New Dad Diaries – week 6




Chronicling life as a new father to his beautiful firstborn child – daughter Thea – Chris Kerr’s goal is to provide all men experiencing fatherhood for the first time with some invaluable tips and tricks as they are learned – the hard way. This week, Chris wonders what to do when Thea won’t stop crying.

I had a great Sunday afternoon planned this week. There was an epic schedule of sport on the television and the weather was perfect for a barbecue. I could plan this because, six weeks in, Thea was in a good routine. This included long afternoon naps. Score! So, I rocked her to sleep, popped her in her carrycot and fired up the barbie ready for the 3pm kick-offs.  

Everything was on track until… “Waaaaaaaa!” All that got flame-grilled that afternoon were my plans!  

For the rest of the day, Thea was in a constant state of distress. She cried more that afternoon than the rest of her six weeks of life combined. She looked completely startled, perhaps even distressed. Her eyes seemed like they were popping out of her head and she was frantically looking around in a panicked state. There was no obvious reason why this was happening. We fed her, checked her nappy, held her close, sang to her and did all the things recommended to calm her down. Nothing worked. What was happening to our content, happy little girl?  

I will tell you the answer to that shortly, but let me be real with you for a second. I found this really stressful. I felt overwhelmed, frustrated and, if I am honest, utterly hopeless. Not because I was missing out on my beloved Aberdeen Angus burgers but rather, my girl was suffering and I couldn’t help her. Is there any worse feeling for a dad than that? I doubt it.  

If you are anything like me, you probably give yourself a hard time for feeling this way when your baby cries. Don’t. It’s not your fault. There is a reason crying baby noises are used to train Navy SEALs to withstand torture. The science tells us that when our baby cries, our brain and body conspire to put us in to a state of alert (‘fight or flight’). Studies also show that once our baby starts crying, our brains cannot focus on anything else. In other words, dads are hardwired to move heaven and earth to help their baby, and we cannot relax until we have.  

That’s great in most cases where a simple feed, nappy change or cuddle soothes our baby. It’s some kind of hell when we can’t. It brings even the most hardened Navy SEAL to a state of desperation. So, what should a dad do in this situation? The answer: Put yourself in your baby’s little booties for a second and try and empathise with them.  Babies never cry for the sake of it. There is always a reason. Sometimes, we cannot understand what that reason is. If that’s the case, it is probably this – your baby is experiencing a leap in their development. That’s the finding from some amazing research undertaken by Dr Hetty van de Rijt and Dr Frans Plooij, presented in their book, The Wonder Weeks.  They found that all babies make 10 major, predictable, age-linked changes (or leaps) during the first 20 months of their lives. Today, Thea was experiencing her first leap.

Peace at last. Your baby will settle eventually, if you’re present and patient.

During these leaps, a baby experiences a dramatic change in their mental and physical development. They start to process things differently. They develop new skills and they can suddenly do new things like smile.  This is a very good thing but it is a deeply distressing process for your baby. It would be like you falling asleep in your bedroom but waking up on another planet where everything is different. I don’t know about you, but I would find that quite overwhelming!

Knowing this was key to helping me to move past my stress.  My frustration turned to empathy, empathy became compassion, and compassion led me to do what I should have done from the start – just be there for Thea in her distress. I cuddled her, I comforted her and I let her hold on to me for dear life. For a while, she was clingy, cranky and yes, she cried but eventually she settled and fell asleep. She did so because she knew her mum and dad were with her in her storm, never going to leave her nor forsake her.  

Dads, if your baby is experiencing a leap, understand this: They are unpleasant, but they don’t last long. Push through your stress for the sake of your beloved because even though there is nothing worse for a dad than seeing your child suffer, there is nothing better than knowing that the only place your baby wants to be – in those moments – is in your arms.  

Tip of the week

If you are struggling with your baby crying, pop some ear plugs in. Don’t worry; you will still be able to hear your baby but it will take the edge off. That will help you to remain compassionate no matter how long your baby cries for. I got that tip from Commando Dad who joined me for a near four-hour chat on fatherhood recently.  Be sure to check out the Sept/Oct edition of Sorted magazine for the full interview, and my future New Dad Diaries for some valuable tips and tricks.  

Chris Kerr

Chris is a husband to Alicia and father to Thea, who is the subject of his columns on Fatherhood for Sorted.  In his spare time he works for a national law firm in an executive capacity and provides crisis leadership consultancy support for non-profits across the UK.  He attends Urban Crofters Church in Cardiff.  A keen weekend adventurer, Chris is regularly spotted in the sea or on mountains.

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