“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” ~ Dr. Seuss
I’ve noticed a strange phenomena in American culture: children, up until a certain age, are treated as if they’re not absorbing everything in front of them.
We, as adults, aren’t given guides on how to speak to tiny human beings who can’t talk back to us. But I’ve seen the impact this can create if we grow to be really great at it.
As a young child, I remember understanding a lot more than I believe the adults around me gave me credit for. And also being confused when the adults wouldn’t help me make sense of the things I didn’t understand.
We let our children see us at our worst, and often we don’t circle back to apologize or explain to them—the most important ones in our life—because they’re “too little” and don’t understand.
But they do.
Even at a few months old, they do.
Perhaps they don’t know exactly what our words mean, but they can feel the energy behind an apology and our arms wrapped tightly around them. They can feel the uptick of chaotic energy and the emotional flood: what we’re feeling because we’re doing it alone, doing it with an unsupportive partner or co-parent, or simply because being a parent is hard.
Being a mother in this world is providing a retrospective train of thought for me as I grow older.
I recently had to remove myself from an online postpartum support group because the stories are heart-wrenching and they are many. I couldn’t find any support—just a burning rage that so many women are being shattered by the weight of motherhood in a world that doesn’t set us up successfully.
(Please note: If you’re reading this in crisis, do not hesitate to utilize the resources available to you.)
We created this tiny life. We, ultimately, bear all of the responsibility. We’re often told, “Being a mom is hard. Just get used to it.” But is it physically and emotionally possible for any of us to truly get used to it?
The way the world is built, it’s hard enough for any of us to simply manage a 40-hour workweek and engage in self-care.
When women are wrought with postpartum depression and are unable to “bond” with their child in the early stages, where does that truly come from?
I don’t think it’s all hormonal.
I don’t think it’s because the mother is incapable of being a mother.
I don’t think it’s because she was at high risk for depression going into her pregnancy.
I think it’s because she’s so capable of being a mother and is attempting her version of motherhood in a world that tells us, “Don’t do (a, b, c) in front of your child. You mustn’t show ‘negative’ emotions or that will surely mess them up; you must be a beacon of light for them at all times.”
I call bullsh*t.
No, when you haven’t showered in days and haven’t slept more than three hours in a week and are feeding a human being with your own body, you are in the perfect storm for an emotional break. It’s coming, you can’t run from it, and chances are, in a random moment, it’s all going to come out at your precious, tiny human.
I believe every mother experiences this. How could they not? When we bear children, our bodies are put under a miraculous test, and our brains stop being ours for an undetermined amount of time.
Of course you’re sobbing your eyes out over their crib. How could you not? You probably even raised your voice at one moment and pleaded, “Oh my God, please go to sleep. I can’t do this!”
And in that one moment, I believe there are some women who subconsciously shut off their bonding because they break in front of their baby and drown in the thought of, “I am already ruining my child’s life and I am a failure. I must detach as to not destroy them further.”
Don’t we all disconnect in some form when we feel this way about those we love?
I truly believe that if we dig deeper into why we react this way, we could help alleviate the absolute fear that strikes a woman’s heart when she realizes that these feelings, and postpartum depression, can happen to any of us.
We’d find the relief that comes when we tell all new mothers that it’s okay to break, that they will break at moments, but their baby will hear them and feel them if they return after they’ve calmed down and say, “My child, I am so sorry that my emotions overflowed onto you. We’ll learn to be better at this, together. Emotion is okay. My tears are not your fault and I love you.”
And keep talking. They’re looking up at you, losing their mind at how much you are their everything.
That’s how we create lessons for our children out of those moments—with love.
Instead of only teaching us how to change diapers and bathe a newborn and ease a baby’s constipation, we would have an army of mothers teaching their children that it’s okay to not be okay, as mothers, as fathers, and as children. And once we learn to be okay, then we can become even more than that.
Emotions are valid, but how you process them is everything.
When we inevitably let our emotions out in a way that hurts someone we love, we apologize, and we learn how to better approach it the next time around. This is how we become better.
And please understand: fathers and partners need this knowledge, too. It’s unfair for them to watch those they love go through something they do not understand and are completely unprepared to handle. But they’re capable, with the right preparation and guidance.
To them I say, breathe life back into your partner with your support. Make it your mission to support the hell out of her. She’ll come back, better than before, if you allow her to do so.
And eventually, you both shall reap the harvest of watching your tiny human grow into a whole adult who already knows how to process emotions and heal themselves.
If you have a fight with your partner in front of your newborn, talk to your baby about it.
If you accidentally yelled at your baby when you were facing a physical challenge our bodies naturally struggle to handle, talk to them about it. Explain and apologize.
If you need to leave “Sesame Street” on for your baby while you go take some cleansing breaths and get yourself in the right place to give them the day they deserve, that’s okay.
Stop ripping yourself to shreds for it. Just stop. You were a human being before you were a parent. That will always take precedent, and it is not selfish. It must be realized so that we may teach our children to respect themselves as they watch us honor our spirits, too.
Talk to your tiny human like you are speaking to your inner child.
While you’re at it, sit on the floor, criss-cross applesauce, and watch “Sesame Street” with them. (And while we’re on the subject, why in the world is Elmo not our president yet?)
Heal yourself through how you speak to your tiny human and raise them to know what healing looks like—start to finish.
How could you ever go wrong with that?
And most importantly, to the parents doing it all alone:
To your child, you are their superhero. Own that—your tiny human deserves it.