Laurel just started crawling. A few days ago, Lee and I were watching her cry. She’s been quite fussy, just like every child of mine has gotten before some major milestone. We talked about how the fussiness that is so troubling to parents (including me) actually reflects a frustration that drives the child to accomplish something new. Laurel’s tears really are troubling, even though they reflect a healthy drive to achieve. Still, my body goes into physical turmoil any time my children cry, for nearly whatever reason. Now, some people attempt to “train their infants” into submission to neglecting to attend to their cries. They would suggest that we should ignore our emotional desire to stop the crying (provided that “legitimate” needs are met, of course) and routinely let babies “cry it out.” I have a problem with this approach.
One reaction to the “cry it out” crowd seems to be to avoid allowing any crying for any reason. Dr. Sears talks about harmful effects of excessive crying, and I think some moms respond to this news by feeling guilty every time they don’t stop the baby from crying right away.
Sears is right, by the way: Babies cry to communicate. And Sears does indicate that young infants need more immediate attention than older babies. I agree. I do believe excessive crying is harmful. But we need to define excessive crying, and we need to understand that babies will not always like the choices we make.
Most importantly, contrary to Sears’s recommendation, we shouldn’t always listen to our bodies and emotions. If I did that, I’d be picking up baby as she struggles to become mobile. I would actually be hindering her growth. I find myself making poor decisions if I anticipate my older children’s displeasure of my actions. I’d not get dinner made when baby is fussy. On the other hand, sometimes I do need to stop what I’m doing to attend to my child. (In the middle of typing that sentence, Bethel cried because she was having difficulty with her tea set and needed my help; I got up to help her.)
One place to begin is to look at my motives. I can have selfish motives for letting baby cry (I don’t really want to get up, I’m tired, I’ve been attending to cries all morning, etc.), and I can have selfish motives for not letting baby cry (I want peace and quiet, regardless of what is best for baby and the rest of my family). Fear is another motive that may not always be right. So how do I know when to listen to my God-given mother instinct and when to refrain from acting? I need wisdom. That’s one of the most important factors missing from Sears’s teachings. It’s not always easy to know when to let baby cry and when to pick her up. It’s not about Sears, other experts, my instinct, or emotions. It’s about walking in the Spirit and acting accordingly.
Back to work!