Reader Tip: Pretend your only child has a big brother

This guest post is from our real-life friend Amanda Papanikolas, rookie mom to baby Felix.

Before I had a baby, I mildly judged the few mothers with whom I spent time for being upset when their babies would cry. I figured, “Hey, babies cry. That’s what they do. Relax. Let me finish telling you my story about my big break up/realization about my father/the annoying woman on the plane.”

I was correct in guessing that it would be different if I ever had my own baby. But I was wrong about the reason.

I thought it would be hormonal (OK, maybe it is). I thought it would stem from some primordial sense of being a Mother. (It doesn’t. I really don’t feel like a Mother because I keep on thinking I have to return him to the library any day now.) It stems from knowing little Felix, and knowing that he’s a pretty happy guy and he really only seems to cry if he’s distressed.


When he was younger (newborn), his distress was pretty much all food-related and very easy (lucky for me) to allay. As he gets older (10 mos now), I think some of his distress is sometimes more related to liking the frequent attention he receives from his parents, who both work part-time and have no other children and sometimes dare to not engage with him while he’s awake. So, sometimes when I’m trying to clean a mess, get his dinner ready, get myself ready to take him on a walk, send out a quick work email… some of those times, Felix cries. And I think, “Hmm, I could go to him. I could hold him and type this email/puree this spinach/brush my teeth (but not put on my pants) one-handed.

But then I think, ” Hmm, would I be spoiling him if I did that?”

So, then I don’t go to him, and his crying gets more frantic and I question my mothering decisions: is it better for him to cry sometimes? Does it help him get out pent-up energy? Does it teach him the important life lesson that you can’t always get what you want? Or, am I stunting his emotional development by denying him a little affection?

I’m pretty sure that it’s not the latter, to be honest, but here’s my trick to sparing myself the quandary: I pretend that Felix has an older brother. Let’s call him Javier.

It’s realistic to me that if Felix had siblings, I would sometimes have to prioritize their needs over Felix’s. So, I pretend I’m taking care of Javier instead of pureeing spinach/brushing teeth/writing emails. Right now I’m giving Javier a bath, say, and I would never abandon Javier in the tub to possibly drown (Javier and Felix are very close in age) to mollify Felix’s every little fancy. So, there it is. Sometimes, I invoke Javier to get other stuff done and it really minimizes the guilt I feel in leaving Felix screaming on his toxic-free playmat.

Photo of Javier in the bath: