I know why some dads shake their babies

It’s awful, but I get it. That split-second of white-hot anger. That momentary loss of self-control.

Dad exhausted crying baby

A baby is a blessing. But anyone who thinks that a baby is not also a curse is wrong and may be an idiot.

It is just that, on balance, babies bring much more joy than misery. Like booze. That’s right. I said babies are like booze. But with babies the hangover comes first and lasts for months.

If you weren’t genetically pre-conditioned to love them, you would no sooner open your home to a newborn than you would to Schoolies Week, or the Bandidos MC, or wasps.

And even then – even with the most longed for, tearfully received baby – it is a struggle.

Fact: Sleep deprivation is a form of torture

This has been declared by Amnesty and is also a common strategy employed by religious cults.

The immediate cessation of sex, socialising and the chance to take pleasure in food or drink – at least in anything that can’t be defrosted in 90 seconds – is jarring.

Budget pre-planning, no matter how careful, turns out to be a hilariously ambitious dream.

Hobbies stop, fitness diminishes, you don’t see your mates, your dog hates you, your mother-in-law turns up every tick of the clock, refusing to leave.

You’ve just run out of nappies and its 3 am on a Tuesday, and the child is screaming – SCREAMING – blue murder, inches from your ear, directly at you, bright crimson, face a mask of extreme physical pain, pain you’ve been assured it’s not actually feeling, so why? WHY – after three, seven, nine hours of cooing, comforting and bouncing – won’t it just STOP! PLEASE STOP! PLEASE?

I understand why some dads shake their babies.

It’s not planned

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But the consequences are horrendous.

A shaken baby’s chance of survival is the same as someone who is diagnosed with cancer. According to US data, approximately 25% of Shaken Baby Syndrome, or SBS, victims die. While 80% of SBS survivors suffer lifelong disabilities.

Babies have large heads and weak necks. Common consequences of shaking them include brain haemorrhages, permanent traumatic brain injury, spinal cord damage, fractures of the ribs and bones, epilepsy, vomiting, pale or blue skin, bleeding from the eyes. The eyes!

It’s a hellish laundry list, unimaginable to consider befalling my own small, ambrosia-scented boy. His soft face pink with bemusement, double and triple chins stacked like sandbags at a levee, braced against gurgling and giggling. His Mr Stay Puft jowls resting on his soft round guts, a warm sausage-packed potbelly around which he slaps and flails. Trusting eyes and big smile.

But then: he is not, at this moment, crying.

I know me well

I am a relatively old first-time dad. I have had years to recognise my own tendencies – to anger, to frustration, to argument.

I used to be an exponent of storming from the room to punch a door or table, initially disbelieving when I was told that sort of mid-argument fisticuffs against furniture was considered domestic violence.

I’ve punched three people in my life, all men, and all the best part of two decades ago, when they were punching me at the same time.

Now, I am 40. When frustration overwhelms, I find it pretty simple to take a deep breath, give him to his mum, or institute a one-minute walkaway. I hope I’d never be so infuriated that I would shake my own baby, or anyone else’s, no matter my age or rage.

But that’s also because I know the consequences, and can’t remember a time when I didn’t, thanks to depressingly common, tragedies reported in the news.

Some dads aren’t so lucky

Dad baby tender moment

Their kids, awfully, may be unluckier still.

How many times have you heard new parents express their amazement that they were just allowed to take their baby home shortly after the birth, without any training manual, advice or supervision?

“According to research,” notes Synapse, “inconsolable crying is one of the most commonly cited reasons for aggression towards children.”

“A person may lack experience with babies, be unprepared and have little knowledge about babies. As a result a person may become overwhelmed and frustrated at inconsolable crying and lose control.”

No shit… But it’s still on you.

There is no shame in not loving your baby in that white-hot split-second of total frustration. Or, at least, no shame in the love that you genuinely have for your kid being temporarily eclipsed in that moment of rage.

You’re trying to be a good dad, and it’s hard.

So: Here’s help.

Podcast:

For starters, you should listen to this podcast by 3RRR with Warren Cann, a clinical psychologist with 20+ years experience in Parenting Support. Warren explains: “If you wanted to create a lab and really test people’s emotional capacity, then parenting is pretty much that lab.” He goes on to provide great insights into the ‘anger response’, and how understanding it can help us better manage our triggers, as well as feel less guilty.

Websites:

Dontshake.org and synapse.org.au are eye-opening, and have lots of useful information and resources that can help.

Helplines:

MensLine Australia offer confidential, anonymous, and non-judgemental support, specifically for men. Their professional counselors are experienced in a wide range of men’s issues, including emotional well-being and anger management. You can talk to them on the phone, video conference, or even via web chat. They know what they’re doing, and as well as lending a helping hand can point you in the right direction for additional support.

If you find yourself buckling under the pressures of parenthood, you are not alone. Your anger doesn’t make you a bad person, or a bad parent. What matters is that you take the right steps to manage it.

The momentary urge to shake your baby is understandable. But the consequences are unbearable.

The hangover will clear.

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