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5 Things Parents of Fussy, Alert Babies Secretly Say to Themselves

If you have an alert, non-stop, non-sleeping child with a bad case of FOMO, you may think you’re the only one feeling like this. But you’re not.


Woman with tape over her mouth and words like "no" and "silence" over her heard

When I talk to new parent groups, most of the babies are lying contentedly on a blanket in the center of the circle while their moms chat and have snacks. Meanwhile, there’s always one mom in the back of the room bouncing a fussy baby on her shoulder looking exhausted and embarrassed. I know she wonders why her baby can’t just chill on the blanket while she gets two minutes to sit in her own skin and eat some goldfish crackers like a normal human. I know she feels left out and worried that she’s just terrible at parenting.

I know she wonders why her baby can’t just chill on the blanket while she gets two minutes to be a grown-up and eat some goldfish crackers like a normal human. I know she feels left out and worried that she’s just terrible at parenting.

Mom, in the back of the room…I see you.

Parents of little ones who fight sleep and soothing may feel like this a lot…and they rarely admit it out loud. It’s partly due to a culture that suggests that parenting (and definitely mothering) is instinctive but also blames parents for the behavior of their children. “What does it say about me that my baby is so fussy, and I don’t know how to soothe them?”

Parents don’t admit to feeling like this because they feel so alone in it. I can tell you that there was one of these parents in every group I spoke to, and I bet they felt like the only one in the world struggling this much. It’s actually a pretty big group of parents none of whom know there are others like them.

It’s not all bad news. Little ones who are fussy or fight sleep are also usually very alert, vocal, social, sensitive, and smart as whips. I call these little dynamos “livewires” because they just have more current running through their little circuits. If you have one of these, the struggle is real, and the parenting lift so much bigger. It’s no wonder parents have worries that they just don’t say out loud.


“I don’t think this is what I signed up for.”

This one is a biggie. Parents of more alert babies often know right out of the gate that something’s up. These babies are often precociously alert and focused and can already hold their head up or track objects visually. I remember my daughter, after a 27-hour labor, had her eyes wide open and laser-focused. “That’s not normal, is it?” No. No, it wasn’t.

These are the newborns that nurses invariably comment on.

“She’s going to be a handful.”

“Let’s just say he knows what he wants.”

“She’s got some lungs on her.”

“This one’s an old soul.”

Livewires are also prone to reflux, colic, eczema, and a complete lack of sleep pressure. In just the first few weeks, parents can already be wondering what they have signed up for. This is no gauzy Pampers ad. It may not be the “best time ever.” It may not feel like it goes by “so fast.” You may not feel any of those feelings you heard about.


This weird reality is not at all helped by others who think there’s an obvious, no-brainer reason why your baby acts this way:

He cries so much because you just keep picking him up.”

Have you tried gas drops?

Just swaddle her.”

“Just let him cry a little, and he’ll learn.”

Or the one that really gets me, “It’s just colic.”

If you have a newborn who isn’t sleeping and is screaming for most of the day, you know that saying, “It’s just colic,” is like saying, “It’s just a tsunami.” We are not talking about the normal and expectable levels of fussiness. We’re talking should-I-call-911-level crying for hours…for weeks.

We’re talking should-I-call-911-level crying for hours…for weeks. Saying, “It’s just colic,” is like saying, “It’s just a tsunami.”

When you’re in this particular boat, you don’t get many moments of “I’ve got this.” It can be the first step in a long road of “I have no idea what I’m doing.” If you had a really difficult start or are still in the midst of it—know you are a warrior, and you’ve got this more than you think you do.


There’s so… much… crying” (your baby, but also you).

Livewires are known to be loud….They know what they want (or don’t want) and they let you know it in a way that can sound like they’re dying. One mom on Facebook admitted: “I would hear other babies’ cute, sweet ‘cries,’ while my daughter’s regular normal cry sounded like her limbs were being ripped off her body.”

This level of crying does a number on parents. And if you’re a sensitive parent of a sensitive baby, you might be in a constant state of jumpy overwhelm. Most parents of livewires are shell-shocked from all of the crying and will do anything to make it stop. They may feel secretly weak or ineffective because they’ve given in on so many limits or done what’s “easy” just to—for-the-love-of-Pete—stop the crying for a brief moment. If this is you, please give yourself a break. Of course, you’ve had to do what’s easy. Of course. This is the Ironman of parenting, and you are only human.

This is the Ironman of parenting, and you are only human.

“I think I might collapse from fatigue.”

Parents of livewires aren’t just sleep-deprived. They are also grappling with the higher level of input these little ones require from parents all day long. Oh boy. There isn’t enough bubble bath in the world to tackle this level of fatigue. I conducted a large parent survey and found that parents of livewires not only said they were more emotionally and physically exhausted, but they rated their own competence way lower than parents of mellower children. Several of them reported feeling constantly worried that they were doing something wrong or that they weren’t giving their unique child what they needed.

Parents of livewires not only said they were more emotionally and physically exhausted, but they rated their own competence way lower than parents of mellower children.

This piece breaks my heart (even though I felt the same way myself). Parents of livewires are working so hard, but not getting the feedback that they’re on the right track. This worry exists in the same space as the feeling that no one understands or is having the same experience. Parents wonder why they’re struggling so much when other parents seem to be coping pretty well. It’s a lot to carry around.


“I’m sometimes jealous of other parents with easier kids.”

This one is so common, and no one wants to say it out loud. It’s so hard when your child seems to be the only one who gets so upset or can’t calm down. They always seem to need special handling or explanation and they definitely don’t seem to be able to just “hang out.” They need you…constantly.

It’s easy to envy those other parents with more chill children. A mom on Instagram says, “I recently went to get my haircut and there was a woman there whose baby sat contentedly in the carrier on the floor for the entire time. Mine wouldn’t have made it out of the car before freaking out.” I remember chatting with a neighbor whose 8-month-old was sitting in a pram next to us. This mom handed the baby an empty water bottle and that baby played with it for a full 45-minutes while we talked. I remember thinking, “What kind of magic is this? My kids would have fiddled with that for 30 seconds and then tossed it out of the pram like, ‘Okay. Next.’

“I recently went to get my haircut and there was a woman there whose baby sat contentedly in the carrier on the floor for the entire time. Mine wouldn’t have made it out of the car before freaking out.”

It’s easy to wonder what those parents have done to have a child who can just hang out without needing so much input and help. It’s easy to feel frustrated that your life can’t have moments of peace and ease. In that same parent survey, I asked parents to say three words about their experience of parenting their child. Parents of mellower children said words like “fun” and “easy” and “joyful.” Not one parent of a livewire said “easy” or “fun.” They did use positive words, but there were lots of “exhausting,” “challenging,” and “anxiety-producing.”

It's normal to wish the path were easier.


It’s normal to be mad that it’s not. We’ve all been there, even if we don’t say it out loud.


“I worry that maybe I just suck at parenting.”

Are you ready? This is going to be one of the most important things I can say to you:


You do not suck as a parent.

Single parent, stay-at-home parent, divorced, full-time job with childcare, working at home—whatever your situation, you are a rock star. You may not feel it. You may not believe me. You may not be able to see evidence of it in your daily life, but I promise you, you are a dedicated, roll-up-your-sleeves, in-for-the-long-haul parent. Livewires don’t give you that in-the-moment confirmation that what you just did actually worked. You mostly have to go on blind faith, which can feel discouraging. It’s hard not to see proof that you’re making good choices, but you totally, totally are.


The fact is that ALL of these feelings make sense. Having a livewire IS like being hit with a tsunami that 1) does not seem to be hitting anyone else; and 2) that you're not prepared for. You are doing your best in a really challenging situation, and you're not giving up one little bit. It's a heroic thing you're doing, so cut yourself some slack.

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Macall Gordon has a B.S. from Stanford in Human Biology and an M.A. from Antioch University, Seattle in Applied Psychology, where she was a Sr. Lecturer in the mental health counseling department. She is a researcher looking at the relationship between temperament and sleep, and the gap between research and parenting advice on sleep training, and the effect of the oversupply of expert advice on sleep. She is a certified pediatric sleep consultant working with parents of alert, non-sleeping children in private practice, as well as on the women’s telehealth platform, Maven Clinic. She comes to this work because she had two sensitive, intense children and she didn’t sleep for 18 years.

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