Tag Archives: crying is okay

Hear me out

Photo by A National Acrobat via Flickr Creative Commons License

I read an other post last week about CIO from a baby’s point of view. An other account of how any baby left alone to cry will feel sad and lonely and start to distrust their parents.

I have to be honest with you, it drove me crazy, despite the good intentions of the author. I know I am defensive about this. It is just not pleasant to have someone, who doesn’t know you, imply that you harmed or caused suffering to your child. But beyond the defensiveness, I also question the implication for our society, which is already so fearful of emotion, when we are fearful of our infants crying from the get go. Fearful that doing something very natural- crying- causes harm.

The post I read is essentially an argument against CIO. I get that. It is not about crying writ large. Here’s the thing. Eventually most of us learn to fall asleep. I have yet to hear of a first year university student who needs to be rocked to sleep. So it’s not like I think CIO is the only way to help a baby fall asleep. Babies don’t sleep through the night and babies often need help to fall asleep. Furthermore, I totally disagree with using ‘sleep training’ with an 8 week old, for example. We should not expect that an 8 week old should fall asleep on their own and sleep a solid 8 hours– realistic expectations people. But somewhere between 6 months and 2 years I do believe 90% of babies/toddlers are ready to learn how to fall asleep on their own. There are lots of methods to support them to learn this and one does not need to use a CIO method if one does not want to. I call bull on anyone who says if you don’t use sleep training your kid will never sleep. But.

Why are we so afraid of crying? What is it about crying that makes us so uncomfortable?

This post is not so much about the merits or downfalls of CIO or no-cry sleep methods or anything of the sort (though I can’t help but question some of the key assumptions of the anti-CIO philosophy). This post is about our attitude to our baby/toddler/kid’s emotions. I know many a new parent (including myself) that felt like a failure at times because they couldn’t stop their baby from crying. But crying is not a measure of if you are or are not a good parent. And crying is not a measure of whether or not your baby is loved or cared for or has its needs fulfilled. All babies cry. Some more then others.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need a good cry. And sometimes when I am upset the last thing I want is for someone to shush me or tell me everything is okay. I want to express myself. I want to have my feelings. When crying is the only way to communicate, that crying could mean a lot of different things. I’m tired. I’m over stimulated and need to block everything out. I’ve had a long day. Truth is we just don’t know what our babies are thinking. I strongly believe the range of thoughts and emotions for even a young infant are much broader then we sometimes assume.

One of the most interesting things I have heard about older babies who are adjusting to going to daycare or a dayhome is that they often cry when you come to pick them up. They know they are safe with you, so they are releasing the stress and tension from their day of experiencing new and unfamiliar things. They feel safe to cry. Is it not possible that the same could be said for their bed? They feel safe to release the tension from their day knowing that Mommy and Daddy are near by?

Our feelings are a part of who we are. And all of us, from the time we are infants, experience a wide range of feelings. Not all of them pleasant. And I can not accept that experiencing of feeling and emotion is harmful. And I do not accept that a parent that gives a infant the opportunity, in a loving and compassionate way, to feel the full range of emotions is causing harm. Furthermore, I do not believe that experiencing the emotions that can lead to crying (which are actually quite diverse- I cry when I am happy, as well as when I am sad) is synonymous with suffering. I often hear the argument that letting your child cry is letting them suffer. I don’t believe crying = suffering.

As parents, what is the impact on our overall parenting if one of the first messages we hear as parents is this ‘crying causes brain damage’ stuff? (Which I think it total bull, by the way. I wrote about it here.) What does that mean for how we parent when our kid is 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 8 years? If crying is the ultimate harm? The #1 thing to be avoided? I think a lot of us bottle up our feelings rather then letting them out and I wonder if all this focus on the perils of crying just makes that worse.

What is wrong with emotion? Why are we so uncomfortable with emotion?

I am sure there are lots of individual parents who are against CIO that are also wonderful at honoring, accepting and hearing their child’s emotions. I am not saying that to be against CIO = brushing emotions aside. Just as I am sure there are parents who use CIO who do not listen, hear and have compassion for their child’s emotions. Just to be clear, drawing that parallel is not my point. My point is to draw the parallel between the focus of our collective parenting dialogue on the prevention of crying seems to be at least somewhat reflective of our un-comfortability with emotion. Particularly the non-pleasant emotions of the human range of emotions.

What if instead we teach our children that crying is normal? It is something that we do as humans to express how we feel. It is something that we use as tool to let go and move on. It is something that helps us not keep things all bottled up inside. And so when a child cry’s we don’t say, ‘your okay’ or try to fix it. How about we welcome them to express themselves and acknowledge how they feel? How about we treat all crying the same… normal, natural, expressive. Instead of this intense fear that is causes harm. That doesn’t mean you need to use CIO or Sleep training… but it does mean taking a different approach to your child’s emotions. Accepting, acknowledging and hearing rather then preventing, distracting and avoiding.


Update: I made a vague reference to the concept of crying to release tension and in the comments Kelly and I talked more about the idea of some babies releasing tension. Then I saw this timely post by @AskMoxie, who, so far as I can tell, first articulated the tension increaser/tension releaser concept, so I thought I would throw in a link. Check it out.

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