Allowed to feel

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. 

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In a funk

I’m sat down, having just put Jenson down to sleep, and am reflecting on the intermittent funk that I was in yesterday. I had moments of joy – seeing a friend, going to a yoga class, time in a cafe by myself, time laughing about what Jenson was getting up to – but kept on falling back into a bit of a mood. An itchy, scratchy feeling that things weren’t quite right.

And, having reflected on it, I think I know why this was…because I haven’t let go of my old life.

I keep on thinking  about how I’d love to be able to sleep in until noon, spend all day marathoning films, go out to eat in the evening with friends, read a book in the bath for hours and hours…and on the list goes of what I’d love to do for just one day.

And while I would never wish to be without my gorgeous little one, who is one of the very the best things in my whole world, I’ve been keeping hold of what was and is no longer.

I don’t think this has been a problem up until now because prior to this stage Jenson was amiable and willing to tag along doing whatever I wanted to do. But with his new found crawling and his little personality coming through (he’s got my stubbornness!), he’s no longer content to be my little shadow. He wants to be centre stage.

But despite this, I’ve been trying to keep my life as it was. Going out to cafes where there’s nothing much for him to play with, wanting time to chat when I need to be occupying Jenson, wanting to come first when, for now at least, that’s not how things are.

In sharing this with you, it’s helping me to let go of what once was in order to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of what is. And there’s so much to appreciate – my healthy, radiant, cheeky little boy, my family of three who I love spending time with, the possibility of doing other stuff – autumnal walks, craft activities, coffees in soft play centres, dancing around the kitchen, dressing Jenson up in ridiculous outfits, trips to the swimming pool.

And I know that things will get easier. Jenson will become more independent and will need me less which will bring with it the possibility of hours to read by myself, trips out with friends, trips to the cinema, time to cook up a storm in the kitchen. But I’m sure that, when that day comes, I’ll also feel in a funk and will mourn the days when my little boy needed me so desperately.

So I’ll try to appreciate what I have, for I have so much to be grateful for.

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