Babies cry. It is a fact of life. Why? They cry because they need us and their other signals have failed to get our attention. (Yes, babies have lots of other methods of communication–just take a look at some information about infant states.) They cry because they are tired. They cry because they just don’t know what else to do.
As we grow older, we learn to get through life without crying. For boys and men especially, crying becomes not a natural expression of an emotional state but a sign of weakness. Some of us have learned to suppress crying to such a degree that we feel uncomfortable doing it even in front of our most intimate partners.
For women who don’t cry easily, the few weeks after giving birth can be a gift. The hormonal shifts that follow pregnancy leave you in an emotionally vulnerable place we often refer to as the “baby blues.” You might find yourself crying at almost anything (for me, it was a car insurance commercial).
The surprise for many people is that crying feels really good! In the years since my own postpartum outbursts, I’ve learned a lot about the emotional and physical release of crying. It works for adults. It works for kids. And it works best when you can let it happen, without judgment or censoring.
Because of our histories, many of us react strongly to our children crying. We respond to them, but we really want them to stop. This need in us can lead to all kinds of unhelpful responses, from overfeeding to inappropriately expressed frustration (the most severe of which might be shaking or otherwise hurting a baby). (For more on crying, see the Secrets of Baby Behavior blog.)
Embracing crying as a normal part of the spectrum of human expression helps us truly listen to our kids, as infants and as they get older. We fix what we think is wrong–the dirty diaper, the hunger, the boo-boo–and then, if the crying doesn’t stop, we simply hold them.
In the process, we may learn to let go a little more. Who knows–we might even end up crying too.