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Associate Minister's Column

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My first real lesson from parenting: be wary of the stories. While my new son is reasonably calm, at least by baby standards, he still cries a lot. When I was in parenting classes, the instructor warned us about the stress that comes from a crying baby, but I didn’t think it would bother me. How wrong I was.

After some reflection, I think I’ve figured out why the crying bothers me (and it has very little to do with what is actually causing my son to cry). It’s not the volume, although that can be an irritant. It’s not the velocity or the frequency.

I am most bothered by the stories I tell. I tell the story about how his crying tells me he is hurting, or uncomfortable, or hungry. Therefore, to be a good father, I must address whatever concern is causing him to cry.

If we want to delve a little deeper into my psychology, I tell stories about his crying that have more to do with our relationship than the physical needs. I tell myself stories about how his crying is because he doesn’t know if he will be loved or safe. These stories are important, but we must be aware that they are stories. It’s possible he is angry, hurting or hungry, but it’s also possible he’s just crying because the sheer overwhelming nature of existence is too hard to handle all at once. Either way, I find myself not reacting to the cry, but to the stories I’m projecting onto him.  

Once I identified that the source of my stress wasn’t the actual cry, but what I worried the cry meant, then I was able to be more present and attentive to my son’s needs.

That led me to wonder about the rest of my life. How often am I responding to the actual cries of other people and how often am I responding to the stories I tell about the person crying? I wonder how much of our current partisan political climate, how much of our current cultural discord, and even how much of our perpetuation of systems of oppression, is us reacting to the stories we tell rather than to what the other person is actually crying about.