Vanessa's storyI stumbled across the Aware Parenting philosophy when my first child, Jake, was around 10 months old. I was looking for answers and I found them!
I was having problems with Jake frequently waking in the night and crying. I found that dummies and bottles of milk offered to him when he woke did not work for long: he would wake again an hour or two later. My husband and I were struggling with this frequent waking and so I started looking for a solution. I read several books on gentle sleep techniques revolving mostly around relaxing routines but none solved the problem.
Of course I knew about controlled crying, where babies are left alone to cry for a short time then for longer periods, until they stop crying. This approach didn’t feel right to me: I know when a baby cries, he needs a response, and if there is no response, then that baby must feel very frightened. I really did not want to do this with my child but we were at the end of our tether.
Then I found Marion Badenoch Rose’s website and there I learned something that was an entirely new concept to me at the time, but which “spoke” to me straightaway as an idea that made sense. IT IS OKAY FOR BABIES TO CRY: a simple idea in itself but one that is radical in the practice of parenting in Western culture. As a family we co-sleep and use carriers and slings often, so we align ourselves loosely with the “alternative” parenting philosophies such as Attachment Parenting and Natural Parenting. But I had never come across this concept before.
IT IS OKAY FOR BABIES TO CRY. I had thought that there were only two ways to deal with crying: to try everything to prevent babies crying (dummies, rocking, patting, going out for a walk, feeding, etc); or to let them cry it out (controlled crying). Now I found out that there is a third way: allow your baby to cry in your arms. Simple!
So I started putting it into practice. When Jake woke in the night, I stopped giving him a dummy or a bottle, and cuddled him while he cried. I did this each time he woke up. It didn’t take him long to go back to sleep. Within days, his night waking had become less frequent and was no longer such a problem. I also started to permit him to cry at other times rather than trying to do the usual things to stop him from crying. The most notable outcome of this was that Jake fell asleep on my lap for the first time since he was a tiny baby after I had held him while he cried. I remember feeling very fulfilled while looking at my boy sleeping peacefully on my lap for the first time. He has always been a very active baby and never wanted to sit still for long.
It was not always easy, as Jake would struggle and rage while I held him and I had many doubts about whether I was doing the right thing. But I persisted and reaped the rewards of a more relaxed and happy child. On one occasion, I got perfect feedback from Jake when he was older that he did want me to hold him when he cried. After having held him while he was struggling and raging, I tried letting him go to see what would happen. He moved away, still crying and raging, but then very soon came back to me and put his arms up to me. So I picked him up and held him again and he started to struggle and cry and rage again. Then I let him go again, and again he got down only to ask to be picked up again. This to me was a clear indication that he wanted to cry in my arms, even though he struggled madly as though he wanted to get down.
I also struggled with knowing whether my child was crying because he needed to release tension or whether he needed something else. So I would ask myself if he could be hungry: when did he last have a feed or some food? Or was there any other reason for his crying? If it hadn’t been long since his last meal or drink, I would assume he was tired or needed to release tension and therefore pick him up to hold him while he cried.
Now he is older, I believe that, by not making his crying into a negative, naughty thing, Jake has been enabled to recover from his upsets more quickly. Often, his tantrums end as abruptly as they began, and we are back with our smiling happy boy again. I have noticed that other children who are not allowed to cry seem to behave resentfully toward their parents.
It is over a year ago now that I stumbled across Marion’s website and I have continued to use aspects of Aware Parenting in bringing up my second baby, Leo. From birth I have held him when he needed to cry, and in the early months he would usually end up sleeping in my arms after a good cry. Knowledge of Aware Parenting has made me conscious of how our culture represses crying in our infants and children. It makes me think that probably this is one of the reasons why we are so emotionally repressed as adults, especially men, who are ridiculed if they cry as children. And I think of the parents of teenagers who moan that their teenagers never talk to them about their problems: is it any wonder when as infants and children they were taught that crying is bad, and that their parents don’t want to hear it. I want my children to experience all emotions, including the negative, as part of life, and that emotions are nothing to fear or repress. I believe they will be healthier for this.
Those who follow Aware Parenting, or any other “alternative” parenting philosophy, must face inevitable criticism and suspicion from those who follow the “mainstream” parenting philosophies. People tend to fear what they do not understand and also see implied criticism of their own parenting style in an alternative approach. But at the end of the day, aren’t all parents just trying to do the best they can for their children, whichever route they choose to go? It is up to each individual mother and father to find what works best for them and their little ones, whether it is “mainstream” or “alternative”, conventional or unconventional.