This has come up recently in the Posse and in ParentAbiltiy, where a parent has been describing the situation with their child and has added the caveat that “yes, I broke down crying in front of them, please don’t judge me.”
It breaks my heart because somewhere along the way parents, mothers in particular, have gotten the message that displaying any emotion other than joy in front of our children is going to hurt them.
If you’ve been feeling guilty about crying in front of your kids, this is for you.
Why you might feel uncomfortable emoting in front of your kids
Generally speaking, expressing emotions has historically been seen as a sign of weakness.
The Victorian-era idea of needing to be toughened up so that you could deal with the cruel, hash world was still in full effect during the world wars, which means our parents were raised by people who had lived in a very cruel, harsh world.
They weren’t given much room for emotional expression, and the most emotional expression most of them witnessed from their parents was anger and happiness.
The two extremes since prior to the 1990s, parents mostly learned to parent by observing their own parents and the parents of their peers.
It makes total sense that our boomer parents weren’t raised with a whole lot of emotional intelligence.
Many of us have experienced emotions used as a weapon against us.
Many of the parents who have expressed concern over emoting in front of their children had parents who weaponized either our own emotions, or their parental emotions.
They made us responsible for their happiness or anger.
They used emotional blackmail like “if you do that you’ll make me cry.”
They cried to try to manipulate us into making the decisions they felt were right and they did this with the best intentions.
They were using the tools they had at the time to try and influence us to do what they felt was in our best interest.
In the 80s, 90s, and even oughts there wasn’t a whole lot of awareness of the long-term impact that had on mental health.
They didn’t know there was any other way to do things!
The internet has opened windows into so many different areas and I think parenting is one of the biggest ones.
We have access to experts and research and information on a level they never did.
Breaking cycles is never easy, but I dare say that you can’t break a cycle you’re aren’t aware of and if anything, the windows into other’s lives and connection to experts has made it easier to identify when we personally are caught in an unhealthy cycle.
All this to say, it’s really not that surprising that a lot of us got the message that crying or showing any other kind of emotion than happiness or anger is inappropriate and we need to shield our children from it.
Here’s the problem, though- children learn by observing and trying the things they’ve observed on for size.
We’re all copying each other.
If our children don’t see us emoting, working through it, and coming out the other side stronger they’re going to watch others who are emoting and copy how they cope with their emotions.
This leaves a whole lot up to chance and/or, they’re going to get the same message we got: that emotions are dangerous, to be avoided and if unavoidable- concealed and stuffed down as quickly as possible.
Is it any wonder that we’re all having mental health crisis after mental health crisis?
Grab the scripts for crazy-making behaviour and know exactly what to say next time your toddler, preschooler, or kindergartener isn't listening.
It is absolutely okay and encouraged to display emotions in front of your children.
If you’re sad, cry. If you’re upset, be big mad.
The important part here is what you do with those emotions and how you cope with them.
Crying is a pretty easy one. If you’re sad, and you curl up under a blanket and have a good sob or you put on music or a movie you find comforting and let it all out that’s modeling good emotion processing to your kids.
You’re showing them what to do when that happens to them and you’ll notice that if you cry in front of your kids, after a while when they cry they’ll start to mimic what you do.
They’ll go get a blanket and cuddle up.
They’ll ask for their favourite music.
They’ll ask for a hug.
When I cry, and I’ll admit I do that quite a bit, I tear up really easily, I will often ask my kids for a hug and as a result, when they’re sad they ask me for a hug!
Anger is a harder one.
This is why I encourage parents to facilitate their own emotions the same way we facilitate our kids’ emotions.
I have a punching bag, when I get mad I go kick the crap out of it.
I’ll often yell while I’m kicking the crap out of it and as a result, when my kids get frustrated and angry they will go to their punching bags and kick the shit out of their punching bags.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree usually.
Often this is the hardest part is figuring out what would actually allow you to express your emotions in a healthy, controlled, safe way- because…
THAT’S NOT SOMETHING WE WERE TAUGHT!
We were taught to conceal, stuff it down, and move on.
It feels scary to say “I really need to hit something or throw something when I’m mad” and then figure out what you could safety hit or throw.
(Beanbags, by the way, beanbags are great for throwing at a target.
It’s triggering for us because we weren’t given that opportunity as children so it feels dangerous to us now.
I can almost guarantee if you can be honest with yourself, accept that it might take some trial and error, and be willing to try you’ll find that your emotions don’t last nearly as long pretty quickly…and your children will start to emulate the copying strategies you’re modelling.
Yes, cry in front of your kids!
Make emotions safe by demonstrating how to handle emotions when you have them! Let them see it.
Show them that emotions aren’t going to kill you, they’re temporary, and we can act on them without hurting people or property.
Can you imagine the difference in the social landscape of the world when our children are adults if we can do this for them?
As always, if you need some support figuring out how to apply this to your family the Parenting Posse is there to talk it out and help you brainstorm a plan.