Preparing for childbirth: The delicate dance between pushing out and letting go

Observing a friend struggling with, and complaining about, the last days of her pregnancy –constantly posting on Facebook about how she finally wanted her baby to make an appearance in the “real world,” listing details about all the activities she undertook in order to make this happen ASAP — made me reflect on the delicate dance that childbirth is. 

I get it. I’ve been there.

Ready to Push?

Feeling big — no, huge! Not being able to see my toes anymore, let alone tie my shoelaces. Feeling very swollen in the summer heat and out of breath after walking up the stairs to our apartment on the 4th floor. Rolling around on the mat in my prenatal yoga class feeling like a huge whale. Nights spent sleepless with heartburn, an active baby in the belly, and a bladder that never wanted to go to sleep.  

And then, there is all the excitement about finally getting to meet this tiny human being that you have lovingly and patiently grown in your belly for all these long months. The excitement about becoming a parent — for the first, second, third… time. There are all the people around you, asking when the baby is due — which does not really help or make waiting any easier — and so many other good reasons to finally push the baby out of your belly and into the world. 

But First…  

But there is another side to the story, which tends to be forgotten or at least does not enjoy a lot of spotlight.

A more delicate, more sensitive — even darker — side that might not be as limelight-worthy or Facebook post-worthy…a side, which in my opinion, is just as important as the “push side.”

It is the side that mindfully focuses on letting go.

On gentleness, on feeling, on making space for the baby to come into this world…and making space for what is to come and follow.

On becoming aware of and consciously reflecting what is transpiring inside of us: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. 

Facing Our Feelings

This includes facing our anxieties and deepest fears and doubts about birth and about parenthood, about our ability to “do a good job” at delivering and then protecting, nurturing, and growing this delicate, wonderful new being that we already love more than we could have ever imagined. It may also include acknowledging and confronting our fear of failure, our fear of pain, our fear of loss, and our fear of fear. 

Furthermore, it includes facing the reality that things are (again!) about to change tremendously. That not only our everyday life is about to get the next big overhaul, but also our whole universe: The way we relate to the world, and the way we relate to ourselves is going to drastically change.

It includes coping with our bodies changing — yet again — from the pregnant state to a postpartum state, which will look and feel very different from what we are accustomed to and from what we might actually enjoy or expect seeing and feeling. We might feel empty, tired, depleted, sore, and possibly a far cry from attractive and sexy for quite a while.  

I vividly remember mourning my “empty“ belly for several days following my daughter’s birth. It felt empty and somewhat sad to not feel my baby inside my belly anymore. While I was certainly very happy to finally be able to hold her and cuddle up with her in my arms, I missed this innate and exclusive feeling of connection to her.  

Bringing Together the ‘Pushing Out’ and the ‘Letting Go’

I believe that, in order to consciously and mindfully prepare for birthing our child, it is important to take the time to look at and ideally merge both sides of the equation: the “pushing out” and the “letting go.”  

The tiredness of being pregnant and the energetic eagerness to have baby out of my belly have certainly helped me tremendously in getting over my fear of giving birth and all the pain that would be — and certainly was — involved. However, being mindful, open, and receptive to the side of letting go, creating space, and facing anxiety, doubt and fear — even mourning during this transition — has certainly proven to be very helpful as well. I believe it might be one supportive part in the puzzle of alleviating or possibly even preventing feelings of the “baby blues.” 

So, I’m calling on all expecting moms: Take a deep breath and give yourself a mindful moment — and ideally many more — and some space to merge both ends of the continuum. By doing this, you will be giving your body, mind, and spirit a chance to holistically and soulfully prepare for what is to come instead of forcing it into birthing-action mode.

Photo source

Parenting After a Loss

I lost my sons in May at 20 weeks after a long, hard pregnancy. When I came home to my little girl, 2 1/2 at the time, it was both a relief to be with her and a hardship to be around her.

I’d spent a week in the hospital longing to be with her, unsure of how long I’d have to stay. I would have remained for any amount of time to keep those babies in, but I didn’t know how long that would be. In the meantime, I missed my little girl. It was hard for her to interact with me on a hospital bed where I laid, and tough for her to not jump and be loud in the room where we all would visit.

I came home a mess, walking in the door to a flood of “should have’s” that would never happen now. And then my little girl, she was a constant reminder of what I would miss seeing from my sons. Fingers, toes, little faces, even the color of her eyes. It all haunted me and I’d end up sobbing while trying to pull it together for her.

My guilt of not being able to be the mom I wanted at that time and the sorrow of everything else caused me to really, really rearrange my priorities and accept emotions I couldn’t before. We began to discuss openly how it was ok to be sad, to be angry, to be happy. She would ask about the “two babies” and I could talk to her about it very simply.

We started to see a play therapist for her, who encouraged us to work on labeling our feelings around her. I started to see her as well for the fear of losing Bella. Something I think most parents who lose a baby worry about. We work on normal things like temper tantrums and her flair for the dramatic when it’s time to take a bath :), as well as the processing in her mind of just where the two babies went, what heaven is, why mommy was so sad and still can be some days.

We haven’t handled this all perfect, but we have tried to leave her with less scarring than maybe might have happened.

 

When Relatives Criticize, Transitioning to Stay-at Home Parent, and More at The Attached Family

It’s finally here! This October, in celebration of Attachment Parenting Month 2012, The Attached Family online magazine is focusing on the importance of parent-to-parent support. No matter who we are, where we live, or where we are on our parenting journey, each of us longs to connect with like-minded others:

Who’s Your Support?

Get the inside details on what exactly goes on inside an API Support Group:

The plethora of parenting books and online resources available today are a wonderful resource to parents, but even with the best of Internet discussion forums and teleseminars, there is nothing like in-person parenting support offered by a group of like-minded parents in your community. We all seek out a strong support community: Some of us may find a family or two nearby to share a regular playdate; others may bounce parenting questions off one trusted friend; for many parents, an API Support Group offers what we’re looking for–a group of parents who share the same goals and the same struggles in a society that’s not always friendly toward Attachment Parenting choices.

When Relatives Criticize

American parenting educator and author Naomi Aldort gives sound advice to parents whose relatives disagree with their childrearing choices:

One of the main reasons we find it so hard to inspire respect from relatives and friends is because we seek their agreement. When my children were young, my father used to interrupt every one of my attempts to explain our parenting philosophy; he would say, “That’s rubbish” followed by, “Let me tell you how it works.” He never heard what I had to say. With time, I learned to generate his respect by honoring who he is while keeping my own vision unharmed. I realized that my desire to explain got in the way of granting my father his own thoughts. He needed to be heard and to have his point of view appreciated. My fear that if I showed interest in his ideas I will have to follow them was unfounded, not because he did not wish that I would, but because it was up to me to be the parent of my children.

Don’t Believe Everything in the News

American psychologist Ralph S. Welsh shares why parents need to take media-hyped parenting reports with a grain of salt:

I was horrified to discover the [2010] media attention given to the findings of Prof. Marjorie Gunnoe’s small, twice-rejected-by-peer-reviewed-journals, study on the positive value of spanking children. It gives an extremely bad message to many desperate parents of troubled kids who are stumbling around trying to find the best methods of discipline in dealing with them. Moreover, there is a mountain of data flatly refuting her claims that can be found in thousands of carefully planned and executed studies on the relationship between spanking and later aggressive behavior. Why the media would spotlight this shabby piece of research is beyond me.

Transitioning Home

API interviews Catherine Myers, director of the Family & Home Network:

Many new parents or parents-to-be would like to stay at home with their children but find the transition from a professional career to a stay-at-home lifestyle to be a bit bumpy. I certainly did. I was used to fast-paced days as an investigative news journalist and often nights and weekends as an assistant managing editor. I wanted to stay home after my first baby was born, but I had quite the learning curve as my life slowed to the pace of caring for a baby. I wouldn’t have traded any of those amazing moments of watching my children grow, but it would’ve made for a smoother first few years if I had been more prepared for how life changes with a new baby, especially if you’re a newly minted stay-at-home parent.

Parenting for a Sustainable World: Cultivating a Reverance for Life

API cofounder and author Lysa Parker discusses how Attachment Parenting and conscientious living come full circle:

It wasn’t until I became a parent that I truly understood the deep connection between early childhood experiences and how they affect our relationship to the earth and all living things. In my work with children, I found that many kids seem to have a natural affinity to nature, but this affinity must be nurtured, or it gets buried like so many other gifts.

What is Attachment Parenting? Guest Post by Peggy O’Mara

We are thrilled to feature a guest post by Peggy O’Mara, mother, author, editor and owner of Mothering magazine. Here, she explores the foundations and history of Attachment Parenting, showing how AP became what it is today.

What is Attachment Parenting?

by Peggy O’Mara

Baby slinger
flickr/happykatie

The recent furor in the press over attachment parenting stems from an inherent misunderstanding. Attachment parenting is not permissive parenting. It is not about abdicating authority as a parent, but about responding to the legitimate biological needs of a baby. It is firmly based in the sciences of anthropology and psychology and specifically on the theory of attachment.

THE THEORY OF ATTACHMENT

The theory of attachment originated with psychoanalyst John Bowlby (1907-1990) whose influential 1951 report to the World Health Organization set the first standard for infant and child care:

“The infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.”

Bowlby and others identified the first three years of life as a critical period during which the foundation is set for attachment to self and others. Qualities secured during this period include: trust, empathy, dependency, affection, conscience and optimism. According to Maggie Scharf in Unfinished Business (Ballantine: 1981)

“The ancients well knew that the experience of being in love recapitulates the mother-child relationship in its intimate physical attachment, trust and dependency. It has been shown even in the animal realm that adequate sexual functioning in adulthood depends on satisfactory relations with the mother in infancy.”

LOOKING FOR SCIENTIFIC SUPPORT

When breastfeeding rates doubled between 1972 and 1982, mothers were looking for ways to reconcile the needs of their babies with the popular wisdom of the day. Breastfeeding moms were finding, for example, that their babies wanted to be held a lot while popular wisdom warned that holding was spoiling. Attachment theory reassured these early breastfeeding pioneers that touching and holding were good for babies.

John Bowlby, for example, observed during WWI that babies in orphanages died if they were neither touched or talked to.

Eric Ericksen identified the first year of life as a stage during which we learn to have faith in other people and in the environment. During this time of total dependency, if we receive adequate physical care that is warm, loving and demonstrative, we will learn to trust. On the other hand, if our care is cold, indifferent and rejecting we will learn to mistrust.

Margaret Mead, whose seminal book Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) informed the sexual revolution, observed in her field studies as an anthropologist that the most violent tribes were those that withheld touch in infancy.

Bowlby’s colleague, Mary Ainsworth, was a medical researcher who observed that the indulgence of early dependency needs leads to independence and self-reliance. According to Ainsworth, it is the sensitive responsiveness of the mother that enables the child to explore the environment.

Adult social behavior is related to early experiences in significant ways, according to neurologist Richard Restak. Restak says:

“Physical holding and carrying of the infant turns out to be the most important factor responsible for the infant’s normal mental and social development”

THE CONTINUUM CONCEPT

Further evidence that touch is good for babies came in 1975, from Jean Leidloff’s book The Continuum Concept. In the international best seller, Leidloff describes her expedition to the South American jungle, where she observed the way of life of indigenous natives.

She noticed, for example, that the mothers maintain nearly 24-hour-a-day bodily contact with their young infants, as they go about their daily tasks. Leidloff also observed that the native children are unusually self-possessed and secure and concluded that close physical contact in infancy is beneficial.

DR. BILL SEARS

While doing research for his book The Fussy Baby, Bill Sears, MD, discovered that the more babies were carried, the less they cried. He also found that carrying babies eases breastfeeding and high-need situations.

Sears tells the story of how his wife, Martha, instinctively tried to fashion a baby carrier from a piece of cloth in order to soothe one of their babies. Sears went on to design a baby carrier of his own, The Original Baby Sling.

In response to concerns that holding your baby can lead to an overly dependent child, Sears says that it’s the opposite:

“On the contrary, in our experience and that of others, carried babies actually turn out to be more secure and more independent. Because they have grown through early infancy with a secure home base, these children learn to separate more easily than others and with little separation anxiety.”

ATTACHMENT PARENTING, INTERNATIONAL

Sears published his book, The Fussy Baby, with La Leche League (LLL) in 1985, at a time when he was the most well known of LLL’s physician supporters. He is widely credited with coining the term attachment parenting and wrote a book on the subject in 2001. But, Dr. Sears did not invent attachment parenting.

Two young La Leche League Leaders, Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, were influenced by Dr. Sears and fascinated with attachment theory. In 1987, they heard psychiatrist Elliott T. Barker give a keynote address on “The Critical Importance of Mothering” in which he linked adult psychopathic behavior to extreme disruptions in attachment.

As Nicholson and Parker became increasingly steeped in research on the critical attachment period, they wanted to educate others, and, in 1995 they formed Attachment Parenting International (API).

API’s “principal goal is to heighten global awareness of the profound significance of secure attachment” through education, support and advocacy.

Breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and baby wearing all foster secure attachment because they respond to the baby’s need to be touched and held.

But these are not the practices of attachment parenting and attachment parenting itself is not a practice. It is a philosophy.

There are no rules to Attachment Parenting. It’s simply about acknowledging the legitimate needs of the human baby and trying to meet them as best one can.

JUST INFORMATION

While the roots of attachment parenting are in ancient tribal society and modern science, attachment parenting has no script. It’s about trusting the baby and being responsive. It’s practical and personal. It’s not a contest. It’s just information.

 

Peggy O'MaraPeggy O’Mara founded Mothering.com in 1995 and is currently its editor-in chief. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has lectured and conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League International, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four.

Baby: from Other to Teacher

If you survey mainstream Western baby-care advice from the past two centuries, you’ll see a common theme: the perception that babies are wild beings who need to be tamed in order to be incorporated into family life.

The concept of “otherness” is familiar in the history of humankind – it’s a driving force behind the identification of the great family of people into distinct races, nationalities, religions, etc. While what makes us different is cause for learning and celebration, fear often prevails, and what’s different can be seen as a threat.

What happens when we see the baby as the “other”? Practices like seeking to tame the baby’s needs by delaying physical contact, feedings, and sleep. An effort to distance oneself from the child so as not to identify with him and be manipulated by him. Sadly, these practices, which begin at a time when the need for bonding (not just the baby’s, but equally important – the caretaker’s) is so crucial, can set up a family for a lifetime of “otherness” whether in subtle or more obvious ways.

On the flip side, what happens when we begin to view our babies as our teachers? After all, our babies are most in touch with their individual needs and temperaments, and know how best to meet their physical and emotional needs.

When we view our babies as our teachers, we allow ourselves to experience the world as students, whether having our first baby or our tenth. We can be fully in the moment, not judging our babies but flowing with them. We open our eyes and hearts to subtle cues we might otherwise miss. We lay a solid foundation for our relationship with our children, which allows for deeper levels of connection and intuition.

For me, attachment parenting was the path that allowed me to see my baby as my teacher, and not the other way around. Every day I gain greater insight about my own limitations, and use my reverence for my daughter to stretch myself, so that I can be the mother she deserves.

Making the Best Sleep Choices for my Family

This week someone got in touch with me to talk about a new study in the journal Pediatrics, which suggests that there’s no long-term harm associated with certain methods of sleep training. These methods use controlled crying in order to encourage babies to fall asleep on their own. They followed two groups of babies at seven months – one of which used sleep training techniques, and one of which didn’t. They followed up with these groups at six years old, and found no statistical differences. Their emotional health, behavior and sleep problems were the same. As well, the mothers’ levels of depression and anxiety were the same.

Many of the newspaper headlines around this article suggested that this means that sleep training is okay, or recommended. These two methods, when practiced with seven-month-olds, don’t appear to cause brain damage, so why not use them?

I have two children, who are now four and seven years old. The days of being up all night with a baby are currently behind me. I remember them all too well, though. And I remember how I handled them. One of the eight principles of Attachment Parenting International is ensuring safe sleep, physically and emotionally. I tried to do that, by keeping my babies close to me at night, and responding to their needs. I didn’t do this because I was afraid of causing them brain damage, I did this because it’s what worked best for my family.

Day 16

The truth is that many, if not most, parents go through periods where they’re not getting enough sleep. We all handle this in different ways. This is as it should be, because every baby is different, and every family is different. Each child will learn to sleep independently on a different timeline. Even with my own two children, I’ve seen very different temperaments and developmental paths. As a result, I don’t believe there’s any single answer when your baby is keeping you up at night, including sleep training.

I also don’t believe that I should do something simply because it isn’t harmful. There are many things that simply aren’t right for my family, even though they’re safe. For example, I have rules about not eating food on the couch. This isn’t because my children will be damaged if they eat on the couch, it’s because I don’t want to clean it. In the same way, I have always known that I didn’t want to let my babies cry themselves to sleep. It’s not about avoiding harm, it’s about making the choice that I feel is best for my family. Listening to my babies cry wasn’t best for me, or my family.

As well, I think it’s important to point out something about this study. It looked at two very specific sleep training methods, used with seven month olds. It did not look at all methods, and it did not look at four month olds or two month olds or even younger babies. We can say that there aren’t any apparent negative long-term effects in this case, but this doesn’t mean that would be the case for any sleep training method with any baby.

There were hard nights as the parent of an infant, but looking back I can honestly say that I’m happy I didn’t let my babies cry it out. It wasn’t for my family. And one study can’t change that.

What methods have you found effective to help everyone in your family get enough sleep, other than using “cry it out”? And do the results of this study change your opinion on the method?

Helping Older Kids Adjust to a New Baby

My older son was 2 years and 8 months old when his little brother was born.  I’d agonized for a long time about child spacing, and was worried about how Sol (my first born) would handle the addition to the family.  We’re 3 months into being a family of 4 and I’ve learned a lot that has made the transition much smoother than I expected.  So I’d like to share a little list of things I wish I’d known before baby Ezra was born. (With some pictures of the new brothers thrown in for good measure.)  A lot of these might be obvious, but they weren’t to me, and have helped maintain peace in our house!

1. Talk about the new baby a lot before they are born!  Around the time I really started showing and going to midwife appointments more often (probably around 28 weeks) we started reading a book that lined up with what our little guy was going to experience.  We planned to deliver in the hospital and to breastfeed.  There are lots of great books out there for families planning to homebirth, too!  We also made sure to choose an age appropriate book.  We changed the name of the baby in the book to Ezra and read that thing Every. Single. Day.  We talked about family members and friends who had recently had babies, pointed out little babies in the grocery store, and watched videos online of babies cooing and nursing and sleeping.  When the day came for Ezra to be born I had labored most of the night and knew we’d be going to the hospital sometime that day.  We told Sol it was time for Ezra to be born and he got to pack his bag for his Aunt’s house.  He remembered that we were going to the hospital and that we would call him when Ezra was born.  He knew he would get to play with his cousins and eat cookies and have a sleepover.  And he knew that we’d ‘Be right back.  Sol hold baby Ezra.’

2.  Let the older sibling help with the baby.  At first I didn’t really want Sol to help hold Ezra, or help change his diaper, or help give him a bath.  I was worried he would hurt him on accident.  I also wanted him to just enjoy his brother, not do the ‘work’ part of having a baby in the house.  Then I realized that ‘helping’ with the baby was very meaningful for Sol.  It made him feel proud of himself and more connected to Ezra.  It also helped him do something WITH mommy, instead of mommy doing even more without him.  So I made it work.  It took a little extra effort and patience, but it was worth it.  I taught Sol where our cloth diaper stash is and let him bring me one every time he wanted to.  I moved from a rocking chair to the couch for nursing the baby, so that Sol could sit right there with us.  We practiced bouncing Ezra together in his bouncy seat and talked about how babies only like to be bounced gently and not too fast.  I let Sol get in the tub with me and the baby and wash him gently with a cloth.  And now he is such a great big brother.  He tells people who come up to see the new baby to ‘Only touch him gently!”  And as soon as Ezra so much as makes a fussy sounding peep Sol runs to find my nursing pillow.  I don’t require him to do anything, but his natural expression of love and interest in the new baby is to help.

3.  Put your older child higher on your ‘to do’ list.  My first thoughts when Ezra would go down for a nap went a little something like this: “Okay, I need to get the laundry switched or we are going to run out of diaper inserts in the middle of the night.  I’ve got to get online for a few minutes and pay that bill.  And then I need to make a grocery list so hubby can go to the store for me tonight.  And then I need to sit down and drink a big glass of water.  Oh! I should probably call my mom, too, she needs an update on the baby.”  Sol would have been occupying himself so beautifully and using his words all day instead of melting down and I would totally skip over him when I had a baby-free minute!  He was being so great, that it was easy to just let him keep doing his thing.  But I found that this ended in disaster for Sol in the end.  He would run out of patience, get angry at Ezra for monopolizing mom, and act out to get the attention he really needed.  So now whenever Ezra goes down for a nap  the first thing I do is something with Sol.  We sit and read some books.  We wrestle for awhile.  We get out the paint and get messy.  We make banana bread together to surprise Dad when he gets home from work.  Sometimes we just sit together on the porch and watch the cars go by.  I am never going to look back on these years with two young children and say “Man, I wish I had kept up with the laundry better.”

4.  Get out of the house!  When Ezra was born I had pretty much everything I needed.  I had kept Sol’s baby clothes and diapers, my sister in law had handed down her bassinet, etc.  So instead of buying me more baby stuff I didn’t really need, my mom bought us a big sandbox and sand toys.  She set it up when she came to visit after Ezra was born.  That thing has been such a life saver!  After Sol’s nap we go out there and he plays with his trucks and buckets in the sand and I put Ezra in the bouncy seat in the shade right by us.  Sometimes I pretend to make a sand pizza and gobble it up with Solomon, sometimes I sit quietly and guzzle an ice water, and sometimes I even (gasp!) make a phone call.  Some days we walk over to a little park by our house.  I put Ezra in the sling and let Sol go wild with the other kids.  We have a snack and look at bugs and Ezra sleeps through the whole thing.  Getting out of the house makes the day go faster, preserving my patience and sanity, and it also gets us fresh air and a little exercise.

5. Date your older kid.  Solomon and I have started doing swim lessons twice a week.  It’s just a little half-hour parent-toddler class at our local rec center, nothing expensive or intense.  Basically just play time in the pool while teaching basic swimming skills like blowing bubbles.  I leave Dad and Ezra at home, and sometimes Sol and I even grab an ice cream cone after.  I nurse Ezra right before we go and he usually sleeps for a couple hours.  So Sol and I get some giggly one-on-one time, Dad gets some much needed time alone to check football recruiting news, and Ezra doesn’t even notice.  My husband, Levi has been taking Sol out to his favorite park for an hour or two on Sunday mornings.  They dig in the sand and get nice a tuckered out for a good long nap.  Sol loves the time with just Dad and no baby.  I love the leisure of reading a book 30 minutes IN A ROW!  And everyone is much happier for it.

6. Find time for yourself.  This is linked to #5 somewhat.  You are filling up the love-cups of two little people now.  You need time to recharge.  You need time to stare at Pinterest mindlessly.  You need to meet up with a friend sans kids for a smoothie.  I was totally amazed at what a half an hour trip to the coffee shop with a good book did for my energy and outlook on life.  Even if your partner or a friend can just take the kids to play in the back yard for half an hour.  It is necessary for your sanity!

I know all you parents out there of more than one kiddo have some stellar advice and ideas, too!  Enlighten me!  How did you make the transition from 1 to 2 or from 2 to 3 easier?  How do you make time for a special one-on-one with your older kids?  Will it get easier or harder as “baby Ezra” turns into “walker Ezra” turns into “3 year old Ezra”?

Crying as Sport?

Everyone loves babies. We’re programmed to. It’s biological: A 2008 research study at Baylor showed that the happiness centers in our brains light up when we see a baby smiling at us.

Conversely, a 2012 study at Aarhus University showed that a baby’s cry elicits a unique, lightning-fast response in his parents to soothe the baby. We want that crying to stop. We’re wired that way.

So, it’s puzzling why there seems to be a surge of entertainment centered on crying children, particularly infants. The quiver of the lip, the shaking of the chin, the miniature pout, the glistening tears. Apparently, it’s quite adorable. And as the child grows and those crying sessions become tantrums, these big reactions can seem downright hilarious to a lot of people. “You’re having a fit about what?!”

Making sport of crying babies – from Parenting.com’s “They’re mad, they’re sad, they’re so darn cute!” crying baby pictures to YouTube’s swarms of “cute baby crying” videos to talk show host Jimmy Kimmel’s challenge to parents to feign eating all their child’s Halloween candy to Japan’s crying babies festival (what!?) – seems to be taking this fixation with baby cuteness one step too far.

What ever happened to adoring a baby’s tiny toes or fingernails or curls? Or, celebrating a baby’s first steps or raucous laughter at a mom blowing her nose? And why are we oohing and ahhing and laughing at a baby crying rather than grimacing and imagining how we can soothe her? Why don’t these videos and photos make us more uncomfortable than they do, ringing our psychological bells to come to her rescue?

I’ve never found my baby’s crying anything different than distressing. I can definitely identify with that lightning-fast response time. Where’s the milk? Need a diaper change? Kiss the boo-boo. No, you can’t play with the scissors but here’s a ball to look at. And of course, my lap and arms are always open to comfort.

But I admit it, there have been a couple times when my six-year-old daughter’s meltdowns bordered on funny or when my four-year-old makes a comment that almost makes me smile. Almost – because in the middle of a little person’s over-the-top outburst, when he’s feeling so misunderstood, so denied, so frustrated, angry, sad, out of control of his world, is when the parent needs to strive to empathize with his child and to stay attuned. Attunement is impossible if we’re not allowing ourselves to get down to her level to understand her emotionality because we’re too busy seeing the situation through adult eyes, which invariably looks silly or completely unreasonable from our level.

And that’s the point: children are not on an adult level, so what we find silly or alternately adorable, they find devastating. And what we adults get upset over – getting our bills paid, taking an afternoon nap, eating broccoli – our children don’t see what the big deal is. Does that mean what adults care about isn’t important? Of course not. But don’t try flipping that around and saying that just because we adults don’t think a toy car is anything to be flailing around on the supermarket floor for, doesn’t mean that it’s not important to a child. And while some of us might find the scene of a complete meltdown somewhat, or totally, hilarious, it certainly isn’t to that child.

Children can’t fathom that their anger and sadness – their emotional pain – is funny or adorable. And expressing this, even privately within our minds, is disrespectful to our children. It comes back to talking the talk and walking the walk. We want to be respected for our needs and wants, so we need to live in a way that is respectful and that teaches our children to be respectful.

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