As if speaking up about emotions isn’t difficult enough, I will strongly agree with anyone who says that it’s even more difficult to do so if you are male. We still live in a society where boys are told to ‘suck it up and stop crying’ more often than girls are. Which is largely due to the fact that for years, boys have been bombarded with the task of maintaining pop culture’s mostly unrealistic image of superheroes. Let’s face it, on the big-screen, being strong and brave rarely factors in acceptable levels of sensitivity which include tears.
I have a 10 year old son who has seen his fair share of struggles in his short life. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have a happy life…because he does. But I think it’s safe to say that the ups and downs his precious mind and soul have experienced are already greater than those in which most adults have experienced. Stressful relationship break-ups, witnessing the effects of mental illnesses which caused your mom to be taken away in an ambulance…are all too much for anyone’s eyes, let alone a small boy.
But for the grace of God, our lives have done a 180 degree turn, resulting in a home life that is peaceful (for the most part…as long as we aren’t chasing our dog Walter while he tries to eat Bounce sheets, or making sure that he isn’t cornering the cats and eating their food; Walter that is, not my son 😉 ). We laugh a lot now. He’s doing better in school, and has that sparkle back in his eyes that I missed for SO long! But no matter how much better life is, there are still times when I can tell that he is feeling sad and/or worried. He is very conscious of not hurting my feelings, and tries to make sure I am always happy. That must be very tiring for a little guy, and I get it, as I use to try to make my mom happy all the time too. But no matter how hard I try to show him that I am healthy and very happy, he gets overwhelmed and afraid at times, and just needs a good cry.
I have learned a lot of amazing things about the power of accepting our feelings over the last year and a half, and I am so grateful for this as I now do my best to share these strategies with my kids. And to reiterate the theme of this blog, I am mindful that I make sure I allow my son to express his feelings as freely as my daughter does.
The old me often got frustrated when my kids cried, and looking back now, I realize that that frustration came from a lack of knowledge of how to deal with their emotions in a healthy way. I feel sick to my stomach now when I remember times when I sent my kids to their room until they stopped crying, or for telling them that they were ok, when clearly they were not.
Here are some emotion-accepting tips I now implement with my kids, and equally as importantly with my son. These may seem pretty basic to most parents, but I’m willing to chance an eye-roll or two and be ‘that mom’ who thinks she knows a thing or two about parenting…because well, now I do 🙂
- When my son is sad I console him and tell him it’s ok to cry, and I don’t give him a time limit on when that should be done. No more, “Ok, that’s enough crying”, because who am I to judge that it’s enough? I would be pissed if someone said that to ME, so why is it ok to say that to our kids?
- I validate his fears and concerns. I don’t say, “that’s nothing to cry about”, or “that’s a silly thing to be afraid of”, because once again, I am not in his mind and have no right to choose how he feels.
- I take the time to listen to why he is upset. I am the first to admit that I usually have my phone in my hand, but when he is sad, I put it down. Granted, I may need to actively remind myself to so…but I do. Nothing is more important in that moment than giving my full attention to him.
- And last but certainly not least, I show my sadness too! When I was sick I thought that hiding my emotions protected my kids from pain, when in fact it caused it. They are SO in tune with our personalities, including our non-verbal language, that they can tell when we are sad. Denying this only confuses them, and in fact makes them worry more. To my surprise, when I started telling my kids the truth about my emotions, they accepted it, and went on with their day!
Crying isn’t easy for most of us. But I challenge you to remember a time when you didn’t feel better after you did! I can actually compare the feeling of calm after a good cry to that of the feeling of relief and happiness when a run is done. Let’s make sure that we don’t hold those opportunities for calm, happiness and relief, hostage from our sons.