I’m looking after Jenson, my son, as my husband goes to London to spend the day with his mum. The morning started off a little sketchy, with Jenson calling out for his daddy and the slightest thing setting off tears.
I tried to distract him and get this day going by suggesting a trip to the park. But I realised his trousers and his coat were soaked from playing in the garden earlier on.
I couldn’t leave him like that. I had to change him before we could set off to have a bit of fun and adventure for the morning.
He wasn’t keen on getting changed, and so I tried the parenting advice of offering him alternatives to give him some sense of choice.
“Do you want me to dry your clothes with the hairdryer? Or do you want to change into something dry?” I asked him. And after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing – tears and tantrums he said that he wanted to change his clothes.
So off we pattered into the bedroom to get him changed and ready.
But as I tried to undress him and put him in something more appropriate, he lost his cool. He was screaming, clutching his clothes, almost throwing up with the effort of crying. Furiously resisting me taking off his damp clothes.
Sometimes I’d think “ok, you can stay in your wet clothes” – for example, he hates having the rain cover put over his buggy, so quite often he ends up getting wet as I push him around. The screaming and tantruming is often not worth the price of him getting slightly damp in the rain.
But this was different, I couldn’t let him stay in something so wet with the cold weather outside.
It wasn’t a choice to just go with the flow this time.
And so I continued onwards in my wrestling to take off his clothes. Cajoling and begging and pursuing the removal of his clothes regardless of how he reacted.
It just kept getting worse.
Until he was almost naked, screaming and red-faced.
And so I did with my friend Laura Grove had suggested when he was a newborn, stripping down on top myself and hold him in a skin to skin embrace to calm him down.
I held him as he cried and went through cycles of sniffling and then wailing and then calming and then crying, finding peace, then going back to some more crying.
And eventually, he fell asleep, deep asleep, in my embrace.
I kept on humming deeply all through this, not ‘shushing’ him but instead making a sound which I hope expresses to him I hear you, I’m sad with you, I understand.
I thought about all the other times that I have tried to work through similar situations. Usually this involves getting us out of the house ASAP to provide Jenson with some distraction of the outside world.
But this situation today is revealing something deep inside me, the belief that it’s important for him to learn that it is safe to feel.
In a world where masculinity so often involves the denial of feelings in the pursuit of toughness, being constantly strong and capable, focusing on nothing but logic, thinking and reason, I need him to know that it’s okay to feel.
Is it okay to feel sad, frustrated and to express that whatever way is appropriate, even in tears.
Part of me worries about how he will fit if he grows up sensitive when the world doesn’t show kindness to delicate boys.
How can he be someone who feels when his friends and peers might mock him for this?
And how can I parent consistently in this way – encouraging Jenson to feel – when my husband has a different approach of distraction, himself actively avoiding feeling any negative feelings?
How do we co-parent consistently and with compassion to him and with our different styles?
I don’t know.
But what I intuitively feel is that it’s important to allow Jenson to feel so that I bring forward a future with more space for the full spectrum of human feeling in him and for men of future generations – joy, suffering, wonder, anger, peace, frustration.
I want Jenson – and other children around him – to know it’s okay to express their feelings instead of bottling them up.
Because I know all too well what bottling things up results in – looking for distractions, afraid to be with the discomfort, paralysis in not knowing how to feel, discomfort with others feeling the emotions that you’ve deprived yourself the ability to feel.
It’s hard to stay in the feelings with Jenson, to not not try to make everything okay. Especially when I can’t always put things down to just focus on him.
But I think this is important and I feel that the foundations I’m building now – of him knowing it’s safe to feel – will be helpful for him in the future. ￼