Let Them See You Cry

June 6, 2012, Parenting Success Network

Monday was the big day.

My daughter was leaving for a week long overnight camp, three hours away, in the woods, with the entire fifth grade, parent volunteers, and her teachers. In the weeks leading up to this day she and her friends were bubbling over with anticipation. This was a first for her. And she wanted it REALLY bad. At ten-years-old her need to feel separated from her parents is getting stronger by the day. But so is her dependence on us for guidance into the social and emotional arena of puberty and middle school. This is such a complex time for our entire family.

On the eve of her departure, she asked me to help her complete her packing by checking things off the list given to her by her teacher that are already packed in her overnight bag. After I get over the fact that her bag is probably heavier than she is, I plant myself down on the floor on the opposite side of her room and I can see her rummaging through her bag across from me. “Okay mom, tell me the first thing on the list. ” she eagerly tells me. So I say, “Five pairs of socks.” She replies with a military sounding “Check!” then “Cross it off mom and tell me what is next.” She is clearly in the lead here so I follow marveling at her stature and commitment to the task at hand. Obviously, she is highly invested in the successful completion of packing her own bag. I begin to feel lucky that she even asked me to “help”. We continue in this format down the list and about halfway through the list, as I watch her sifting through her bag looking for the next item, I begin to feel hot and a bit shaky. Then suddenly I get a flashback of myself in the hospital holding my new baby and looking up at my husband with proud and scared eyes, both of us thinking — without saying a single word — “Wow! We did it!” As my  mind slips back into present day and my eyes try to refocus on my daughter, who has by this point turned to face me, I notice that she is looking at me with a quizzical look in her eyes. “Mom,” she gently tells me, “the paper is all wet.” I look down and realize that the list I had been holding is saturated with tears. I whisper to myself, “How did this happen?” She grew up so fast just like everyone said she would. I didn’t believe them. “It was supposed to last forever.” And I secretly wished that this moment could. My daughter moves across the room, meets me with her own tears, embraces me, and softly tells me, “Aw mom, it’ll be okay. I’ll be back before you know it.” Boy does that sound familiar. “I know.” I tell her, “I am just so proud of you. And I want you to have tons of fun. I am just sad that I will not be there to see it.” My husband knocks on the door to her room. “Is everything okay?”, he asks knowing exactly what is going on inside. He peeks in and sees our tearful embrace. “Mom is just sad that she is not going to camp with us.” (my husband is a chaperon) My daughter empathetically tells her dad. He replies “Oh, that’s what moms do.”

Yes, that IS what moms do. We are happy in front of our children, we are sad in front of our children, we are angry in front of our children. And dads are all of these things as well. Expressing our emotions in front of our children can be difficult at times. I did not want to spoil my daughter’s excitement about going to camp for the first time but I was overcome with my own emotions. She seemed to appreciate that I showed I cared. Additionally, without planning to, I gave her a window to my soul, I let her know how I felt inside and how I communicate and express those feelings appropriately. This is good parenting. Let them see you laugh, smile, cry, be angry, compassionate, loving etc. Show them what these emotions feel and look like. And then have a dialogue with your children about those emotional moments when appropriate. This will provide a foundation for your children to understand and express their own emotions as they evolve and become more complex.

I usually like to provide you with a link to an article of some sort that gives you parenting tips and advice on the topic at hand. But this time I have given you something special. I have given you a link to my heart.