It was only 10 o’clock in the morning and I was already looking forward to bedtime that day. I knew one more whine, one more fight, one more mess would break me down. And that is exactly what happened. In that moment of complete overwhelm, I sat down on the kitchen floor, unable to take on any more requests at that point, and cried. (Why the kitchen floor? Because I had no other place to hide in our tiny apartment that seems to always be filled to bursting with people for the past 5 months.)
So in tears on the floor I found myself, with my kids staring at me. Anyone who might have walked into our house at that moment would have assumed that they had stepped into a funeral.
These precious kids are my life, the little ones who I am meant to keep safe and healthy. But instead, once in awhile I find myself going around crying and breaking down in front of them. Most recently, I couldn’t help but wonder, Is this how I am supposed to do this parenting thing?
And more specifically…
Will they think I’m weak?
Does my vulnerability scare them?
Why does everything feel so hard?
How will I explain my tears to my kids?
What will I tell them?
That I was hurt? But, hurt by what?
Am I being a good example to them by showing the rawness of motherhood?
The questions and worry and shame kept coming as the tears flowed…
But then as the wave of emotions settled a bit, I found myself doing the same thing every mother does: I picked myself up off the floor, dried my tears, and went back to mothering. I pulled myself together and continued to be be a happy mom, embracing my sweet kids. And yet, I was also still a woman, wrestling internally while sitting on top of a pile of anger and frustrations within me.
Later that day, as expected, I was bombarded with questions by my 5-year-old. With concern in his eyes he asked, “Mom, are you ok? Why did you cry so badly? Are you angry with me?”
I took a moment and thought very hard about how to answer him. In all honesty, I could have given him so many answers in that moment, but what would be the appropriate one? Ultimately, I did not want to lie to him. So I told him the truth.
I said, “I was sad. But I wasn’t sad that you were making your brother cry, or that I’m overwhelmed with the expectation to cook every meal every single day, or that I didn’t get enough sleep last night because you and your brother took turns waking me up. It’s also not just because I feel unable to keep up with the household chores. I’m just tired, exhausted and washed out from everything at the same time. In that moment you saw me crying, everything was way too much to handle for me and I was sad.”
Essentially, I just blurted out all this to a 5-year-old looking at me with his puzzled eyes. I continued, “I was tired, Jivin. You did not do anything wrong. But you know what? It would help me a little if you would try to be nicer to your brother.”
Now, I did not know if he really understood what I was trying to say, but the fact that I took the time to talk to him and tell him how I really felt made us all feel better. Because really, it did not matter to him why I cried, but it did matter to him that I communicated with him about it.
That day I realized, just because I had a hard moment, didn’t mean I was a bad mom. Over time, I have let my kids see me in tears many times. They have also witnessed me reaching out and talking to other adults about my stress. Being their primary caregiver, I am a mom who cannot hide from my kids as they are with me every day, all day (and not just during a pandemic).
But because of this, I’ve also come to realize every time I let my bigger emotions show, it is important to follow it up with words. This teaches my kids that we all have tough moments and asking for help during those moments is okay.
It is actually a sign of strength, not weakness. So now, I make sure my kids understand this.
I make sure my sons know…
I am emotional, yet I am strong.
I am overwhelmed at times, yet I never give up.
I am tired, yet I keep going.
I am patient, even when I get impatient.
And over the years, I have come to the realization that my kids do not need a perfect mom, for she does not exist. They just need me as I am. And in so doing, they are learning that is it okay to be imperfect.
And that it’s okay to cry.