Have you ever been in this situation: You do everything to soothe your baby but s/he won’t stop crying? Isn’t it the worst feeling in the world? Well here is what happened to me a few days ago: it’s 10:30 pm and I’m in the living room walking with my overtired 9 months old in my arms. As I walk to the bedroom, he starts crying inconsolably. I hold him, cuddle him, nurse him, rock him and sing songs to him. But nothing is working.The crying is breaking my heart and driving me crazy. I want it to stop. As my irritation grows I try to be mindful of my emotions and discomfort. I shift my focus from trying to change my baby’s behavior to feeling my own emotions. By allowing myself to feel my raw emotions, I go from frustration to gratitude and finally feel centered. Here’s how:
1. Feeling the anger and frustration in my body
I am frustrated that my baby is crying. Why is he crying? Why can’t he sleep? Why can’t he do what I want him to do? I feel annoyed by his behavior because it escapes my control. My body is tense, my jaws are clenched, the cries are piercing my ears. The situation is so uncomfortable and I want the crying to stop. Now.
I take a closer look at my irritation, and try to see what lies underneath. I discover that it is not just about my son. It is also about me. Of course I am distressed to see my little boy in tears, but my ego makes it worse by holding each cry against me. Each cry becomes evidence of my personal failure as a mom. Instead of the screams I hear “you are not good enough! You should be able to prevent this from happening!” And now guilt is taking over.
2. Acknowledging the guilt and self-judgement
The mean voice continues: “you could have avoided this situation. You should have given him a nap earlier/ later/ not so long/longer/inside/outside” I am revisiting all my actions to “understand” what I did wrong. As if understanding was going to help my son or myself.
I stop the mean voice in its tracks. This voice is so familiar to me. It loves to use shoulds and coulds. These are a sure sign that I am rationalizing a situation to avoid genuine emotional pain. So what is underneath the guilt?
3. Embracing the helplessness
I see my baby’s tears running down his red distorted face and it hurts. As I scan my body, an army of disoriented butterflies are dancing in the pit of my stomach. My baby’s screams wash me over and I am drowning in the incessant piercing noise of his tears. I have nothing to hang on to. I have now reached the heart of my discomfort: I am feeling helpless.
I am helpless because I cannot soothe him. Him that i love more than anything. This little human being who has no word yet to explain what is wrong. I hold him, cuddle him, kiss him, nurse him but he won’t calm down. Seeing my son in distress and not being to help him is heartbreaking. His helplessness makes me feel helpless.
But as uncomfortable as helplessness is, I know that this is where I need to go. As Pema Chodron says, the way to getting unstuck is to stay with the unwanted emotions. The more we resist them, the more discomfort we experience. So I stay with the helplessness. It is dark and dense. At first It is as if I was spiraling into a bottomless well. But as I allow myself to experience my helplessness fully, my heart and body soften. The chaotic helplessness recedes and makes space for a calm feeling of sadness.
4. Leaning into the sadness
Like a velvety blanket caressing my skin, sadness is now wrapping itself around my tense body. I am sad that I cannot help my baby. I am sad that he is not his usual cheery self and that he is suffering. My silent tears are now merging with my son’s. They bring instant relief.
My son’s suffering reminds me that he is human. Crying and frustration are part of the human condition. As I embrace my own sadness, I feel connected to him. This connection instantly connects me to a feeling of compassion for my son.
5. Feeling compassion for myself and my baby
In Latin “compassion” means “to suffer with”.And this is exactly what I am doing. I hurt as I see my son’s tears. The anger and guilt I experienced at first have now completely subsided. I know my baby must have a good reason to cry. I know that it is not me failing as a mom. His crying is not about me. Maybe he is teething. Maybe he is learning a new skill and he is exhausted and overwhelmed.
I also feel compassion for myself. I am doing my best to be a good mum to him. I accept that I may not be able to do much to make him stop crying. All I can do right now is hold him while he is experiencing big emotions.
6. Accepting the situation
My body relaxes as I accept the situation. My son’s tears are an expression of his humanity. I let him cry in the warm embrace of my arms. I am reminded that it’s ok to cry. I also need to cry once in a while and I always feel better afterwards. There is no need to try to stop it as long as I am holding him.
Why are we so uncomfortable with the expression of strong emotions? Probably because we were never taught that it was safe to do so as children. Most parents are not equipped to handle their own emotions, so let alone their children’s. Not knowing how to deal with our emotions, we distract ourselves from them and avoid them like the plague.
7. Welcoming gratitude
As I realize this I feel humbled by the lesson my son is teaching me. I am grateful that he reminds me that emotions are safe. That grief and joy are two sides of the same coin. We cannot experience happiness if we numb our sadness. At peace, I am now lovingly holding my baby and singing him a song. A few minutes later, he falls asleep, out of sheer exhaustion. I am exhausted too but grateful for the lesson.
What about you? Anything that resonated with you mama? How do you handle your emotions when your baby is crying? Let me know in the comments!
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