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Curb Crying With Carbs?

Thursday, August 15, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

We hear our 9-month-old neighbor crying a lot. It sounds painful, like he's not being comforted or listened to enough. I could be projecting, but I trust my instincts, and his cry really pulls at my heart strings. We don't have a close relationship with his parents so it seems like we can't play a role here, but I'm just not sure what to do. The only mediocre idea I have is to bake them muffins. Perhaps a little carb love will open their hearts a bit more. We need all the love we can get, right?

Signed,
Curb the Crying with Carbs?


Dear Carbs,

Whenever I've been self-conscious about having a crying baby, I've been told that it sounds a lot worse to me than it does to anyone else. If that's true, then the parents next door must be going through a terrible time. A baby's crying can mean a lot of things. There's the typical hungry, tired or wet trifecta. There's also the "my parents are trying to sleep train me so they can live through another day" cry, the "I have colic/reflux/some other unexplained something" cry, my new favorite, the "my older sibling is trying to help me by poking my eyes out" cry, and, sadly, as you allude to, the "no one's paying attention to me" cry.

If the crying is happening twice a day (naps) plus nighttime, I would attribute it to sleep training and assume that it will gradually get better. If it's more constant, I agree that there's likely something else going on. Maybe you could start by trying to get to know the parents a little bit better. Say hello when you see them. Ask them how things are going in a casual, non-accusatory sort of way. If you want to put yourself out there a little more, offer to babysit for an hour so they can go get a cup of coffee together. Or, as you already thought of, do something kind and non-invasive like bringing them muffins. 

If you offer to do any of these things, do so because you think it will ease some of the burden on these new parents, not because you want a glimpse into their home to see if something untoward is going on. If you truly think they are neglecting their child, then you have a different and not just neighborly sort of obligation. Child Protective Services exist for a reason, but if you go down that path, there can be real and irreversible consequences.

A more moderate approach could be to compile a list of resources like social service agencies, post-partum counselors, parent-child workshops and support groups and slip it under their door. It may or may not make a difference, and it may or may not make them paranoid that their neighbors are annoyed by the crying. If you include a note that says, "Please don't worry about disturbing the neighbors. We just want to make sure you're doing O.K.," that might lessen the potential negative consequences. Good luck with a difficult situation, and good for you for wanting to help. Here's hoping the baby, the parents and you all get a good night's sleep soon.

Be well,
Miriam

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