You're Fine, You Big Baby
“You are such a faker! You’re fine.”
My mom had just picked up my 1-year-old son from the floor and he immediately stopped crying.
I felt heat course through my body.
When babies cry they are not faking it. And they are not fine.
Babies cry for a reason. If they’re not tired, hungry, or uncomfortable, they might be frustrated. They can’t speak, after all, so their only form of communication is to cry. Just because the tears stop abruptly doesn’t mean they were “faking” it. It just means they are no longer upset.
When we call them fakers and tell them they’re fine we diminish their feelings. We do this as they get older, too.
My neighbor’s 8-year-old son fell in the street and started to cry. His mom ran over. “It’s okay, you’re fine. Don’t let them see you cry.”
As if crying was a bad thing and feelings should be suppressed. Or perhaps because we feel embarrassed or inadequate as parents. I catch myself doing it, too. Like the other day when I placed my son on the floor and he started to cry. I said, “It’s okay, you’re fine.”
My husband quickly intervened and said to George, “I know you’re upset because we put you on the floor. It’s okay to be upset.”
I sat down on the floor next to George as he continued to cry for another 10 seconds. Then he picked up a toy and put it in his mouth. The crying stopped.
My husband acknowledged our son’s feelings. Sadness, frustration, and anger are all feelings our kids feel, and it’s good to feel them. But as parents we want to fix things for our kids and we want them to feel happiness so we tell them everything’s fine to convince ourselves and them that life is always full of rainbows and butterflies.
But babies don’t want us to tell them it’s fine and they’re okay. They want us to tell them we hear them. And just because they can’t speak doesn’t mean they don’t understand. Babies soak up everything we do and say.
On my son’s birthday, we put a pile of cooked shrimp on his plate next to a piece of cake. He ignored the cake and only ate the shrimp. My brother-in-law leaned over to him. “George, you gotta try your cake. I think you’re gonna like it.”
I said to him, “Dan, we’re not encouraging him to eat that. He can eat whatever he wants.”
Dan replied, “Oh I know, he doesn’t understand me anyway.”
If you’re not saying something to a child for the child to hear and understand, who are you saying it for?
Babies, kids, and adults all want to feel heard. There’s no age where that changes. So next time you’re upset or angry or flustered, think about what you would want someone to say to you.
That’s what you should say to your child.
Thank you so much to Michael Sklar, Jesse Desjardins, Roy Naquin, Simone Silverstein, Tommy Lee, and Sarah Pietraszek-Mattner for feedback on this essay.