Is there such a thing as legitimate crying for something? We hear much about not catering to children’s selfish demands. We know whining is unacceptable behavior, and the Bible forbids it anyway (Philippians 2:14). So should children ever be allowed to cry for what they want? Should you ever pick up a crying baby? I believe the answer is Yes.
Of course, you know that anytime we talk in absolutes, never, always, every time, we should be alert to hyperbole and unspecific communication. The fact is, we need wisdom to make just this kind of decision, and if we are content with a simple rule, we miss out on the blessing of finding God all sufficient as the giver of all wisdom.
I’m specifically thinking of a pre-talking infant. Laurel is age 13 months, and I want to write down what we’re doing so I don’t forget.
I’ve recently noticed that she cries for a few specific things that she wants. Mostly she’ll cry for food (milk) or to play with the cell phone. Now I’ll admit that I’m inconsistent about the phone. It keeps her busy, and if I’m sitting by her, she doesn’t usually call anyone. But I don’t always have the luxury of watching her, and I know I probably shouldn’t let it remain a play toy. When I don’t let her have it, though, she cries. I’ve been hardening my heart and not giving her the phone lately, and helping her get her mind on something else.
And I’m also responsible for the bad habit of crying for something to drink. It’s not just any drink she typically cries for. She will push away her sippee cup and reach for my glass of water. Yes, I now confess. I’ve given her my water glass when she’s asked for it, but as she’s become more demanding, I’ve stopped the mindless habit of giving her what she cries for. Interestingly, I’ve noticed recently that once again her desire to be like her siblings seems to be a motive for some of this crying. When I take off her sippee cup lid, she drinks it without protest (yes, she spills some of it). So perhaps it’s not petulance after all, but crying to communicate.
Remember that I’m talking specifically about babies. Because Laurel is just now learning how to use language, she often resorts to her old way of communicating when she cannot get her thoughts across properly. A baby cries because that’s the only way she can say, I’m hungry, I’m bored, I’m lonely, or Please take the lid off my sippee cup.
If my four year old used words to say those things, I’d surely address those desires as I was able. I wouldn’t say, No, boredom is not one of the needs I should meet, so you’ll have to stop asking for that. Yet, parents are told to ignore crying that is not for basic food and toileting “needs.” Our heavenly Father delights to give us good gifts. We are told to ask for desires, not merely needs.
Laurel starts off asking for something with what we think sounds like please. Usually, we give her what she asks for, but sometimes we don’t. Many times we don’t know what she wants. Peas? [hands push away the spoon] Drink? [hands push away the cup] All done? [tears] In these cases, she starts repeating herself, just a little louder and more intensely. Sometimes she starts to cry. Not always in these cases is she asking for something illegitimate. Sometimes we’re just not moving fast enough.
Now, Laurel has in fact demonstrated an ability to stop crying and say something that resembles the word please when I ask her to. Yes, the desired object is before her, and yes, she’s learned that all she has to do is stop crying and I will give it to her. In the beginning it was the pause to breathe between cries. Please help me, I say, talking aloud as I want her to think and say. I’ll take off the lid and hand her the cup.
Sometimes I hear a little gurgle and I respond appropriately: You’re welcome, sweetheart.