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.