Dad listening to his baby crying in his arms

I read the “Mummy Do It” article (byronchild Sep – Nov 2006) with interest.  Father and family therapist Jeremy Shreider wrote of his distress when his twins cried and tantrummed as they asked for their mother. 

Viewed from an Aware Parenting perspective, an experience of this kind can be welcomed.  Why?  All babies and children need to express their feelings, ranging from confusion, hurt, disappointment and frustration. 

But many of us well-meaning mothers want our children to feel comfortable, so we may feed our babies when they are upset rather than hungry, distract our toddlers when they are having a healing tantrum, and pacify our children when they are needing to cry. 

When this happens regularly, babies and children learn to repress their feelings when they are with their mums. 

This is where dad comes in.  Many times I have heard a dad say, “the baby cries as soon as I hold her,” or, “only her mum can settle the baby.” 

But through the Aware Parenting lens, this observation can reframed.  As long as the baby is attached to her dad through regular loving connection with him, and all her present needs are met, she is probably feeling safe enough to express her backlog of feelings.  As he holds her in his arms, she can cry and heal from the daily stress and over-stimulation that all babies experience, despite the most attuned parenting. 

Once she has healed from that portion of feelings, she will regain a sense of calm.  She will look deeply into his eyes or will fall into a peaceful sleep, her body freed from stress hormones and tension.  

Similarly, a child may be crying for her mum, for example when her dad is putting her to bed.  But if dad is not authoritarian, and the child’s here-and-now needs have been met, it is likely that his child is using the opportunity of one-on-one time with him to heal from a past hurt. 

Perhaps she is reminded of the times mum was busy with something else or was helping a sibling.  As she calls out, “mummy, mummy”, she can express all the feelings of grief, disappointment and hurt that she has been holding inside. 

The tears may be accompanied by sweating and vigorous movement, or with words such as, “I don’t want you, I want mummy.”  If dad can find compassion, and not take the crying and words personally, the child can let out all the feelings in a safe space. 

When she has finished healing from this chunk of hurt, she will cuddle her dad and tell him how much she loves him.  In this way, a dad can welcome his child’s feelings, knowing that his presence is giving her the gifts of acceptance, healing, and intimacy.

First published in Kindred Magazine in 2007