There’s a story that I’ve seen a few times on social media. It seems sorta cool at first. It shows a picture of a bag with candy and ear plugs and a cute note – parents apparently have started passing these out when they fly. It’s meant to make the other passengers feel nicer towards the crying baby on the plane, mollified with sucking candy and earplugs and a note explaining that the baby can’t help it but doesn’t mean any harm and that people can come visit in seat such and such. It was a cool idea, I thought at first.
Then I saw an article against it, saying that babies will cry on planes, it’s just that simple. And to apologize for it is the same as apologizing for any other aspect of travel that everyone has to live with. Sure, it sucks to be next to a baby that cries for hours of your flight. But the reality is that most babies only really cry during takeoff and landing, and maybe a bit in the middle bits. The rest is normal baby stuff, normal life stuff about spending time in close proximity to other humans while you move around the world. It might be a cute idea, but it sets up a strange kind of expectation for parents to make other people okay with their baby’s crying. Why do we all apologize for it, and when should we?
A couple months ago, we were at a braai with Dean’s dad’s coworkers, and Harley was particularly niggly that night. I apologized to them, not wanting to ruin the evening or make them uncomfortable. They asked me why I was apologizing. Both had kids of their own, both knew that this is what babies do. They cry sometimes. And sometimes they laugh and sometimes they make absolutely no sense. It’s not the parents’ fault that a baby cries (barring any obvious exceptions). It happens and we do our best to prevent it and soothe our little ones quickly. But they will cry, no matter how amazing we are as parents.
I try not to take Harley to places where her crying might disturb other people. I didn’t take her to the Disney showcase for that very reason – I didn’t want her potential screams to ruin a presentation. But otherwise, I take her to meetings, I take her shopping, I even take her out to eat. Most of the time, she’s pretty well behaved. And when she gets upset and cries, no one gets upset with me. They are all so understanding, so lovely about it. Babies cry, and then they stop. It’s not the end of the world, it’s just a part of dealing with these tiny humans.
I never apologize for breast feeding Harley. In fact, I never even worry if a place is “breastfeeding friendly” – I just whip out a boob and feed my child when she needs it. Thus far, no one has said a mean word or given me a dirty look for it. So why do I worry that I might get a dirty look if my baby cries? Why do I feel compelled to apologize if Harley isn’t in a smiling, happy mood (or asleep).
I suppose it’s because I feel like there’s a judgement. I feel like other people are looking at me, wondering why I’m not fixing my baby, what’s happened to make her cry. The reality is, nothing has happened, she’s just crying. She will stop when she feels better again, which I try to speed up by holding her, rocking her or distracting her. Still, I can’t help but feel like I need to apologize, not because other people are disturbed by her cries, but because it’s somehow a sign of bad parenting. Like when I say, “I’m sorry”, I’m really saying “I’m sorry I’m not good enough to keep my child happy all the time”. But it’s not me, it’s not my fault, and maybe I’m apologizing too much.
A while back, I read an article about changing “I’m sorry” for “Thank you”. Instead of saying sorry for keeping someone waiting, you thank them for their patience. Instead of saying sorry for an inconvenience, you thank the person for their understanding. I think I need to take that approach from now on. Because I’m not sorry for Harley’s crying. Sure, I feel bad for her getting upset and wish it were otherwise, but I don’t need to apologize for her behavior when it’s totally natural and normal. From now on, I will simply thank people for being understanding, accommodating, supportive. I might not get it right every time, but from now on, I’m done apologizing for my baby – she is doing nothing wrong and doesn’t need to say sorry.