Friday, February 27

connected by tears

I wanted to update y'all on the crying experiment. I thought I had better post about this before I forget the details, as I'm sure I've already done with a few of them.

The most significant thing for me about the crying periods of the first week was the lack of tears. Once I realised what was going on, it broke my heart.

Although hearing her cry has been a real challenge for me, and something that still alternates between - 'I'm used to it', and, 'I can't let my baby girl cry any more' - I was crestfallen to see no tears.

I realised that she needed to learn to cry. I had stopped her so completely the first 9 months of her life that she didn't really know how to cry. She yelled a lot and made crying noises, but there were very little tears.

However, I think that some of that had to do with raging. I think she needed to scream and thrash about, as much as release tears. It was like she was exorcising something from within her. Once she did that a few times, she hasn't seem to need it any more.

So, the decrease in aggression has continued. A fabulous result of this.

Is she sleeping better? The million dollar question. Yes and no. Well, you see, she still goes to bed between 11:15-midnight and finally wakes at 8-8:30am. And she wakes up about 4-6 times during the night. I know, tell me about it.

However, the significant change is that we go to bed together with her awake. I let her fall asleep when she's ready. She's been fantastic at realising it's bed time, and I don't go until I know she's ready, so it doesn't take her long. Also, I don't sing, rock her, give her her soft toy, or give her more milk/water. Things I used to do.
Sometimes she needs a little cry before falling asleep, but mostly now she doesn't, and is asleep within 15 minutes. (we bedshare in case I hadn't made that clear).
Also, although she still wakes loads, when she sleeps it seems deeper to me. There is a significant reduction in restlessness.

Her irritability is greatly reduced. Where she went in-and-out of irritability throughtout an entire day, now it's perhaps a portion of the day. I mean, she still isn't a great sleeper, so tiredness remains an issue. Overall, a big improvement.

So they're the big behavioural changes.

Let me make a couple of things clear, because I received a few messages that made me think that there was some confusion with this whole letting cry theory.

Firstly, although it's just semantics, I use two phrases differently to to indicate the difference in approach - letting cry and allowing to cry.

Letting a baby cry is when you do not respond. Either you don't approach them, acknowledge them, hold them, or when you let them cry themselves to sleep alone.
Allowing a baby to cry is a WHOLE different thing. It's giving your baby the right to release emotions in a safe and loving environment. You definitely always respond. You almost always hold them. You just don't try to stop the crying.

Think of it like this. A friend starts to cry. You either ignore it, head on over and try to distract her or do anything to stop her crying, or you say nothing but hug her and allow her to release her emotions. The first two approaches are for YOUR benefit, the latter is for your friend.
Cheering up, changing the mood, and so on, ought to come after a good cry.

Likewise with our children.

The second thing is that this isn't an exact science. I mean, we're talking about human nuances, playing it by ear, intuition, emotions, courage, etc.
I read a few anecdotes on Solter-focused sites, and they often say, 'he had a good cry and then was happy and relaxed'. Well, that's all well and good, but I don't believe it's always so nice and tidy. There's nothing less tidy than emotions!

For me, I don't always have the courage to let it go on for as long as it might need to go on. But I don't put pressure on either one of us to 'finish the cry'. I stop when I feel it's okay to do so. I think Solter says that sometimes they could cry for an hour, but I'm not comfortable with that. Also, when sobbing can give a person a headache, then I don't think it's achieved a healing purpose. Or at least, not properly.

Also, she has been teething and going through development changes. She isn't crawling (10mths old) but wants instead to walk. Of course, it's too early so there is tons of frustration this week. A bigger need to cry for sure. But it has meant that a good cry hasn't made as dramatic an impact afterwards. The frustrations soon appear.

I have found the best time to allow her to cry is before a nap or bedtime. That's when I am most confident that she needs to just cry. I think we've all experienced the weepy whining child just before sleep. I've always dealt with this as poor baby is tired and needs me to make it better. Rather than realising that those tears were the tangible stress that needs releasing before they can settle down to sleep, and before they can have a truly rested sleep.

So....... for me, here is my big moment.

This happened just a couple of days ago. She had had her big cry lying on the bed and was now in my arms lying on my chest having little weeps. It was so amazing. I could sense how much she needed this. How she was okay, that she just needed to release. She lay there, relaxed, knowing that she was safe to cry.

That's when I felt the warmest connection. I knew that I was laying the foundation for her to really trust me. Possibly more with this than with everything else I did for her. I was letting her know that I accepted all her emotions. That I didn't judge her for her tears or rage. That letting emotions out was good and natural. That her mama will always be there ready to hear her, unconditionally.

That's when I knew that this was the most powerful thing I could do to foster a connected relationship. I have always hoped that we would be a close mother and daughter pair. That she would come to me with hurts and fears and just thoughts as she matured.

This is it. This is what I am to do to help shape that relationship.

If as a baby she can cry and rage with nothing from mama but love and acceptance, then as a toddler she can cry and scream and know that I accept that as her truth. As a pre-teen, she can have meltdowns as often as she needs them knowing I'll be there if she needs to talk about it afterwards or just to take her to the ice-cream shop. And then, as a teenager, she'll have the trust to come to me when she is troubled and confused.

Growing up, I had a mother who was very uncomfortable with displays of negative emotions. She was impatient and dismissive of me when I was upset. Not an ideal situation for a sensitive child like me.

Unlike her, I accept my own baby's emotions. I just believed that a good parent soothed away the tears. Perhaps subconsciously I was trying to do everything for my baby that my mother hadn't done for me.

Now I'm learning what precious gifts are those tears.

Me and the Wildflower, we are connecting by them.

image: google search


  1. Beautiful, wise words. How old is your dear one? DS is now 27 months. For the first 15 months of his life he cried all.the.time. We practice attachment parenting, so stayed with him through it all, but it was really hard. Feeling so helpless to ease his pain. Things improved over the next 7 months, but only slightly. It wasn't until he was talking in full sentences and we did the hard work of night-weaning that a flip switched and there was more joy than tears in our daily life at last. But, had we not been committed to sticking by his side when it was really hard to do so all those months, I don't think we would have seen the blossoming of a "spikey" child into an affectionate, loving one.

  2. Great to hear Mon and beautifully told. So glad to hear things are improving on every front. Re: the walking thing. You mentioned it's too early for her to walk? Did you mean she's not able to? If she's actually attempting to walk, by all means let her go for it. I know many a parent whose child bypassed crawling and went straight to walking. Good for Izzy!

  3. That's so lovely to hear jumbleberry, how you loved him and stuck with it. It's not easy hearing them cry. The Wildflower is 10mths old.

    Hi Jenn - no, she isn't able to, too young. I would never stop her! As if i could! lol

  4. I wish I'd been able to read your weblog when my daughter was a baby.

    I have the same comment as Jenn about walking. Do you mean too early for her or too early in general? My child only crawled for a month or so before she started walking at 9 months. On the other hand, if her legs aren't strong enough, I can understand her frustration.

  5. No, she doesn't remotely have the balance or even the walking stride. She just wants to stand all the time, totally refusing to crawl now.

    As an aside, I've also heard that starting too young isn't great for the legs, but she has very strong legs.

  6. Arg! Just got disconnected and lost my way-to-verbiose comment. Will try and condense here...

    I like your distinction between letting and allowing. With my first it was more about allowing, but then with my twins (just 19 months later) it often had to be just letting, which broke my heart, but I simply could not respond to everyone's needs. This is one of my main complaints about all the attachment parenting literature that I read - it served me well with one, but with the twins I just constantly felt I was falling short, because there was no way to respond to everyone's needs in the way I would have liked. Ah well, karma all around I guess. We'll see how it all turns out - my hope is that their bond with each other will outweigh the pain of not being the center of my attention.

    I also think your point about allowing negative emotions is so important. Here in Los Angeles, where law of attraction teachings ala The Secret are so popular, I feel there is a lot of 'forced positivity' that doesn't really serve anyone, especially kids, very well. Just my POV:-)

  7. Those are some amazing improvements. I'm sure you are relieved (and maybe even a tiny bit more rested?).

    I think at certain ages children need a little push-back from parents in terms of "negative" behaviors and boundary setting. I'm not sure I want my 6-year-old to rage every time he feels frustrated. (But then if the child is shown early that his or her emotions are valid and that the parent is trustworthy, then healthy expression will come along.) But in general I think you have found a powerfully empathetic and compassionate thing here.

    I also wonder about flower essence therapy if you're seeing that she is trying to process something, especially if it is connected to a less-than-optimal birth.

  8. What a great post...and I totally agree. Babies just like ourselves need somesort of release. Crying is a good and refreshing purge. If suddlenly we ignore them and turn our backs to them when the have a cry release.. they soon learn to feel that crying is bad... or being frustrated is bad. Kudos to you for being such and allowing and selfless mama!

  9. I have read about allowing the tears and people I know who have tried the approach have really seemed to benefit. I tried working with a Solter coach but didn't 'gel' with her airy fairy approach. She didn't seem to understand that though my daughter needed to cry, she didn't. That I couldn't 'make' her cry (well, I can but you know what I mean). I would love Beanie to have a good cry as she is a restless sleeper with frequent wakings and is irritable and whiny during the day. She is into her tantrums in a big way but what do you do when you can't hold them (squirming toddlers don't want to be held) and when they are old enough to change the subject themselves!
    I'm so glad it's working for you by the way. What a relief that must be.

  10. I commented at the machine ate my comment!

    IT was about my son walking at 9.5 months - from nothing to walking in 2 weeks. Crawled at 15 months. Sat up at 12 months. Peculiar child lol!

    And babysign being a great way to encourage comminication, prevent frustration for them and you, and reduce tantrums. IT was fab, and we started it around 8 months.

    *hug* for the crying. I read a lot of books sat on the floor, arm through the cot, patting his back whilst he cried. Just being there.

    *grumble at google*

  11. yes! i still do this with my almsot 6 year old. whenever he needs it, but it seems that every 6 months he gets a high fever for a day. at first i didn't know what they were about. i worried a bit, but then as i just sat with him and held him i realised that he was processing and releasing loads of toxic emotions. he lies in my arms and cries, bellows and as he does he speaks his truth. he grieves for past losses etc. it's really powerful. i never try to stop him and i rarely even say a word. i just sit and honor him and what he's feeling. i listen...and sometimes i cry with him, but mostly i try to keep my feelings out of it because he needs it to be about him i suppose. when he's finished releasing the fever subsides and he's right as rain.
    anyway, just thougt i'd throw that into the mix.

  12. This is beautiful Mon. Unconditional acceptance of all the Wildflower's emotions is such a powerful gift of love to be giving her.

    I always have found even from the very early days, that my girl has responded strongly to music. Some pieces of music bring her to tears, and trigger powerful emotions that wash over her. Sometimes she just tells me she's crying because "it's so beautiful mama". I'm glad that music provides this opening for her.

  13. Lovely to hear all your thoughts.

    Doc - that is so great, and something to use therapeutically if she needs a cry but can't get going.

    Kat - I will write some more on this, but you can just be near them to support them with your presence. Holding is the ideal, but that applies mostly to babies. And I only hold her about 50% of the time, b/c she likes to kick about.

  14. Beautiful, powerful post Mon! Allowing and accepting Wildflower's every emotion will certainly deepen the trust between you. :)

  15. ::hug:: Such a great post Mon.

    I sometimes still have a hard time dealing with someone else's negative emotions - feeling awkward or unsure or frustrated. I admire that you are able to support and connect thru those emotions.



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