I’m not the mom who handles conflict well. Growing up, I was the peacemaker of the house. Once I even confessed to stealing a box of Snickers candy bars to avoid the uncomfortableness of my parent’s inquisition. Meanwhile, in the next room, my brother was reveling in his good fortune and his little sister’s weakness with peanut buttery chocolate all over his hands. Needless to say, I went to bed early that night, but it was worth it to have the peace back into the house.
Generally, when my children cry, I have several responses. Granted, none of them being the right response. But I’m just being honest here.
1. “If you want to cry, go do it in your room. I don’t want to hear you cry. Don’t slam your door. Don’t stomp your feet. Go ahead and bury your face in your pillow and cry away. Rejoin the family when you are done.”
2. I plead and beg pitifully for them to stop crying. Insert multiple exaggerated sighs and annoyed eye rolls. “Pretty please stop crying. Please? Please? Mama’s skin is crawling. I’ll scoop you a bowl of ice cream. Just stop crying.”
3. Complete exasperation in an almost frightening decimal! “For the LOVE! Stop! Crying!” And I simply walk away from the conflict.
Avoidance is not exactly an effective problem solver is it? Neither is ignoring my children’s tears, getting angry with their emotions or buying away their feelings. Instead of resolving the conflict, my methods often have a way of stirring up more angst.
I am just recently learning how to recognize my children’s tears as their way of communicating their “Big” feelings to me. It was my youngest daughter, Lili, who was my biggest teacher.
During one of our early morning scrambles to get out the door, she was all upset over the tangles and snarls in her hair. I calmly asked her to stop crying.
Her response? “YOU NEVER LET ME CRY.”
It was as though time had stopped as I looked into her big blue, tear-filled eyes.
“Really? I don’t?” I asked.
“NO! You don’t. And I’m hurting.” She angrily crossed her arms as though she was trying to protect herself from me and my response. Of course she was referring to her sensitive scalp hurting, but in that moment I could clearly see that deeper inside she was in pain.
Momentarily stunned, I quickly apologized and gave her permission to cry.
And she did. She crumpled into my arms and I held my sweet sobbing daughter for five minutes straight. Then she took a deep breath, wiped her eyes, gave me a big smile and asked me to finish brushing her hair. The rest of the morning it was as if she was walking on air. You could clearly tell she felt lighter and more free.
But don’t we all feel better after a good cry?
Just the other day a friend of mine and I were chatting it up in the parking lot after a gym class. Without warning, my own tears began to fall. I am thankful that my compassionate friend offered a hug and a few words of understanding and encouragement. My tears didn’t annoy her or make her feel uncomfortable, instead she loved me through them and let me cry. Such a simple act that made me feel like I wasn’t alone, and for the rest of the day it was as if I was walking on air. I felt free.
Isn’t that how we always want our kids to feel? Free from the big emotions that, if left unattended, tend to grow.
Allowing my kids to cry for more than a bruised knee is hard for me. I realize that it also goes against our parent’s generation of teachings to “Suck it up” or “ Just put your big girl pants on.” But since that morning in the bathroom, I have been going against my own defaults to quiet my children’s emotions and listen instead. I’m offering them open and waiting arms instead of rushing them from the room.
It’s not easy. Sometimes I am gritting my teeth, and biting my tongue. But I can see how this small change in my attitude has been SO beneficial to them.
I’ve realized that my children just want to be heard. They just want us to look into their eyes and say, “ I am sorry.” Or, “I understand.” Letting them cry allows them to release all those pent up BIG feelings and frustration and move past the current situation feeling validated and understood. By listening to them, I am also able to evaluate the situation better, and offer teachable lessons or perspective. It also lets them know that their feelings matter. That even the tiny, seemingly unimportant aspects of their life hold value to us. Hopefully by letting them cry today, they will be willing to trust us later with the bigger issues in life.
Or if anything at all, at least they will know that they are loved.