It’s no coincidence that this awakening happened to me while raising young children. I am very grateful to God that he helped me see where I was missing out on the present with my kids while busy planning and doing. On a deeper level, I now realize that the “happy all the time” mom was not going to be able to healthfully guide, discipline, and emotionally support my children.
When I made the connection that all my planning was really an attempt to avoid negative emotions – I started to look around at all the ways this behavior could impact my life. I’d recently read a great parenting book by Kevin Leman called Making Kids Mind Without Losing Yours (what a great title!). He advocates “reality discipline” and believes that parents are responsible for preparing their children to live within reality. Therefore, allowing your children to believe that the world revolves around them (by giving them everything they want, doing everything for them, etc.) is actually not preparing them for a world filled with frustrations and disappointments.
This part of the book was hard for me to embrace and relate to. I realized that my misplaced belief that life could be “happy” all the time was the issue. How could I raise my kids to be ready for a reality that I couldn’t even admit existed? Much less was ready to live in myself?
Being an oldest girl, I used to tell folks that Sienna’s personality is just like mine. However, as she and I have both matured, her depth of feeling and more melancholy disposition has started to emerge. She’s silly, sweet, and very empathetic. However, she’s not overtly cheerful and expresses a more pessimistic perspective on life.
Suddenly the future seemed clear to me. If I couldn’t embrace my own emotional spectrum, my daughter would inevitably not feel comfortable sharing her emotions with me. I’d become a mom who “didn’t get it” – if I tried to cheer her up or diminished her feelings because they didn’t jive with my attempts to stay “happy”.
This awakening was, at its core, about being real. Being human. Feeling the ups and downs of life so that I could connect with my family and friends, appreciate when I was genuinely joyful, and empathize with others through shared sorrow.
Just recently my mom shared this quote on Facebook:
It hit home for me.
Yes, being able to empathize and share the sadness of my kids’ little frustrations and disappoints now will bond us so they feel safe coming to me in the future, when the pain is greater and the situation is bigger.
This evening I had the opportunity to practice honoring Sienna’s emotions. When I picked her up from her after school program, she was in tears. “I lost the other shoe!” she cried. Today she took her brand new toddler Elsa doll (from the movie Frozen) to school. She earned it for graduating from the daily report (aka “Ticket to Kindergarten”) this week. She had to get all 7 checks for 5 days straight to graduate. She was very proud of herself!
So, she was absolutely devastated to lose one of Elsa’s shoes. Her teachers and fellow students had already searched the school grounds, but she and I took another look through the playground. She kept crying and saying, “It’s gone forever!” My instinct was to diminish the severity of the situation with platitudes like, “It’s going to be okay” – “You’re fine” or “It’s not that big of a deal.” Instead, we searched and I told her, “It’s so disappointing to lose something you love.”
When we got home, we cuddled on the couch and I rubbed her back. I didn’t try to cheer her up or make the shoe seem like it wasn’t a big deal. She was unbelievably precious with her teary, big brown eyes. I looked at her for a long time and thought about all the disappointment, pain, and sadness that will come her way in life that I will desperately want to save her from.
But, I can’t.
That’s not how this life works. I can care, comfort, empathize, encourage, and pray with her. I can love and support her. I can teach her that emotions are real and deserve her attention. And, they pass too.