“Like, oh my God. Seriously. I just went to the restroom and there’s this guy in there changing this baby and it’s, like, SCREAMING. Like, literally screaming, saying ‘oh my god Daddy please stop’. I mean, come on, it just sounded so angry.”
My eavesdropping was interrupted by the waitress bringing over the coffee refill and chocolate croissant for my husband. I’d ordered them because I thought he might need them when he got back from the toilet with our daughter. MAJOR poonami, his turn, no changing table. Bean was, understandably, not happy about the postage-stamp sized grubby toilet cubicle floor on which she was having to lie while Daddy cleaned her up.
The thing is, maybe not every baby would have reached quite to the upper decibel range, but Bean has what we like to call big emotions, and she expresses them in a big way. When we met up with other mums, or went to groups, I used to feel like I wished she wouldn’t cry so much. I used to feel like she shouldn’t be crying, and that these other mums were thinking the same. Maybe they were, who knows. Fact is, it is what it is. It isn’t something to blame myself or Bean for. It seems that just like we lay ‘should’s upon ourselves, we unwittingly also chuck a load onto our babies too. Then you’re just into one vicious cycle and it’s no picnic.
Now by seven months her range of communication has expanded and a repertoire that initially involved just crying – albeit big crying – has now branched out into immense joy too – big grins for anyone and everyone, massive giggling fits, you name it. It would be easy to fall into the trap of feeling relieved, feeling that this behaviour is more socially appropriate somehow. In other words, it only feels ok because it sits nicely with all the ‘shoulds’ in the hive mind of online mummy forums. It’s all too common a parental feeling and I’ve since discovered I’m not alone in that.
But she, or any other baby, needn’t be any other way than how he/she is. The ‘shoulds’ we project on to our babies come from the ‘shoulds’ about ourselves in our own heads. We feel our babies are a reflection of us as parents and people, and our insecurities as new mums are triggered as much by our babies’ behaviour as our own. If your baby is crying, your inner voice is telling you must be a bad mum, and you assume everyone else is thinking that too. We are telling ourselves our babies should act or be a certain way, but they just are who they are. Of course yes, as they grow we need to help them understand boundaries and social skills (if they decide to wallop another child over the head with a baseball bat, it’s probably time to step in with some guidance), but it is important to separate this out from our own ‘should’s in our minds, especially when they are too little to know any better.
Now that I’ve accepted Bean’s large range of emotions for what they are, it’s amazing how much lighter I feel. It’s made me realise how heavy a ‘should’ feels when you’re carrying it around in your mind. If you decide to just let a difficult thing you’re dealing with go, to just accept it, the difficult thing has nothing to push back against, and instead the thing just sits there, being ‘ok’. Change ‘she shouldn’t be crying’ to ‘she is crying and that’s just that. It’s ok’ and marvel at the lightness.
OK, yes, maybe sometimes I’d like to be able to get through mum and baby aerobics without my squat set being 17lbs heavier than the other mums whose babies sit happily for an hour, but c’est la vie. Right now she likes to let the world know when everything is getting a bit much and, at seven months, that’s how it is. My bingo wings will be all the firmer for it.
So the next time your baby has a meltdown in public, or does something that doesn’t meet with your list of ‘should’s, let go. Tell yourself it’s ok. It might be horrendous, but it’s ok. And if someone, inner voice or actual person tries to tell you otherwise, they can bog off. You’re doing a great job and your baby is ace.
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