Tuesday, 20 January 2015

My name is Cathy and my children cry

The first time anybody commented upon one of my children's crying, I had been a mother for exactly four weeks.

The feeling of shame, mortification and outright failure has stayed with me ever since.

Cherry's crying as a baby was, I'm told, not normal.

I only have Violet to compare her to and certainly Violet didn't cry anything like as much as Cherry did. But then Violet also didn't, and still doesn't, sleep anything like as much and as well as Cherry did and still does! Swings and roundabouts.

Nonetheless parents and grandparents of other children chose to inform me that their children or grandchildren didn't cry like Cherry. For this reason, and many others, listening to either of my children cry sparks a powerful emotional reaction with me.

It's not always a desire to stop the crying, I have to admit. Sometimes I am the cause of the crying, after all. When I say no to Cherry, as I do, because I must, she is 99% likely to cry. This crying I can cope with. I offer love and support, cuddles and empathy, I'm sorry you're upset darling but the answer is still no, would you like a cuddle?

When I say no to Violet, as I increasingly must, I take the same approach.

Sometimes I find crying annoying. Cherry does go on, bless her, and then some, even if she's just crying because I haven't bought her a cake or she wanted the entire snack bar and I only offered her half. She's loud. Violet is LOUDER. She knows the exact pitch and decibel level to best drill through my skull. Her longevity isn't on the same scale as Cherry's but her pitch - oh her pitch, it just crucifies me.

Often I feel sympathy. They both cry when they've hurt themselves, when they're upset or fearful or shocked or experiencing some other powerful emotion. Cherry fell off her bike last week, a proper head-over-heels somersault, crashing to the ground with the bike tangled up on top of her. She cried for about 15 minutes and I sat on the cold ground with my arms around her, wishing I could carry her pain and disappointment and shock for her.

Violet bit her finger today whilst eating dinner and she cried loudly and indignantly, her little face crumpled and bewildered, holding out her poor indented finger for me to kiss and inspect, begging 'duddle! Duddle!' and straining to get out of her chair and into my arms.

Sometimes I feel frustrated. If one starts sobbing at the exact moment the other needs me the most. While I sat and cuddled a screaming Cherry after the fall from her bike Violet began to wail in the buggy. When Violet was a young baby if she cried Cherry would almost inevitably join in.

Nothing chills my heart like the, mercifully fairly rare, sound of both of my children crying. Sometimes there's not enough of me to go round. They both want both my arms around them, not an arm each.

But sometimes when my children cry I feel a deep sense of inadequacy, failure, hopelessness and despair. I would do anything - ANYTHING - to make it stop, but nothing I do has the slightest impact.

At three, Cherry is finally and thankfully past the stage of producing this kind of crying. I can nearly always comfort her and even if I can't, I know her well enough to know she is drawing something from my presence. Once or twice after epic emotional meltdowns she's cried herself to sleep in my arms, and when she wakes up she seems deeply at peace.

My reactions to her crying have changed too. I can remind myself that the world is a strange and often unfair place to her, and that contrary to popular internet photography memes she's not crying 'because the sky is blue', she's crying because of experiences and feelings and emotions and hormones she doesn't understand and can't control and couldn't name or tell me about even if she wanted to.

At 17 months Violet has just taken up the mantle Cherry has finally discarded. At the moment bedtimes and nap times are an excruciating affair involving feeding and settling and soothing and her chatting and shouting and yelling and singing and squirming and rolling about and crying and more settling and soothing and comforting and crying and feeding again and cuddling and crying and her asking for a cuddle, then crying and asking to be in her bed, then crying and asking for another cuddle, then crying and asking for bed, then just crying….

It breaks my heart. It tears me to pieces. It kills me. But not just because I feel so desperately for her.

I feel shame. I torture myself because I can't stop her crying no matter what I do. I wonder if it's what I do that makes her cry more. Scenarios and possibilities flit through my head. Perhaps I should wean her. Perhaps I should move her into Cherry's room. Perhaps I should night-wean. Perhaps I should stop getting into her cot with her if she seems to need it. Perhaps I should stop bringing her into bed with us.

I needle away at myself, convinced this doesn't happen to 'other' parents, convinced that attachment and gentle parents who follow the philosophies and practices to which I ascribe just don't have this problem, that their babies and toddlers are constantly smiling cooing happy contented chilled out peaceful bundles of joy.

I tell myself it's my fault and that I'm not a good enough mother. That truly good mothers have children who never, ever cry.

One of the many parenting books I read before I even had Cherry had written in bold, capital letters A CRYING BABY DOES NOT EQUAL A BAD MOTHER.

I believed this for just four weeks. Then the doubt kicked in, then I started to hear other mums talking about how they 'never let' their children cry 'even for a second' and all I could think was HOW? And what am I doing wrong?

When Violet cries and I can't comfort her I feel like the worst mother, the worst person, in the world. I used to feel exactly the same way with Cherry.

And I always worried about the impact of the crying. The effect on them, physically and psychologically, of prolonged exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones. If I believe, as I firmly do, that it's wrong to leave a child to cry alone, then how is being with them, cuddling and comforting and soothing and settling but being unable to stop them from crying, any different?

How can I truly say I believe it's wrong to leave a child to cry when I can't and have never been able to always stop my children from crying?

I don't necessarily have any answers but I found this piece by Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of one my favourite books ever, Toddlercalm, very reassuring.

In particular I was strongly moved by what she says about being able to remain present with our children through unstoppable tears. That this takes strength and patience. I used to become highly stressed, frustrated and anxious with Cherry when I couldn't stop her crying, I wondered aloud what was wrong with me and what was wrong with her, and it's entirely likely my reaction fuelled her rather than comforted her. But as I said above, my reaction to her crying has, eventually, changed.

This gives me hope for Violet's crying too. I have more strength and patience, I feel less judged and scrutinised than I did as a new mother with That Baby Who Cries All The Time. I know I have it in me to stay present with V.

I don't always manage it, I do become despairing and anxious and stressed sometimes, but increasingly I don't. I think having read this piece I will be able to stay calmly present with her more often, accept that I am being good enough rather than anxiously fretting about not being good enough, and whether it helps in the moment or not, in the long run I know it will make a difference. Until it passes, which it will. It always does.

No comments:

Post a Comment