This morning my 11-year-old son reminded me for the third time in as many days, “Mom, I need a new spiral notebook for Social Studies, remember? I used up all the papers in my last one and I’m going to get in trouble if I don’t have one today!” My gut reaction was to quip exasperated that I was sorry that this necessity to him did not stay in the forefront of my endless-to-do list. I pushed that negative thought aside, as I am trying to make an effort to be more compassionate with myself in my fallible parenting. I took a deep breath and sincerely apologized for my forgetfulness.
I added that I would indeed pick-up the notebook that day after the weekly elementary school church services that I attend with my two younger daughters. He argued, “That won’t work, Mom, because I have Social Studies second period and it will be too late!” Darn! I took a deep breath, knowing that I was about to hear a lot of emoting, due to my sensitive seven year old, but I was also aware of continuing to make a monumental effort to honor each of my children’s feelings, no matter how trivial they seemed to me.
I explained to my younger daughter that when I took her to school that morning I was not going to be able to walk her to her locker (the crying had already begun) or back to her classroom after mass, because I was going to stay in church and pray the rosary since my before mass ritual was to be replaced by the run to the store. By that time, cries of anguish were bellowing out of my daughter’s gaping mouth and tears were streaming down her scrunched, anguished face. I breathed deeply and told myself not to feel irritated at the loud crying. This is truly enormous to her, in her little first grader world. “Just acknowledge it, and recognize her strong feelings as messengers of her needs,” I reasoned to myself as I continued taking slow, deliberate breaths to calm my parental anxiety to ‘let’ her continue to wail.
I shifted my focus from stopping the crying to realizing that this is a perfectly appropriate expression for her feelings at this moment. “It’s okay to cry, I know how hard this is for you,” I said to her as I patted her back and remembered how my other two children happily, independently walked themselves into school at an earlier age, nevertheless I respected this one’s individuality and unique reluctance at autonomy. “You wish we could be together all the time, don’t you, like when you were a baby?” I said as I crouched down to her eye level. She nodded still crying pretty forcefully. “It’s so hard to be a kid and grow up. You need your mommy in so many ways and yet it feels so good to be on your own sometimes too.” More vigorous nodding as the bellowing and sobbing turned into whimpering and she hugged me tightly. “You are so sad and this is so tough for you. Do you feel better after letting all of your strong feelings come out?” She looked at me with those big blue, watery eyes. “How are you feeling now?” I asked. Sniffing, she replied, “I feel better,” and then we came to an understanding that she could walk in without me today, but she requested that I walk her up the church aisle to her teacher at the end of mass (usually about 20 pews ahead of where we sit). I sincerely thanked her for letting me know how she felt and for thinking of a great plan that would work today.
Maybe sometimes as parents we have to be okay with crying being an expression of our children’s feelings and needs. Maybe our main goal shouldn’t necessarily be to stop the crying, no matter how anxiety-provoking to us. What if we acknowledge it as an acceptable outlet for our children to let those tough feelings flow out so that we can help create some space for productive thinking to take place? If we try really hard to put ourselves in their shoes and meet them where they are, we can truly empathize and the right words will come to us.
Mindful, Intentional Parenting Now
Evie Estes, PCI Certified Parent Coach®, mom of three