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Oct 29 2013

The 10 Dos and Don’ts for When Your Spouse is Freaking Out

By at 3:45 pm

man looking at computer scared

Sometimes, your partner–being a human being (presumably; unless you’re likeĀ this guy which I sincerely hope you’re not)–will take some very trivial tiny hiccup that your baby does and freak out, worrying that he’s about to lose a leg. This risk is particularly high if it’s a newborn, or a first child–and if it’s both, watch out!

“Oh no, he sneezed… could he have a genetic lung disease?” Or maybe, just maybe, he just… sneezes sometimes?

Keeping with our sacred Jewish tradition ever since Exodus 20 of having lists of 10s broken into half positives and half negatives–here are five dos and five don’ts for this situation:

1.) Don’t try to reason logically with her/him. When she’s in freak-out mode, it’s her motherly instinct (or fatherly instinct, as the case may be) wanting to make sure the baby is perfect. You can’t process logical chains of reasoning when you’re in freak-out mode. Of course, logical analysis is essential, but that comes later, when you’re both calm. The militant say, “Shoot first, then ask questions”; I’d say, “Hug first, then ask questions.”

2.) Don’t speak in a way that lacks empathy; instead be emotionally supportive first, before going into problem-solving mode. Yes, this is basically the same as #1, but I never quite understood the difference between Commandment #1 and Commandment #2 in the 10 Commandments. Since we only have one God (#1), then there by definition are no other Gods (#2), right? Isn’t that a tautology? Must-read-what-Rashi-said.

3.) Don’t freak out yourself as well. When everyone is in freak-out mode, it becomes hard to solve a problem. This one is harder than it seems–freaking out can be contagious. It’s contagious, just like yawns are, but it’s the converse: while yawns get you to recharge your energy, freaking out gets you to spend all your energy.

4.) Don’t GOOGLE the problem under any circumstances (while you’re still in freak-out mode!!!!) All the exclamation points are there on purpose!!!! Googling will likely result in answers like, “This could be a symptom of a fatal disease,”–never telling you that this symptom is serious in only 0.00001% of all cases and statistics show that you’re most likely to be in the 99.99999%. Please, some Silicon Valley genius, invent an online symptom analyzer with probabilities please, already? Pretty please, with Splenda-only whip cream on top!

5.) Don’t stay too serious and tense; that only accentuates the nervousness. Humor improves any situation, really. OK, not all situations (“A man is sitting shiva, and…”) and not all jokes (“did you hear the one about Eric Clapton’s baby?”) so be careful. But lightening the situation and keeping it all in perspective and calming is only a good thing.

6.) Do hug her (or him!) and use your charms to calm her (or him!) down. That’s what she (or he!) wants. Even if she (he!) is a gender-ambiguous XXY, the human desire is the same: when you’re in freak-out mode, the FIRST thing to do is to be calmed down and reassured that everything’s OK.

7.) Do remind her that every new parent gets freaked out over every little thing. There’s a reason why this particular stereotype exists. And of course, not all stereotypes are true: I personally and profoundly proved false the stereotype that Ivy Leaguers are smart!

8.) Get into problem-solving mode–but make sure you do so calmly. Find the right person to call, but the key is to keep the slow and calm pace. For example, don’t rush to make an appointment that very second; take it calmly and get an appointment at the next available slot.

9.) Appeal to your friends who have experience raising children. They’ve been through it all, and have war stories. Don’t just read them, but share their experiences with your wife. They’ve all probably offered to help but you ignored their offers. Now is a good time to take them up on it.

10.) Use trusted and reasonable sources of high-quality online information to find reassurance about staying calm. Kveller is a great example. Of course I’m very objective.

Remember, this advice holds true if it’s for something obviously minor. If it’s not obviously minor, you might want to remember that you preprogrammed 911 on your mobile phone for a reason. But life would be oh so much easier if everything was black and white. More commonly, there’s the middle-ground: the, “probably minor, but there’s a reasonable chance it’s something major.” That’s the case when you might want to stay calm and then, when you can, get a second or third or fourth professional opinion. Every family has its version of the “so-and-so’s doctor didn’t recognize the problem,” narrative for some great-aunt of yours. You don’t want to be that great-aunt one day.

Note: this analysis is purely hypothetical. I don’t mean to suggest that I’ve been involved in any sort of freak-out regarding a fear that the baby’s weight was just a sliver lower than the average weight of all babies, including racially different and only formula-fed babies (who tend to get fat very quickly!), only 10 days after birth. No, not at all. This was purely hypothetical. 100%. Completely. Of course.

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