Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Letting Him Cry

"You need to let him cry sometimes."

I can't tell you how many times I was told that when my son was a tiny baby. What I found most irritating about the comment was the assumption that, somehow, I had found a way to have a baby who didn't cry or that if I didn't let him cry enough, he was somehow going to forget how to cry. The truth was that he cried all the time. I just held him while he cried or once I figured out what he was communicating, I would do what he needed me to do and he would stop crying. Just because he didn't cry much during that person's visit, didn't mean that I was somehow magically stopping my child from crying all of the time. (In fact, before we figured out exactly how much I needed to eliminate from my diet for my son's reflux, we went weeks where the nightly routine involved my husband holding my son for one or two hour increments in which he cried the whole time just so I could lie down for an hour or two.) I always viewed his crying as his way of communicating with me and whether I "let" him cry or not, the tears always came because he always needed to communicate. He would just stop crying when it was clear that his message had been communicated.

However, there are times when I was and am "okay" with my son's tears. There were times when, as bad as I feel about how upset he is, I knew that his discomfort is necessary and only temporary and I communicate that to him by "letting him cry." For example, he always cried when I changed his diaper for the first three months, when I bathed him for about the first six months, when I showered, when he was in his car seat, (a few desperate times) when I put him down because I needed to get some emotional space away from his tears, and, recently, he has been crying when I brush his teeth, occasionally when its bath time, and, on rare occasions, when he wants treats instead of his regular food at mealtimes. What has made those times more acceptable to me is that even though I feel bad for his discomfort, I am not ignoring what he is communicating or irnoring the discomfort he feels. Instead, I am communicating to him that there are some things (like safety, hygiene, or nutrition) are more important than temporary discomfort. I really have no guilt about "letting" him cry when I feel I need to communicate those kinds of messages to him. I also don't leave him alone to cry during those times and I don't do things to intentionally push him. I don't force him to bathe every day just to "make him get over it," when he is having a tough time giving up the control needed to let me bathe him, I only do it two or three times during the week. I didn't take extra long showers while he cried in the other room "to show him who was boss" (as was suggested by some people I knew), I took a quick shower, usually with him in the bathroom with me while I talked him through it. If "letting him cry" tore me up inside or made me feel guilty or awful, I always knew that I should be doing what it is I needed to do to ease his tears. My own guilt is my litmus test about when it was important for him to cry.

The strongest message I can send him about what is important is to show how responsive I can be to his cries when there is something he is communicating that I can and should do something about it. If he is hurt, I respond to his cries (even if he isn't very hurt and mainly needs my attention because I've let myself be too distracted with other things like cleaning the house or talking to other people). If it is something I can feel good compromising about, then I feel fine compromising. (For example, when he wants mango at lunch instead of oranges.) By showing him that I will be there with him and will listen to him even when he is communicating discomfort and displeasure, I hope that I setting the stage for him to continue to communicate with me when he does use words as his primary form of communication. Sometimes, I do think its okay to cry, but only when there is a genuine, good reason why the cry is necessary. I think that is a very important lesson. How could I communicate THAT to him, if I didn't first respond to his first forms of communication?

Thanks for reading,


Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I am exactly the same way with my son. I find it really insulting and heartbreaking when people advise "letting him cry" regardless of the reason for the crying.

Renee :) said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks Shawna, that's a lovely post. It reminds me of my mother-in-law, who would often say of my very young baby: "we don't mind if she cries, she needs to exercise her lungs." The clear implication was that she didn't think I should be picking up my then-three-week-old baby every time she cried. My response was always "Well, I mind, and clearly she minds."

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