I Can't Make My Daughter Feel Better, but This Is What I Can Do


I heard her cries with my heart, more than with my ears, each wail reverberating in my aching chest. I cradled her head and held her rigid body against mine as she yelled, “No, no, no!” then heaved a shaky breath to release another loud howl. I whispered in her ear, “I’m here. I love you,” again and again, as I swayed and tasted the salty tears that ran down her neck. For five minutes I felt the waves of emotions that coursed through her tired body – confusion, anger, frustration, fear – as she succumbed to exhaustion.

I absorbed her helpless desperation, but wouldn’t, couldn’t, let myself collapse beneath it. Instead I just held her, rocked her, and continued my chant, “I’m here. I love you.”

There is a sacred space we enter with another person when we can let them feel what they are feeling without avoidance, advice, judgement, or tense discomfort. Simply to tell them, “I’m here and I love you.”

I am not in my daughter’s skin, and so I don’t know what it feels like to have steroids coursing through me, creating a surge of unpredictable emotions and moods. This little girl has all these new big feelings without words to even make sense out of them. I want to understand what she feels, I want to tell her how to make it better, or distract her somehow. But in this desperate moment, after a sleepless night, a long morning, and still no nap, I can only be here with her as a witness.

Yes darling, you are miserable. Your body aches, you are tired but your body won’t behave and sleep as it should. You feel angry and powerless. You want mommy to make it all better, and you are learning, maybe for the first time, that there are some things that mommy can’t fix. But I am here, I am with you in this. I love you.

And in this brave moment between a helpless baby and her helpless mommy, I begin to learn a lot about how to help someone heal.

When we are confused, overcome by big emotions we can’t explain, when life hurts and we feel too tired to even make our bed, we don’t need advice. We don’t need platitudes, or our pain to be wiped away like an unsightly smudge of dirt. We need a brave person to stay and hold us through the waves of grief, anger, desperation, and longing, to whisper lovingly, “I am here.” When life knocks the breath out of us, sometimes the bravest thing to do is to inhale and exhale those first few breaths, to be held by the loving arms of those there to support you, and fearlessly succumb to the illusive sleep that our tired souls need.

You are seen. You are loved. Dear one, you are so, so brave.

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