As a mother, I never thought I would hear myself say those words, but as I recently held my sobbing, 17 month old daughter tightly, I whispered to her: “I'm so sorry, Baby; thank you for crying.”
This happened during her nap time. There is usually a pretty solid routine we go through, which is nice for both of us. I make sure she either nurses or eats a snack, change her diaper, cuddle with her for a few minutes, then lay her down. She is an excellent sleeper, and I can put her down wide awake for naps and bedtime. She might whimper a little when I leave, but she's usually quiet within a minute or two.
This particular day, our routine wasn't quite so regular. I had been nursing her lying down on the couch, and her eyes were slowly getting more and more heavy as she drifted off. It was about five minutes earlier than I usually put her down, but I gathered her in my arms, carried her to her crib, and set her down with her lovey, covering her with a light quilt. She smiled up and me, I told her to sleep well, and I left. Seconds later, she started crying. Since she did that on occasion, I didn't go back in but waited a few minutes. She was still crying. I thought she sounded like she might be calming down, so I waited a couple more minutes. Still crying.
I'm sure some, at this point, would have just ignored her, but I've never ignored my baby's crying. Despite people saying we might “spoil” her by going to her, we have found that she never cries without a reason – even as a small toddler. I went back into her room, and she was lying down, squeezing her lovey tightly, crying with quick gasps, obviously trying to “be good” and not cry but also plainly upset. I picked her up, remembering I hadn't changed her diaper. Pulling it open to check, I immediately knew why she had been so upset.
As I laid her down to change her diaper, she giggled through her tears, knowing I had understood. I changed her quickly, then held her tightly against me, apologizing for not remembering to change her and thanking her for crying until I listened.
This appreciation for a baby's tears is not something many people seem to understand. I hear parents say they wouldn't go to their child every time he or she cried, their voices holding a tinge of disdain for people who would. People seem to think babies and toddlers cry to manipulate them, and to ignore them is to establish authority. “I am an adult, and I know what's best.” It also implies that crying is a nuisance, not a tool – practically the only tool! – a baby has to communicate.
Although I don't enjoy crying any more than the next person, I encourage my daughter to cry. When she's sad or hurt, I want her to share her pain with me, and I don't attempt to distract her. When she needs something that I haven't noticed (it happens more than I like), I want her to cry so I can take care of the problem. I don't want her to ever feel that I don't take her tears as seriously as she does, and I believe that is a big part of why she is so content and cheerful.
If I had ignored her cries during nap time, what shape would her bottom have been in after sleeping in her own refuse for two hours? If I made a habit of ignoring her, when would she stop trying to tell me something is wrong? I don't plan to find out.