It’s no secret that babies feel what their mothers feel — inside and outside of the womb. They sense their caregivers just the same (which is at least part of why they may revolt when handed off to someone else who wants to hold them).
It’s also no secret that babies cry and we can sometimes feel helpless to soothe or calm them. Taking care of a crying baby can bring up a lot of emotions. During these moments, we might feel like we’re a frazzled bunch of nerves or — in more extreme circumstances — like we want to put the baby down and walk far away.
What if these trying moments are actually an invitation?
I’m not going to minimize the intensity of being with a crying baby. It really can be one of the most doubt- and irritation-producing experiences that we can have as parents. When my first child cried, I responded all sorts of ways — sometimes with immediate caring, other times with uncomfortable distance. Over time I came to realize that being with crying babies (or children and adults) can be an invitation for us to look within and discover how we relate to emotions. When we’re willing to do this, we open the door to a new experience with crying so we can actually be with ourselves and our babies when crying is part of the picture. We can’t control it, but we can choose our influence.
Grounding meditation is one way we can help ourselves become calm so we can learn how to positively influence our babies with the calm we create. Whether they’re crying or simply seem agitated, meditation changes the energy we feel. Through taking a few moments to center and ground ourselves while we hold our babies, we can transform stress, allow feelings to release and provide support through the ups and downs of everyday life.
Even if you don’t have a crying baby to soothe, you can start right now. It may even be helpful to try this meditation a few times before using with a baby. I’ll walk you through the process, and you can practice more on your own so you’re ready when your baby, or someone else’s, starts crying.
Initially, you may find it helpful to either stand or have feet on the floor, but it’s okay to simply imagine your feet touching the earth if that works for you. If you get distracted during the meditation, just bring your attention to your breath and the center of your body. See distractions as having a dual message. If the baby’s crying, one message is that baby needs something, and another is to bring your attention back inside your body.
Start by bringing your attention to this moment. Notice if you feel distracted and call yourself to right here and now. Begin to notice what it feels like to breathe. Really feel your breath entering your body, flowing through your lungs and your body exhaling. Notice the slight space in between.
Bring your attention deeply into your body and feel what it feels like to be resting where you are. Notice the sensation of your legs or feet contacting the surface you are resting on. If you feel tense, take a deep breath and soften your shoulders as you exhale. Continue noticing how it feels to breathe.
As you rest or feel your feet on the ground, feel what it feels like to be solid like a tree. Experiment with pulling energy up the soles of your feet into your body. You can also grow metaphorical roots into the ground. Notice how you feel. Does it help more right now to pull energy up from the ground or grow roots into the ground? Do what works for you (including both). Relax here for a few breaths. If there’s still some tension in your body, allow it to sift down through your legs and into the roots below. Notice what it feels like to stand solidly.
Now, bring to mind something that’s upsetting — maybe your baby crying or arguing with someone you love. See if you feel as solid as you did moments ago. If you feel off kilter, continue the meditation, noticing your breath. Move onto noticing any sensations in your body and how solid you feel with your feet rooted to the ground. Rest here as long as is helpful for you.
If you’re new to meditation, you may wonder how this works or could help. Practice some and see what happens. Choosing to relax ourselves is different from forcing relaxation (which is quite the oxymoron and clearly doesn’t work). Grounding meditation can help us learn how to relax through intense parenting experiences such as crying, while we offer a compassionate space for our babies to release. If you’re not familiar with potential benefits of in-arms crying when all other needs are met, you may appreciate the work of Aletha Solter, author of the book Tears and Tantrums.
When you try this with your baby, you may notice more crying initially — especially if you’ve been working to fade or fix the crying. Make sure your baby’s needs are met as you begin (fed, dry diaper, no clothes pinching, lights dim, quiet environment if that’s preferred, etc.) and then try this for a few minutes at a time. Some babies may need to cry for awhile to release stress. Holding a crying baby in loving arms is totally different from leaving a baby alone to cry. Learning to trust ourselves and our babies is also part of the process. Grounding meditation can help us calm ourselves so we can listen more deeply to the crying and sense whether it is due to needs not being met or a need for emotional release.
If you struggle when feeling intense emotions you may want to start with SAFE — an invitation to feel what you feel fully and safely. Once you practice SAFE for awhile it may be easier to add in the grounding meditation. Also, you can use any point of your body to connect with the ground (legs, butt, back, whatever works).