Babies have Real Feelings - Part III

Written by Marion Rose PhD

I want to preface part three with a reminder that listening to a baby’s feelings is not for everyone.

AND we can listen to their feelings when they become children,

AND they can find other ways for their feelings to be heard when they are adults.

My approach is all about compassion. 

And that includes deep compassionate acceptance for ourselves and for the choices we make and actions we take as parents. 

AND listening to even our baby’s uncomfortable feelings feelings EVEN ONCE whilst she is still a baby will make a difference to her.

Every time we listen to our baby’s feelings, she’ll release those feelings from her body, which means she’ll feel more comfortable and more relaxed.

Any time we listen to our baby’s feelings feelings, she’ll need to do fewer things to hold in the feelings.

Any time we listen to our baby’s feelings, she’ll have the experience of being held and seen whilst she’s feeling an uncomfortable feeling. 

She’ll know what it’s like to come out the other side after expressing her feelings, feeling more relaxed.

That will help her be comfortable with being present with those feelings in herself, because she’ll know that being with feelings and going through them leads to relief. 

Her feelings will be her friends.

Any time we listen to her uncomfortable feelings, it means that she’ll have fewer accumulated feelings, which means she’ll be ‘clearer’ – she’ll have more available awareness to be present, available for learning and new information, and available for deep connection.

Any time we listen to her feelings, she’ll have the experience of more parts of her being seen and accepted and heard and acknowledged. 

Often parents will come to me and say, “I’m practicing Aware Parenting but my baby is still sucking his thumb/feeding every two hours/waking up a lot at night/biting.”

I find it really helpful to remind them that feelings feelings are physiological things.

Since probably none of us (myself included) will be able to listen to 100% of our baby’s feelings feelings (I explain why below), then our baby will need to do something to hold in whatever percentage of feelings we aren’t able to listen to, and will need to distract herself from them when those feelings arise.

To do that, she’ll need to one or more of things like:

Some kind of sucking: signalling for the breast; having a bottle, sucking her thumb or on a dummy or pacifier.

Or she’ll need to move around to distract herself.

Or she’ll tense her muscles to hold in the feelings.

Or she will distract herself by avoiding eye contact and getting busy in doing things.

(These are all similar to things that we do as adults to repress feelings or distract ourselves from them – we eat sweet things or carbs or chocolate, we drink coffee or tea, we bite our nails, we get busy, we tense up our shoulders or thighs or jaw or pelvis, and we’ll avoid true intimacy.)

What’s happening during the repression or distraction?

The feelings are still there, but our baby (or child, or us) is doing something so that her awareness isn’t on those feelings.

All those different ways of repressing and distraction keep her awareness from being with those feelings.

So, when we say we are practicing Aware Parenting, I find it helpful to remember that probably none of us is listening to 100% of our baby’s uncomfortable feelings.

Why is that?

There are many reasons:

~ We live in a culture that is all about repression, so we don’t see much expression of feelings around us;

~ We’ve probably never seen another person listen to their baby’s uncomfortable feelings in their loving, present arms;

~ We were probably not even once held in relaxed loving arms and listened to as we expressed our feelings about our time in the womb, or our birth, or what happened after our birth, so we don’t have an inner experience of it;

~ We’ve probably never seen someone differentiate between their baby’s immediate needs like hunger, and the need to express feelings feelings, so we haven’t learnt how to do that ourselves;

~ Our culture tends to think that all crying is a sign of an unmet need, so we will tend to think that if our baby is upset, there is a need that we aren’t meeting and we will do everything we can to stop the crying;

~ Our own feelings that didn’t get heard when we were a baby come up when we are holding our own baby as she is crying;

~ Unless we’ve done primalling or rebirthing, we may never have seen a full-bodied expression of big feelings and so we might find it scary.

And for all of these reasons, and just because I’m passionate about compassion, I think it is SO important for us to be deeply compassionate with ourselves around listening to the feelings feelings of our baby.

Some of us might be able or willing to listen to 5% of our baby’s feelings feelings, and others of us might be able and willing to listen to 90%.

And this might vary at different times, depending on how much of our own needs are being met, and how many of our own painful feelings are bubbling.

Let’s unconditionally love ourselves for wherever we are and whatever we do.

Whatever percentage of feelings feelings we aren’t listening to, our baby will need to do something to hold those feelings in.

The more feelings she needs to hold in, the more she will need to do, and the more we are likely to see that in her behaviour, such as the amount of times she wakes at night or how much she makes eye contact.

And that is why, even if we are listening to our baby’s feelings, we might still see signs of accumulated feelings – because it is unlikely that any of us are listening to 100% of her feelings.

And again, I invite you to refrain from any judgment here, or set loving limits if judgment does come up.

Listening to a baby’s feelings feelings is a HUGE ask.

It asks us to have confidence that all her immediate needs are met.

It asks us to trust in our capacity to be with her feelings.

It asks us to trust that we will be able to see afterwards that listening to her feelings is a helpful thing, rather than a harmful thing (more about this later).

It asks us to listen to our own unheard feelings from our own babyhood.

It asks us to do something that is different from what most other people do.

The wonderful thing about Aware Parenting is, and I’ve heard many many parents say this, that the proof is in the pudding.

And I always say the following to parents.

If this approach resonates with them, and if they feel ready and resourced, I ask them to have a go at listening.

But then, to only continue if they see a difference in their baby that gives them reassurance that crying in loving arms is actually helping her feel more connected, more relaxed, more present, more aware, and more at peace in herself.

And time after time after time, mothers tell me things like,

“She is making so much more eye contact again now,”

“She is so much more relaxed and happy,”

“He lets me hold him and cuddles up, which he had stopped doing,”

“He’s so much more relaxed when he sleeps,”

“She’s sleeping for longer periods,”

“I feel so much more connected to her,”

“I understand her so much more now,”

“He’s stopped biting me,”

“He is much more relaxed on the boob now. He gazes into my eyes and is peaceful.”

The more we listen to a baby’s feelings feelings, the more relaxed, connected, calm and aware she is.

Some people think that Aware Parenting doesn’t promote breast-feeding.

But I have found the opposite to be the case. 

So many mothers have come to me, feeling stressed about breast-feeding so much, or their baby is kicking and squirming every time they feed, or they’re just not enjoying it any more, or they’re even thinking of giving up.

And so many have shared that, after they start listening to more of their baby’s feelings feelings, that they find the love of breast-feeding again, because their baby is calm and relaxed, gazing into their eyes, and they feel that deep sense of connection with them again.

I’d love to share one story that shows how much Aware Parenting promotes breast-feeding and can make it both more enjoyable and more sustainable.

A mother of a toddler came to me. She and her friends all had toddlers the same age who were waking up every two or three hours during the night to feed, and they were all feeling desperate for sleep.

She had a session, and over that weekend, she listened to a few big cries from her toddler.

When she went back to her group, all her friends had stopped breast-feeding altogether, thinking that was their only choice.

Whereas her son was now sleeping, she was enjoying breast-feeding again because he was much calmer on the breast, and she continued breastfeeding for another year or more. 

Here are the things that we can look for, to give us reassurance that listening to his feelings in our loving arms is helpful rather than harmful:

He moulds more into our body when we hold him;

His body is more relaxed;

His body is holding less tension;

He makes more eye contact;

He smiles more;

He sleeps for longer periods;

He sleeps more peacefully;

He has an aware, relaxed presence;

He concentrates for longer periods;

His vocalisations are more relaxed;

He is able to be held and be still and calm in our arms;

He shows fewer repression mechanisms. 

So, back to the thing that it isn’t one-size fits all.

Each of us is so different and are in such different situations, and also change over time.

Some of us might be willing to listen to our baby crying in our arms every few weeks, only when everything else we usually do to stop the crying doesn’t seem to be working.

Some of us might be willing to listen to our baby crying in our arms every few days, when she seems agitated or is taking a long time to go to sleep or is waking up after every sleep cycle.

Some of us might want to listen to our baby crying in our arms every day, for example before a nap or before bed or in the early evening, when feelings come up so easily.

Some of us might want to aim to differentiate every time between when he is hungry and when he has feelings feelings, and might want to listen to feelings several times each day.

The wonderful thing about Aware Parenting is that there is no right or wrong way.

There’s no judgment (how could there be, when this is a non-punitive democratic paradigm, all about meeting the needs of both baby AND parents.)

If we listen to our baby’s feelings feelings once, that will make a difference to her.

We will do what we can do and what resonates with us.

There is no ‘right way’ to do this.

There is only listening to our hearts and minds as to whether this approach resonates with us.

Then there’s learning more about how we can tell when a baby has feelings feelings.

Then there’s doing our own inner work, such as listening to our feelings and getting support.

And then there’s listening to her feelings in our loving arms and observing her afterwards to find the only true reassurance that we can find, from her. 

And again, I invite you to connect in with yourself.

How are you feeling?

What are you thinking?

Is there an action you’d like to take now, such as connecting with an empathy buddy to share your own feelings with?

I’m passionate about listening to feelings of babies, children and adults.

But even more than that, I’m passionate about compassion – compassionate acceptance of where each one of us is at, what each one of us can do, and our own unique parenting journeys.