When my babies were small, I absolutely hated to hear them cry. I thought my job was to meet all their needs until they were big enough, or old enough to meet them themselves. I was an Attachment Parent all the way!
Especially with my second child. She was my “high-need” baby. For the first 6 months of her life she was either in the sling or sleeping next to me. She nursed all night long sometimes and was happy as long as she was in physical contact with her mama. I was SO THANKFUL for Attachment Parenting, which confirmed my suspicion that if I didn’t wear her and co-sleep with her, she would be miserable 24/7 and I might not survive her infancy!
Once she was mobile, the constant physical contact decreased, but she continued to be intense. She could go from 0-60 in no time flat, and I was determined to be there to soothe her and meet her needs. While I was exhausted, I was a little smug as well. Not many other mothers could handle such an intense, demanding child!
I had studied Developmental Psychologist Erik Erikson’s work in college and was sure that as my children resolved their “developmental issues” like trust vs. mistrust, they would move on. I would have done my job to give them an excellent foundation. I still believe that in many ways this is what happened.
Then I read Janet Lansbury’s blog post “7 Reasons To Calm Down About Babies Crying”, and it was so thought-provoking for me. It made me think that perhaps my focus on resolving all of my sweet girl’s unhappiness was not so useful to her. Maybe, in fact, it took away some of her own power and self-determination.
At 16 we have a lovely, smart, caring, powerful girl who is terrified of her own grief and sadness. The intensity of her feelings has resulted in interventions I never imagined facing. In some ways we are doing remedial emotional management education. What I believe now is that by meeting her every emotional need as an infant and young child, I wasn’t allowing her to learn how to process them herself.
Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t an “I’m a bad mom and it’s all my fault that I have a teenager who has had struggles” post. We do the best we can with the knowledge and support we have at the time.
I do wonder though, that if I had had the perspective offered by Magda Gerber and her approach to child-rearing, or if I’d simply listened to my own mother and accepted that “sometimes babies cry and that’s ok”, maybe my sweet girl would know that her feelings, while intense, will not hurt her. She can get through them. She would know that her mama believes in her strength and power to get through the most difficult situations, and while I will always be there if needed, I won’t get in the way.
“Parents have asked me, if crying is a child’s language, isn’t she telling us to do something? My answer is, not necessarily. It’s different from when a grown-up cries. It’s the baby’s mode of self-expression. Since an infant cannot talk, crying is the only way she can express her feelings or discomfort.
Allowing a child to express her feeling positive and negative, is a healthy way to prepare her for life. If you accept your child’s feelings, you will help her accept them, too.” – Magda Gerber, Your Self-Confident Baby
Jane Roets is a mom, wife, daughter, sister, singer, dancer, teacher, friend. All of the roles in her life endlessly bring her back to exploring who she is and who she wants to be. With 3 children, 14, 17 and 20 she began “Out of the Nest”, a blog about the process of launching them, but it turned into one about launching herself as a person and a professional.
(Photo by Flashbax Twenty Three on Flickr)