Big Girls Don’t Cry: On Emotional Authenticity and Motherhood

For the past few days I have been walking around with raw nerves, alligator tears, and intense sensitivity. I’m not sure if it’s stress, the weather, hormones, or a combination of post-holiday fatigue and all of the above, but let’s just say that it’s taking all of my energy to keep it together.

But is “keeping it together” a good model for my child, who does not stop desiring my attention even if I’m feeling low?

Yesterday I was talking to a wonderful friend of mine about how I was feeling and about the demands of being a parent at a time when you’re just not at 100%. A mother of two with another on the way, she suggested that I be honest with my daughter about how I was feeling and what I needed. Even admitting I was sad seemed somehow dangerous–like if it I were to be anything but a rock for my child I would create an instability that would ruin her sense of security. But, then again, shouldn’t she see that being sad is a normal part of life, and that some days we just feel a bit down, and that’s ok? Is striving for outward perfection at all costs a good example to set?

So, on the way to church I told her that I wasn’t feeling good, and suggested we listen quietly to some music so I could feel better. And, sure enough, my beautiful child seemed to understand. She wasn’t worried or frightened; she simply sat quietly and listened to the radio.

As parents, we know that some days our children are just a bit “off.” They may be a little sad, crabby, or distracted, but we chalk it up to the ebb and flow of living. What if we allowed ourselves the same generosity of understanding? What if rather than pushing ourselves to smile, laugh, and play, we let our temporary lows show, revealing that we too are human? By shielding our children from our own authentic emotional lives, we underestimate their capacity for empathy and also refuse kindness to ourselves, most likely exacerbating our bouts of sadness rather than releasing and relinquishing them.

What are some conversations you have had with your children about your feelings and what you need from them? Do you find yourself stifling tears while you are with them, or do you allow yourself to experience sadness and explain to them why you are feeling low? Experiences are most welcome in the comments section.

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