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Motherhood makes me cry.

Motherhood has made me a crybaby.

By jeannesager |

My daughter’s face is raw and red, with tears streaming down her cheeks. She’s in full toddler-meltdown mode. I’m stricken, clenching her in a hug, my own face so close to tears you can almost see a wobble in the chin in the still photograph.

Artistically, it is a fantastic photo. The lighting. The mood. It was taken by a professional assigned to shadow our family as part of the famous Eddie Adams Barnstorm Photography Workshop. As a photographer, I can appreciate it. As a mother, I’m awed by the emotional scene between parent and child.

But as a woman? It is me, forever breaking down, caught on a digital Nikon in full color at high resolution. I am serving at the whim of my emotions. Kind of like the toddler on my lap.

And that’s where I’ve fallen in love with this photograph. Because my daughter is not afraid to show how completely devastated she is at this particular moment in time. She hasn’t lost control of her emotions. She’s using her tears to say, “Mommy, my finger, it hurts.”

Society in general does not respect crying from people over four feet tall. You are a “crybaby.” There’s “no crying in baseball.” You “cry like a baby.” “Big girls don’t cry.” Is it any wonder we spend decades fighting back tears?

I’ll admit I was never very good at it. The father died in the movie Armageddon, and I balled my hands in fists so hard I left nail marks in my palms. Still, I cried. The nurses in the hospital struggled to find a vein for the IV, moving from arm to arm and hand to hand, while I chewed a piece of my lower lip off. And still I cried.

That shame of letting go sits at the back of my mind when I watch my daughter’s eyes begin to water. But she’s not looking around to see who’s watching (not when she’s really crying – there are the manipulative toddler tears too, those “Mommy won’t buy me the 99-cent toy near the grocery checkout” tears).

She’s not about to apologize to me for crying, and I’m not going to make her. I might even join her. Because there are few things that make you feel better than a really good cry.

Watch your kid go from a face red and raw with pain, frustration, and utter devastation to the calm after the storm. It doesn’t matter what started it. It could be your baby – who isn’t talking yet – just needs to get some noise out. Or has some wicked gas. Or your toddler has just lost her favorite truck to her best friend in a sandbox battle.

When the last tear is shed, it is all over. And they go back to whatever they were doing – gurgling in their crib or shoveling sand into dump trucks.

I’ve found a beauty in that lull after a particularly raucous screaming fit, in kissing tear-stained cheeks and wiping a sniffling nose. She is not picture-perfect, but she is at her most loving, letting her wearied body fall heavily onto my chest and clutching at my arms, whispering her “I love you, Mommy.” After the violence of the cry, she feels safe. So what if she shows it by running her dripping nose across my shoulder?

I’m learning to take a cue from my crying kid.

“Why are you crying too, Mommy?” They literally sob for our sympathies. It’s up to us to let them know it’s okay.

They might be crying babies, but they’re no crybabies. According to a study dubbed the International Study on Adult Crying – which took into account the reports of more than three thousand people in a variety of countries, when they cried, why and how they felt afterward – ninety percent of people feel better after their tears are shed.

But where children weep unapologetically, the societal connection between crying and weakness dulls the efficacy of the act. A study at the University of South Florida on why some people feel better after a cry than others found that those who felt “shame or embarrassment” for their crying jag were less likely to reap the benefits of the release.

But those who reached out for (and received) emotional support while crying – those who weren’t embarrassed to reach for a hug – felt better. Which is something kids know from birth. Babies’ cries, in particular, are on a “crying curve,” that changes based on their developmental levels. They even start tearing up around two to four months old, when their bodies’ nervous system is developed enough to tell the tear ducts to get leaking. Mothers have been shown to sport an instinct to respond to our children crying, making it not just a response mechanism but a biological necessity.

So when the electricity blacks out, and suddenly twenty minutes of work on the computer is gone and I’m frustrated and up against a deadline, and my daughter starts wailing over the toe stubbed in the dark, I simply sweep her up in my arms and head off to the couch.

“Why are you crying too, Mommy?” she asks, sniffling into my shoulder.

“Because it’s okay to cry.”

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About jeannesager



Jeanne Sager is a freelance writer and photographer living in upstate New York with her husband and daughter, Jillian. She maintains a blog of her award-winning columns at

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10 thoughts on “Motherhood makes me cry.

  1. Sydnie says:

    This is such a heart wrenching picture. I see that face on my son and it always breaks my heart, and then he’s over it in 2.5 minutes. Ha! It’s so funny how kids can bounce back, and it’s fun to wonder just when exactly “crying” becomes taboo. It’s like innocence. It seems like overnight all of these things change. It reminds me of a few confessions on, talking about how their babies suddenly become adults and it seems like yesterday they were full of wonder and now they know it all. Crazy.

  2. Marj says:

    I admit it – I cry all the time.  Happy, sad, in pain… whatever.  Generally not in public though.

  3. proudcrybaby says:

    Oh man… now you’ve made me cry ;) That picture had tears welling up in my eyes before I started reading!I’m another happy/sad/frustrated crier not for mad though… if I have reason to be frustrated and mad and you don’t see tears watch out cause I’m gunna blow. LOL Tears are a huge stress/emotion release for me. Holding them in just doesn’t work.

  4. momtrolfreak says:

    I’m with you sister. I cry a lot more now than I did before my kid was born. I just have more access to my emotions now, and more than that, I care about stuff more. I have a boy and I especially find myself having to combat well-meaning “advice” to him from strangers, and it makes me pretty angry when I have to tell people not to tell my kid that boys don’t cry. He’s THREE.

  5. Shelly Mero says:

    I also cry all the time. When I was a child, people use to say I was too sensitive. I cry at movies, songs, books, watching my daughter master some feat, or just during a fight with my husband over some mundane thing. My daughter, bless her heart, has seemed to get all my “crying” genes. She too, cries at the drop of a hat, so to speak. Personally, I hope she stays that way. I want her to know that crying is good for the soul, just as is laughing! We do alot of that around here too!

  6. Suesbooks says:

    This was beautifully written. The pictures were also heartwarming. I cried reading it. It is perfectly alright to cry. It’s their way of communicating that something is wrong and we feel it. Beautifully done. We can also learn a lot from them as they are learning from us. Enjoy this time.

  7. lalahem says:

    “you wanna cry? CRY! Hell, let’s both make some noise”Quigley Down UnderCave Scene where she takes her life back by killing the dingos and begins the recovery from denial. I am so glad I’m a girl and can cry whenever I want!

  8. everybody cries says:

    I’ll bawl my eyes out in a heartbeat. It’s much better for me to do that than throw something (I cry when I’m mad as well as sad, and happy!) I am trying to teach my 8 year old step-son when crying is a good response (like when he is hurt and bleeding or sad because he did something that hurt his baby brother) and when there might be a better one (like when he’s pouting because I tell him he can’t play with the kids next door because they are both throwing up). Unfortunately there is a stigma against boys/men crying, and he’s going to have to deal with it. His older sister is such a big help, calling him a titty-baby every time he cries. *Smack*
    My husband will shed some tears when the occasion calls for it – the birth of our son, several times during an ugly custody battle over the two older kids, his grandmother’s funeral, a particularly touching scene in a movie or one of those songs that grabs you and puts a lump in your throat every time you hear it. I think he’s more of a man for those tears than those macho types that can’t cry. My dad, both of his brothers and my granddad cried at my grandma’s funeral (and my granddad comes from the John Wayne school of how to be a man – WWII vet, came up in the depression, lost a brother in childhood drowning accident). And no, we are none of those ethnic groups perceived to be more emotional (i.e. Italians). We are quite the opposite – Deep South working class.
    I think it’s a healthy human response to strong emotions. certainly better than bottling it all up inside. It also sets a better example for the 3 year old. He understands crying, and I will handle him doing that much better than him throwing things or hitting. Cry away baby boy, cry away!

  9. iluvmybabycakes says:

    so true…thats me…
    that picture is so sweet, i couldnt get through the whole article without

  10. Imissmybaby says:

    I have always been a crier too! and when my baby (now 18 and gone away to school out of state this last week) would cry, I would cry. When I cried, she cried. It often would end in a long giggle and talk afterward. Now that she is a big state away from me (Texas), I don’t have anyone to cry with. It’s odd to cry alone and when my eyes well up with tears, I think of what my nanny used to say to me. She would see the tears coming and say, “Wait, wait, I need to get my spoon to catch your tears with. I’m going water my sweetpeas so they will bloom even prettier!” and she would run get the sterling silver serving spoon. I always have said that to my daughter, and when we dropped her off at her dorm, she gave me a beautiful sterling silver spoon with Mama engraved on the handle. What a surprise it was, because I had searched all over for the perfect silver spoon for her with her name engraved on it to give to her!

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