My Baby’s Tears Don’t Bother Me (Gentle Parenting is not “Afraid of Tears” Parenting)

Dear Daughter,

One of the common misconceptions about “Gentle parenting” and “attachment parenting” is that I’m afraid of your tears. Your tears don’t bother me. They don’t stress me out. They don’t manipulate me. They aren’t a nuisance. They are not a problem to be solved or a situation to be avoided.  They are also not something to be ignored.

They are a reflection of your emotional experience and they are the communication that you use now when you are small and have yet to find your words.

There is a psychology term called “enmeshment” where a person is unable to separate their emotional experience from that of another person. We are not enmeshed.  When you cry because you are afraid I do not act as a mirror of your fear. When you cry because you have a want that feels so BIG and HUGE that it feels so much like a need, I do not act as a mirror for that want. I understand that what you really need is to be held and comforted. I act as an adult that understands both your emotional experience and the accurate context surrounding your fear or your want. I do not need to feel your fear for you, and I do not need to trivialize or ignore your feelings.

On the other end of the spectrum is disengagement, where a person’s boundaries are so closed that there is no opening to ask for help. We are not disengaged. When you cry because you are afraid, I am there to provide you with the context surrounding your fear. I am there to soothe you until you are able to internalize my soothing voice and my open arms. Until you learn from the context that I provide, and until you can find that peace inside.

My job is to be there for you as you experiences your physical and emotional growth. 

My job is to provide a consistent loving nurturing safe place. 

My job is to create and provide an environment that supports sleep and a healthy diet.

My job is to provide you with opportunities and to expose you to experiences. It is to structure an environment that you can learn in, grow in, and discover in. 

My job is not to force you to sleep. My job is not to force you to overcome a fear or let go of a need. My job is not to force you to clear your plate. 

My job is not to change your emotional state. It is to provide you with the safe environment to experience what you are feeling and to work through it so that YOU can change your emotional state and re-find your balance.

If you are afraid of the pool, as your brother was, it is not my job to laugh and throw you in to learn to swim or drown. It is not my job to cower away from something that I know to be harmless because your tears convince me there is something to fear. It is my job to breathe deep and hold you near and let you know that I understand both your fear AND the harmlessness of the situation that you face. Both are equally valid. 

This is not an easy job. This is not a fast job. This is not a job with a clear beginning or end. This is a relationship.

I am not afraid of your tears because I understand why you are crying. I understand that right now you are ten and a half months old. I understand that you are teething. I understand that you are so small and the world is so big and overwhelming. I understand that you need my comfort now so that you can internalize all of the things that you need to know in order to comfort yourself.

Not with a cupcake. Not with a shiny toy. Not through angry dismissal of your own emotions. And not through clinging to me as though I am a raft in dangerous waters. But through human closeness that mirrors the calm safe place that you will become as you grow.

I am not afraid of your tears because they are not something to fear. They are simply a sign that you need to be held close right now so that YOU can learn that your tears are nothing to fear and nothing to hide in the darkness as you cry alone.

I’m not afraid of your tears little one, so go ahead and cry them on me and learn how to be big enough and strong enough that the little tears of a little baby are nothing to fear at all.

There’s nothing to be afraid of, love. It’s okay to cry. I’m strong enough to hold you near.

<3 Mama 

  5 comments for “My Baby’s Tears Don’t Bother Me (Gentle Parenting is not “Afraid of Tears” Parenting)

  1. Linda
    March 12, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    I love how you make the distinction that parenting is a relationship, not a job. I need to internalize these words because so many times I just ‘want to make it better’ even though my job is only to be there and provide comfort. Thanks for this post! Spot on as always. :)

  2. Ashley
    March 12, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    Thank you so much for this. I needed this today. My 6 month old daughter’s second tooth is coming in and has been very uncomfortable the last couple days and I feel like I’m trying so hard to come up with a fix but I know there isn’t one. I just have to get through it I told myself last night. After reading this I realize instead of trying this and that maybe I should just hold her tight and we’ll get through it together. Thank you!

  3. Louise
    March 12, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    I really love your perspectives on parenting, but here I’m a bit puzzled. Reminds me of a post you had about want and need I think, where you wrote something similar. Do you not mean a parent should interfere with the childs emotions? When my two year old is upset because she can not get to do something she wants to very much (like, drink apple juice for every single meal) and she cries with frustration because I can not let her do that, should I just let her get more and more upset and not do anything to bring her thougts to another subject? Talking about how we can have juice sometimes but not right now just makes her more and more unhappy. I guess she’s a bit young that I should expect her to see reason all the time althoug she very ofthen does. Talking about something completely different that she finds interesting calms her quite fast. Is your take that I should say: you can not have juice, I am here for you while you cry about not haveing juice? To give her exercice in controling her own emotions? I’m not sure I expect a two year old to be able to do that by her self?

    • sarah
      March 12, 2013 at 5:43 pm

      Louise,

      I’m all for distraction and helping move a young child past an emotion that they feel very strongly over a “small” situation. Distracting a child from juice by saying “I know you’re very upset about the juice, it’s okay to be upset about the juice, now let’s go find something else that we can do instead” is different from “I can’t deal with your crying about juice so I’m going to cave in and give you juice. Or ice cream! Or a toy! Or cake!” In one situation it’s modelling healthy behavior of moving past an upset. In the other situation is is the parent unable to cope with the tears and using a distraction to stop a child from crying.

      A two year old’s brain isn’t developed enough to have that sort of self control where they can simply deal with a disappointment in an adult-like way.

      There are healthy distractions and unhealthy distractions. In an adult it would look like “I cannot deal with this strong feeling right now, I need to distance myself from the event so that I can calm down and think more clearly” vs. “I am upset, I need to eat a cupcake now.”

      I think I need to edit the part about distractions and make this letter a bit more clear. Teaching our children to move past disappointment is important. :)

      I think I missed the point that I was trying to make- that there’s a misunderstanding of Attachment/Gentle Parenting that says our goal is to have our children never cry, and that we raise spoiled brats that can’t deal with disappointment as a result because we “cave in” to their demands and give them whatever they want.

      -Sarah

      • Louise
        March 14, 2013 at 2:23 am

        Ahh, I see. Wonder if that misunderstanding stems from when they are small babies and everything they want is also a need, so they get it.

        I remember when I first realised my daughter was old enough to want something she did not need. Ach! So much more complicated. :-)

        But I do struggle a bit if she cries because it feels Wrong. I’ve still got the newborn instinct telling me that my baby is crying and that needs to be *fixed*. Although with a different intensity I realise now that I think about it.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: