Like all parents, I’d like to keep my child as distress-free as possible. That’s not exactly the same as happy. I mean, I’d like perpetually happy, who wouldn’t, but I’m willing to negotiate. I’ll take non-crying.
The truth is, after almost ten months of hearing my baby cry, my tolerance for her distress remains surprisingly low. That leads me to do all sorts of ridiculous things.
Case in point: Sometimes she sits in her high chair like an empress on her throne and I mince around like Jim Carrey circa 2000 for her amusement. While I take a shower, she’s in her car seat just outside the fogged glass, and I regal her with stories, songs, and all manner of vocal calisthenics, alert for her every whinny and whimper, all to stave off discomfort. Hers or mine? I’m not always entirely sure.
I didn’t know it would be this way. More specifically, I didn’t know I would be this way. Sometimes I feel like a hostage to my love for her.
There’s the flip side. How exquisite it is to be in love with this little person, and to feel her love for me. Her eyes follow me across every room. She’d prefer to be carried on my hip while I do anything rather than examine the shiniest new toy. When she’s in my arms and our eyes lock…boy, that’s like nothing else.
Actually, it’s a little like something else. It reminds me of the early days of a romance, of falling for my husband. That adoring gaze, the outward indicator of absolute acceptance. Oh sure, at that point, it’s complete b.s., since we’ve displayed only our most charming, ingratiating selves, but still. The attunement that I now show my daughter used to be reserved for him. We used to pay so much attention.
Mirroring and mimicking and showing your baby that you take pleasure in him or her–those are the building blocks of the parent-child bond. And when you think about it, it’s also a part of adult romantic love. We want to know our partner enjoys us. We still want that adoring gaze.
Nowadays, my husband and I are better at being companionable and cooperative than we are at being adoring. What I mean is, we don’t spend much time conveying unconditional acceptance and interest, or tuning in and really noticing the first signs of the other person’s distress and then doing whatever we can to alleviate it, no matter how effortful or silly. Sometimes we forget the call-and-response of early love, which thrives on time and energy and attention, things that are in short supply after a baby comes along.
When’s the last time I did a goofy dance just to make my husband smile? Noticed when he’s tense and gave him a back rub? Stared into his eyes for full minutes?
Crying child photo available from Shutterstock