shushing (which makes your kid scream LOUDER), and rocking (what?!). You ask if there’s anything else, and get twin blank stares… so you elaborate.
“Well, Babybeast only quiets (a little) if I am in motion – preferably standing – and only then for a few minutes before we’re right back to crying. Any tips?”
Again, nothing… except for the judgment that you see building in their eyes as you brace for it… and here it comes. “Sounds spoiled to me!” “It’s because you hold him too much.” “Just let him cry! He’ll stop eventually.” “Have you tried a schedule?” Le sigh… at which point Babybeast wakes up and starts crying, so you (thankfully) have an excuse to stop talking to them, because they obviously cannot relate to what you’re talking about. If that sounds familiar, then you’re the mom we’re talking to.
Have you ever heard the term ‘high needs baby’? If you have a ‘fussy’ baby, then you might have a HN child. It’s worth explaining that all babies are occasionally fussy. We’re not talking about occasional fussiness (teething, growing pains, etc.) The HN babe takes ‘fussiness’ to epic new levels.
What is a ‘HN Child’, and what makes them so much different from other kids? The term ‘high needs child’ was coined by Martha & Dr. William Sears, of AskDrSears.com and ‘attachment parenting’ fame. They wrote ‘the’ book on the kids like this, called (appropriately), ‘The Fussy Baby Book‘, and is the bible of parenting books for those with HN kids. Sears characterizes HN babies with 12 features. Most babies have a couple, but a HN baby will have most, if not all, of them. You can read more here, but in short, the characteristics are:
- feeds frequently
- awakens frequently
- unpredictable (no routine or rhythm)
- can’t be put down
- not a self-soother
- separation sensitive
Some of you will look at that list and think, ‘yeah; in other words, ‘a baby’. If that’s your first thought, then you don’t have a HN child. If you read through that list and hear a Hallelujah chorus, then congratulations, my friend… you’re got yourself a genuine, limited edition, ‘high needs’ kiddo.
So now what? Well, first, join this group: SETX Parents of High-Needs Children. It’s WMC’s latest interest-based support group for local parents (though the group is open to mothers outside of our local area). One of the best things you can do for yourself is to gather information from moms with kids like yours.
Secondly, keep an open mind. HN babies are not ‘ill’ or ‘broken’. They don’t need to be ‘fixed’. HN babies are still high-needs even after reflux has been addressed or ruled out; after allergies and other illnesses have been addressed or ruled out… this is their personality, not a medical issue or ‘phase’. HN babies turn into HN children, pre-teens, teens, adults. You can’t ‘parent’ the HN out of them with strict(er) rules or discipline or punishment. They are fundamentally different from the average kid, and it’s important to understand that distinction.You may already recognize that traditional approaches don’t work with your baby, so you need to learn new tools. Be patient with your baby and with yourself, and be open to trying new things. HN babes will bring out the best in you as a parent if you’re up to the challenge, but it requires a different approach than most of us are familiar with. Parents in a HN support community can help you find effective strategies that nurture your baby and help you meet your needs as well.
As the mothers of HN children ourselves, Amy and I can tell you that it DOES get better. HN babies become charismatic, engaging, confident kids. They’re the leaders and trailblazers that we need for a better world, and though it may not seem like it right now, how lucky you are that you get to help shape one!
Heather is mom to 2 boys. Her HN child is now 13 years old, and knows All The Things. She is a WMC Doula, a peer counselor with the Beaumont Breastfeeding Coalition and homeschooling guru. She and Amy Jones founded WMC in 2006 and passionately work to improve local birth options and parenting support for Southeast Texas families.