She was crying for no good reason. But then again, three year-olds don’t need a good reason to cry. Life can be cruel, don’t we all know it?
“Giovanna. Stop crying.”
She cries louder.
“Please! There’s no point in crying. Just stop.”
I finally heard myself.
There’s no point in crying?
Actually, there is a point. Crying helps to process and release disappointment. Crying is healthier than not crying. I guess the underlying truth was that I didn’t want my daughter to be upset. Without realizing it, I was asking her to grin and bear it. Even if I didn’t see a point to her tantrum, she did.
I think I do this all the time. Even now that I am conscious of it, I continue to catch myself asking her to stop crying. Especially in public. But that’s like asking a baby not to nurse in public. Children have their place in society, they have unique needs and responses and as adults we cannot expect them to act like us. We have undergone years of conditioning to hide our emotions.
And this is not necessarily a good thing. Have you ever wanted to cry, but couldn’t let the tears flow? Have you ever wanted to confront a stranger or a coworker or a family member, but bitten your tongue instead? How did you feel later? What happened to those tears and those words and those emotions? Where did they go inside of you? Do they live in your knotted shoulders or your achy back or your sleepless mind or somewhere else in your body, stagnant and slow but very present?
This tendency to bury unpleasantries doesn’t happen over night. It grows over time, over years. Like the first book in the Bible explains using the metaphor of Adam and Eve, we all start out pristine, blossoming with truth and beauty until the snake feeds us lies. If a child misbehaves in school and the teacher calls him bad, how is he to know this is not true? The teacher represents the pinnacle of authority and knowledge. The child grows beneath the umbrella of corruption. If a parent shames a child for crying, how can the child express herself in those painful moments? As she matures she will learn to suppress her emotions. She will keep it inside and it will not disappear for nothing disappears, it only changes shape. She will carry the pain with her.
As parents, we are averse to our children’s cries. Mother Nature wants us to respond, and we do. But responding does not necessarily mean shushing. It means hugging and holding and reasoning and explaining. When they’re toddlers, occasionally it might mean ignoring (let’s be honest!) so they can work out their feelings on their own.
And what are we to do in public when our child disturbs the peace with their shrieks? Besides taking the child outside or away from the scene of the crime, there’s not a lot we can do. Maybe we need to stop caring so much about the petty judgments of other people (why can’t she control her child?) and pay attention to what’s really happening.
So what if your daughter is making a scene at the playground or on the bus or in the grocery store? At least she’s not afraid to be herself. May she never lose her gumption.