This may sound like the exact opposite advice that I gave in my last post. But really it is a balanced way to approach crying that you can’t attend to right away. Because after all, as great as the baby feels their needs are when they are crying, the mother has needs too, and I’m going to strike a balance in helping her attend both her and the baby’s needs.
|Quick, now! While they're not looking!|
Do you ever find yourself in any of the following situations:
1.) Putting off a need of your own (getting yourself food, going to the bathroom, etc.) because you are trying to avoid making your baby cry as you leave to attend to it.
2.) Going ahead and leaving your baby momentarily to attend to some such need, having caused them to be upset, getting angry at them and saying hurtful things such as, “Geez, kid! You’re fine! Can’t you just calm down?”
3.) Feeling guilt for attending to other needs or chores or feeling as though you are otherwise neglecting your baby.
Now if you are anything like me, you have found yourself in all of these, depending on your stress level or emotional state at the time. And it makes sense that this would stress us out, because we have legitimate needs to fill too, and putting them off too long can actually make us worse parents if it impacts our emotional state. Because I want you to be the best parent possible, I am going to attempt to rid you of these concerns and give you some tools to help you handle these situations so that you can meet both your needs and the baby’s.
First, we need to change our attitude about the crying. I know, I know, I just spent a huge post and a half about not letting our babies cry because it causes them stress and so of course it stresses us when we hear them cry. Let’s pause. While it is important to respond to our baby’s cries, it is also important to note that our immediate response can happen about 80% of the time and the other 20% the baby will be okay if left for a few minutes. Remember our conversation about the brain? That highway we’re trying to build where the baby knows that we will respond immediately can still be there so long as our responsiveness greatly outnumbers the few times it takes us a little longer to get to them.
So perfect! You don’t need to feel guilt about taking a little longer to get to your baby now and then (ideally, when you’re taking care of important needs like bowel movements or water bottle filling) because as long as you are responding as soon as you can the baby can still trust that you’ll be there.
Okay, lady, that’s great and all. But really why can’t my kid just be happy and then I wouldn’t have to worry about this? He is fine, why does he freak out when I leave?
Great questions. Again, assuming you have formed a strong attachment with your baby, it will be perfectly natural for them to be sad when you leave. That’s true for both a quick trip to the bathroom or a longer excursion like going out with your spouse. What you need to do is be okay with this. Allow their emotions. Trying to force the baby to bottle their emotions is even worse than them crying for a bit. We don’t enjoy our child being sad, but we’d rather them express it than keep it to themselves, never to trust anyone.
The question we should be asking is, how do we handle it? I’ll tell you. First, prepare them for your departure. This shows respect. Tell your baby, “I’m going to be leaving for a couple minutes to use the bathroom. I’ll be back as soon as I’m done.” And then leave. They may still be sad, but again, that’s allowed - they don’t want you to leave and it upsets them. Rather than be angry about this upon your return, be empathetic. Sure you know they were “fine,” but really try to get on your baby’s level and understand that it made them really sad when you left, and express that. “You got sad when I left. I’m sorry that upset you! I’m back now, I’m here for you.” And you may find that validating your baby’s feelings like this may help them cry less (just like when you respond quickly to their cries). But no matter how much they cry, support them in their feelings. Allow full expression. While crying when alone is stressful for babies, crying with your support can be cathartic, and they feel better afterward.
This is why taking care of your needs as a parent is so important. It is much harder to have an empathetic response like this on an empty stomach or no sleep. So tell yourself these affirmations right now:
I will be a better parent as I take care of myself.
It is okay for my baby to be sad so long as I support them in their emotions.
My baby can handle hard things the more I empathize with them.
In fact, you may find as you make this a pattern - prepare your baby that you’re going to leave and empathize upon return, that they eventually stop getting upset when you leave because they have learned to trust that you will be back soon! They will be happy just like you wanted! But again, no matter the response your child has, be sure to empathize with and support it. The goal here is not to have babies that never cry, but babies who are responded to and who feel validated in their emotions. That (and not never crying) is what will make emotionally stable children and adults who feel comfortable confiding in you.
Now, since I do like Attachment Parenting, I will say that some folks in that arena will encourage you to wear/carry your baby so that way you don’t have to leave them. If this works for you, great. But for some due to back problems or even the baby not liking the carrier this does not work for everyone. Or, if you’re like me, I preferred to use this method only when we were out and about and not for a solution around the house. Or you may find this works better when they are a tiny baby and not so much when they’re mobile. Or it may depend on the child’s temperament! Every child is different. So you can find a solution that works for you. Whatever you do, if you’re trying to empathize and connect with your baby, you’re doing a great job.
The Carseat Dilemma
I want to give another scenario where this made a huge difference to our family. Our son hated his carseat. Whenever we would need to get in the car, he would instantly get upset and getting him in his carseat was a battle. When he was smaller and still breastfeeding a lot, I would often keep him out and nurse him while my husband would drive, but this was not as effective once he got more mobile. Now he wanted to jump and play all around the car and it was simply unsafe. We knew we had to do something.
At first we did what most of us do: force him in kicking and screaming. None of us liked this, it made us all miserable, and I knew there had to be another way. That’s when I had this epiphany about empathy. I realized that I didn’t need to feel bad about making my child sad to get him in his carseat, because I knew that’s where he’d be safe. But what I could feel bad about - and empathize with him about - was that this made him sad. I could say, “I’m sorry it makes you sad that we put you in here. I know it’s not your favorite.” as well as otherwise prepare him for how long we would be in the car and what he could expect.
It took a few tries, he didn’t settle right away, but eventually he got into his carseat without any struggle at all. We also praised him when he would do that, but never made him feel bad about not wanting to be in there. Again, we allowed full expression of his feelings, and once he felt validated, he was better able to handle the situation. We avoided telling him things like, “You’re fine, calm down - you won’t be in there long anyway,” because these statements do not validate his emotions. And I am proud to say that we are now at a point where he willingly gets in his carseat and now just waves his arm, which means he wants music, and we crank the classical station.
When my son would get upset in the car, we would offer several distractions to try to make him happy: food, songs, toys - sometimes they worked, but most of the time he would remain upset. That is why I feel that we are doing our children a disservice when we distract them - we essentially tell them, “I’m uncomfortable hearing you express your emotions, and so I’m going to try to shut you up with these other things.” We’ve all been there, done that, I’m not judging anyone, I’m merely saying that I believe there is a better way. Now that my sons feelings have been acknowledged, he does enjoy food, songs, and toys in the car, but they work because we validated him first. We acknowledged that this experience made him miserable and we apologized for that. And then once he was calm, he was ready to enjoy his car ride with those things.
We offer distractions all the time: in church, while at friends’ houses, while on the phone, you name it. Once our child makes an unsettling peep we instantly try to make it stop. While sometimes what we offer is appropriate - a teether for a teething baby, for instance - other times this just stifles what our child is trying to tell us - that they need our empathy and connection. This of course is not true all the time, sometimes they are hungry, tired, bored, need to be changed, etc. but if it’s been some time since you looked in your child’s eyes and felt what they’re feeling, then it may be time to do that. I know it has made a huge difference for us and helps us all handle the tears better.
So there you have it: how to let your baby cry without feeling like you’re letting them cry - you don’t ignore it, but acknowledge it fully, and when possible, prepare them for handling stressful situations. Here’s to happier and validated babies and parents!