Lessons from Parenting Part III

I hold my son's head with my right hand, the left hand scooped under his butt. He screams. I bounce. He errantly flails his hands. I bounce and "shushhhhh". He kicked his legs with all his might. I bounce.

Slowly but surely, he gets a little more limp in my arms. His eyes start to get heavy, then close intermittently. Eventually, he will slump entirely into sleep.

I repeat this process several times a day, every day. Sometimes there is hardly any screaming. Sometimes it takes what feels like forever, and I pray my neighbors won't call the police.

While I'm doing this, I'm struck by a simple fact of life, one that six week old children make it pretty hard to avoid. I know why he is screaming and writhing. He is tired. This is paradoxical of course- shouldn't you go to sleep easily when you are tired?

Except that's not how it works with human beings in general. I've suffered on an off from insomnia, and the previous nights sleep (and how bad it was) is a huge factor in whether I will sleep well the following night. Bad sleep and exhaustion beget more bad sleep.

Likewise, with a tiny baby, the more tired they are, the more resistance you will get. They need your help and they will make you pay for it.

Powering Through

Think about the hardest time in your life. Whatever it is, think about how you were in that moment. Almost everyone I talk to will tell me in that in that darkest moment they were the hardest to help. They pushed people away that wanted to pick them up.

We're not so different from infants. We use different behavior when we get to be "big kids". We isolate ourselves from others, we try to work our way through it alone. Many of us have learned a false model of resilience that focuses too much on rugged individualism and too little on the extreme importance of other people.

Yet others spiral emotionally, publicly, without any sense of what it might mean to get some aid from someone else in that situation. 

As I said in my podcast about Empathy two weeks ago, sharing an emotional space with another person is so incredibly important to being able to regulate the most powerful emotions we feel.

Luckily for me, an infant is pretty good at communicating where they're at emotionally. They don't try to isolate or hide it from you. So you get a great opportunity to help them in their struggle. 

Likewise, as a coach, i cherish the moments when somebody is a little bit hard to help. When they are (figuratively) kicking me in the chest while I try to help them. I know that they are struggling with something, and if I can make it through, there's a chance for them to trust a little bit more that the next time they struggle someone will be there to help them.