Tears heal. We all know the feeling of a good cry, especially with the support of someone we love. So why does it feel so awful when our babies and children cry? We can feel drained and exhausted, and even as though we’ve failed as parents. Kate Orson, author of Tears Heal: How to listen to our children, explains how allowing our children to cry can actually be good for them.
We try our hardest to meet our children’s needs, and when they are still crying we feel like it’s our job to get them to stop as quickly as possible. We often judge the success of our parenting by how often our children cry. Why is there such a discrepancy between our own awareness of a good cry and how it feels when our children cry? Why don’t we just relax and accept that sometimes our children need to cry to feel better?
It started when we were children. When we cried our parents probably tried to stop us in some way, by distraction, fixing, or often harsher means. They may have told us things like ‘don’t cry or I’ll give you something to cry about,’ or even hurt us. If we were treated in this way, we may grow up being afraid of our own feelings and of each others. We might hide, or repress our feelings, or use ways to manage them like having a cup of coffee or some ice cream. We encourage friends and family to do the same by offering advice, or trying to fix their problems. Even when we have a conscious understanding of the importance of expressing emotions, we are often subconsciously led to try to fix things instead.
When we become parents, our babies don’t come with a manual and so we often react towards their tears in the same way our parents did. Nobody ever told us that crying is a healing process, a healthy way of releasing stress and tension to feel better. As new parents we do our best to figure out what our baby needs, and then if they are still crying, we will usually attempt to get them to stop by whatever means possible. We feel terrible when our children cry, and our desire to stop them can be so strong it feels like an instinct.
This is where we get confused. Our need to get our children to stop crying is not actually about making them feel better. It’s about us.
When our child’s behaviour triggers strong feelings inside of us, what’s actually happening is that unconscious memories of our childhood are being reactivated. When we have those strong emotions; of feeling overwhelmed by our newborn’s non-stop crying or being unable to bear our children’s tantrum for another minute, it’s our emotional memories that make it so hard.
In my book Tears Heal, I explain step by step how we can heal these difficult moments, so we can simply be there for our children, and listen. You can learn to navigate the most stormy toddler tantrum with calm and ease. The results of listening to tears is amazing. When our children know we will stay warm and connected, even when they are having a hard time they feel safe and heard. They will no longer use their behaviour as a way to tell us they aren’t feeling good. They won’t need to act out when they know we are there to listen to them. Family life can be easier and more rewarding than we ever imagined possible. Parenting can be a healing path we walk together with our children.
Kate Orson is a freelance writer, Hand in Hand parenting instructor and mother. Originally from the UK, she now lives in Basel, Switzerland with her husband the author Toni Davidson, and their four-year-old daughter. She teaches Hand in Hand parenting courses, and offers consultations both online and in person. She has had articles published in Juno, The Green Parent and Smallish, as well as online articles for The Elephant Journal and Mothering Matters – a journal for English speakers in Switzerland.