People congratulate babies on the weirdest things. Good hair, big eyes, no drool, quiet cries. “How nice,” they say. “That cry is so quiet.” As if in the middle of the night a quieter cry is somehow easier to answer. When all you want to do is sleep but your little one is calling, the quietness of that call makes very little difference.
As we grow older, the cries get louder. Every baby goes through a screaming phase. But then, the words come, and the cries lessen, and soon, there’s only the teary tantrums of your three year old, or the soft sad crocodile tears of your five year old. Crying becomes a thing “only babies do.”
“I have to cry!” My five year old wails as I tug the brush though her hair. Ever attempting to do our best by her, we agree that it’s OK for her to be sad, but maybe not so loud about it. After all, it’s only a hair brush yanking out the tiny delicate hair from her five-year old scalp. Nothing to cry about, right?
“I cried a lot.” I said apologetically, one day in therapy. I had used up the whole tissue box, and was well into my next. Shameful. My therapist looked at me askance. “What’s wrong with crying?”
It was the same look my friend Kerri, an accomplished crier and beautifully gentle-hearted person, gave me when I apologized for making a puddle on her couch.
What’s wrong with crying? Well, it’s weak, that’s what. Big girls don’t cry. They get up, set their jaws and keep on trucking, bloody knees and bruised elbows and all.
Only. My friend Kerri isn’t weak. My dear friend Stephanie, who blew her nose in an old burp rag when I brought her donuts one teary morning, isn’t weak. They are two of the strongest people I know. I’m the one who feels brittle inside. I’m the one who apologizes for my tears. Do you know what happened when I cried in front of them? They didn’t tease me, or revile me. They wrapped their arms around me. They got me a tissue. They tried to help me.
Could it be that tears make you stronger? What if releasing that anguish in sobs and wet cheeked misery is what heals you? What if that’s the thing we need to feel better? Crying is a surrender, but not to our weakness. It’s a surrender to the hardness of life. Our tears are what can fill in that dark empty pit of despair with life-giving water. Crying is also our last-ditch effort to call out for help. Beyond our adult walls and our strong, capable selves, there’s a little kid in there.
She’s got scraped knees and elbows and someone was just really mean to her for no reason. She has to cry.
She’s worried over her dear child who is ill with something unknown, unseen, and possibly life-threatening. She has to cry.
She hasn’t slept in 18 hours and the baby has just latched onto her swollen, sore breasts. She has to cry.
Crying isn’t shameful. You are not full of shame when you cry. You are full of hurt, and that hurt has to come out.
It’s not something to be sorry for, either. We’re adults, we get to do what we want. Sometimes, what we want to do is cry.
Ever notice how quickly kids can switch moods? Some of that is immaturity, sure, but I remain convinced that it’s also because they don’t wall things up inside themselves. Have to Cry? Cry. Want to laugh? Laugh whole heartedly. Angry? Stomp those feet! Show it! There’s a lesson there. I’m not advocating a bunch of adults tantrumming all over the bank or the grocery store because there are no more lollipops. But our feelings are just as real as our two-year-olds, and one could argue, even more valid. What’s more, when we hide those feelings, they learn that only babies cry. The shame cycle is continued. We are worse off, and lonelier, for it.
So Mama, show your tears. Call for help. Just the act will help, and you might be surprised at how much aid is given to you.