I let Bumble “Cry it out” tonight. That is to say, I held him close and whispered that I loved him while he cried out all his fears and sadness after his Daddy left to go to the gym. While I soothed his hot brow I had a realisation. I knew what he was feeling. I recognised the outburst, the uncontrollable crying. I had felt this same overwhelming sense of sadness, regret and fear very recently. I too had cried it out and reached for the comfort of my closest loved ones. For me this came when my Nana passed away, just one month ago.
Children live in the present. Even at three years old, Bumble doesn’t truly understand the concept of the future. His Daddy has never gone away at bedtime before, why is he not here? He knew, on a superficial level that Daddy would be home well before he woke up in the morning, but he didn’t really feel it. Without a real understanding of time, every loss, no matter how transient, is as emotionally overwhelming as the death of a loved one.
Once this thought entered my mind I could see two different ways in which it could impact on the way I parent. The first is to reaffirm my belief that “Cry It Out” style sleep training methods aren’t for me. We will all have to deal with enough grief in our lifetimes, I wouldn’t want to expose my children to more than is necessary and I certainly wouldn’t want them to have to deal with it on their own in a dark room. Too much, too young.
The second is that I need to allow my children to learn about grief, to experience it and to find ways to cope with it in a positive way. Grief is never a positive emotion, but the way we handle it can be. As adults, I want my children to be able to express their grief through tears, not anger. I want them to be able to run towards the people they love, not hide away by themselves.
So instead of distracting Bumble with some shiny toy that would take his mind off his emotions, or getting angry with him when he lashed out and bit me I decided to let him cry. I told him it was ok to cry. Daddy loves him and will be back before the morning. His outburst was heartbreaking. It was as if all the emotion that he was trying to hold inside burst out of him and he shook with tears. He cried out loud “I love Daddy!” and I cried back “Daddy loves you too, and so do I”. He held my face and we cried together for a good 15 minutes before he took a few deep breaths and fell asleep, occasionally sobbing or grasping me tighter.
I hope when he is older he will have someone he can hold just as tightly when the people he loves leave him.