Photo Flickr Creative Commons Arwen Abenstern – KWP

As a mother of four, it’s clear to me people are wired to feel. It’s not something we teach our children. It’s just there. I’ve never purposefully set out to teach my children fear, joy, sadness or anger, yet I’ve seen them display all of them quite convincingly. Children are truly expert when it comes to showing emotion.

My quandary comes when trying to figure out what to do with those emotions. I don’t remember my parents exactly teaching me much about feelings, but I know I struggle with showing mine – – with being transparent with those around me when I’m really hurting. I don’t mean acquaintances and loose friends. I mean allowing those people who know me best to see my innermost craziness – you know, my parents, my siblings, my husband. The people you are apparently supposed to want to connect with when you’re spiraling.

Maybe it was the “suck-it-up” attitude of my childhood… who knows. I’m not casting blame. Children should be taught to suck-it-up a little bit. You can’t have a 10 on the Richter scale without a 1.

But sometimes we do feel like the sky is falling and people are telling me I’m supposed to tell someone my sky is falling instead of creating a bomb shelter in my bed or my head, and sitting there alone for awhile until the sky looks whole again. Even writing this I’m not sure I believe it. I just don’t know what it looks like to be this person, but I’m trying.

But, lest you think there hasn’t been any progress, I tell you there has been. Lots of progress. And just so you don’t get discouraged and think I’m a lost cause, I’ll share one of my biggest  ah-ha’s of the last few months: I’m not responsible to remove all self-doubt or emotional disappointment from my children’s lives.

Boundaries with Kids taught me I’m supposed to let them learn to handle their own self-doubt and disappointments. Whut?

Some of you are shaking your heads in wonder that I was naive enough to think it was my job as a mom to handle my kids’ disappointments for them. That it was my job to convince them of how wonderful they are or how proud they should be of themselves.

Others of you are dropping your jaw right now because you too just had an ah-ha moment.

And some of you just don’t get it. That’s okay. This message is for parents in group two.

Listen, moms, the idea here isn’t to shield our kids from negative emotions – or talk them out of them. It’s to sit in their discomfort with them. To allow them to feel disappointment in themselves or their behavior or the behavior of others, or the outcome of a pursuit. The point is really just to let them feel it and validate that their feelings are normal. To hug them and kiss them and make them cookies and milk, or hummus and veggies if you’re that mom.

Just changing this aspect of my mothering has lessened the “drama” in our household. Our cat died unexpectedly last week. She was nearing her 17th year. This is a major crisis for our oldest, who was the cat’s Chosen One. I really think a year ago this would have been debilitating for Natalie. Granted she has matured a lot in the last 12 months, but I’m also handling emotions differently, much differently, than I have before. Last year’s conversation would have been:

Natalie: “Mom, I really miss Taurus. I don’t want her to be dead. I’ve never had a day apart from her and I don’t think I can sleep without her.”

Me: “It’s going to be okay. I miss her too, but we’ve been on vacation without her and you were able to sleep. I think you’ll be able to sleep without her now.”

Natalie, wailing: “NOooooooooo, I can’t sleep without her. I’ll never sleep again. Can I sleep with you tonight, mom? I’ll never fall asleep without my best friend and big sister (yes, she called her, her big sister).”

Me: “Natalie, you’re letting your emotions control you right now. Let’s think of all the nice things about Taurus.”

Here’s what I do now…

Natalie: “Mom, I really miss Taurus. I don’t want her to be dead. I’ve never had a day apart from her and I don’t think I can sleep without her.”

Me: “I know what you mean. I miss her too and don’t want her to be dead. I wish I could bring her back. Wouldn’t that be nice?” (all said while pulling her into a mama-bear hug)

Natalie: “Yeah. Let’s bring her back. She was my BFF, mom. I told her everything. I was her Chosen One.”

Me: “She really did love you, didn’t she? And you loved her too. I loved her a lot too and am really going to miss her.”

Seriously, ladies. We have not taken any trips to the pit of despair over the cat (granted it’s only been a few days, there’s still time) There’s been crying. Little fits of it here and there and each time I’ve let her cry, hugged her, and told her how much it sucks to lose a pet that’s been part of the family for over 16 years.

There was only one time where she was lying on the floor wailing (which seemed to be a little forced) where I told her she’d have to go grieve in her room so her siblings could hear the television. Then I left the room. That was it. She stopped the wailing and kindof just went back to sitting with her sibs.

Another quick example and then I’ll let you go…

Natalie: “I don’t have a partner for the science project. No one wants to work with me.”

Me: “Man, that stinks. How does that make you feel?”

Natalie: “Icky. Everyone else has a partner.”

Me: “Yeah. I can see how that would make you feel icky, maybe even a little left out.”

Natalie: “Yeah. But Katie said I could work with her and Sophia if my teacher said it was okay.”

Me: “Oh wow! That was nice of Katie. It must’ve made you feel good for her to include you.”

Natalie: “Yeah. Her and Sophia are BFFs but she’s nice to me too.”

Um…. yeah. So I never used to get to this level with Natalie because after her intro I would’ve been trying to teach her how to be a good friend and buck up to the system of getting partners and actually try to solve the problem for her (darn me being so task oriented!)  The new me validates how she feels and asks leading questions letting her solve it. I’m happy to say it’s working out quite well.

The part that’s so crazy is by allowing myself NOT to take on the disappointments of my kids and letting them have it, has not only freed them, but has freed me! A huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. HUGE. And it seems my kids are better at handling the disappointments. I’ll tell you what. Those professionals sure know what they’re talking about.

Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. I highly recommend it (it’s about way more than emotions…. that just happens to be one area that really hit me hard.)

Comments (2)

  • Laurie / November 14, 2014 / Reply

    I’m going to have to read it this weekend!

  • Brenda Taylor / November 19, 2014 / Reply

    This is a great post. I wish someone would have told me this when my daughter was younger (she’s 25 now). The example of how your conversation with Natalie would have gone last year is how our conversations have always gone and still go. Thank you for the great insight.

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