Emotion is not something I feel easily. It’s one of the things I struggle with the most. I want to cry when I have a baby. I want to cry when I see my babies growing into children, but the truth is I just don’t, and the closest I’ve ever been to being overcome with emotion is when I’m pregnant, and usually, I’m just angry. I’m just not wired to feel an emotion strongly enough to illicit tears. In some ways, this is a blessing. For instance, death doesn’t cause my world to come crashing down. I usually just find the positive in the situation. They’re not in pain anymore; they’re happier, etc.. In the face of hard times, I usually find my bootstraps and keep pushing.
There has only been one time in my life I can say I “failed” to hold it together and it was during a time of family illness that required us to be quarantined. I think the inability to go out and be a functioning part of society is what caused my brief lapse in strength and I allowed anxiety and frustration to take over my life. I’m not saying I’m completely cold and shut off from the world. I’m passionate and loving; I just don’t easily get “worked up,” and have a hard time being sensitive and sympathetic.
If you’re like me, this lack of emotion can cause parenting struggles.
The Lord gave me children with a lot of emotion. My oldest is a ball of complicated emotions that I’m still trying to figure out. (I’m pretty sure a lot of it has to do with how I parented when he was smaller.) My oldest daughter is sensitive and clinging (everything I’m not), and most of the time I just don’t know how to respond to them appropriately. I think it’s God’s way of expanding my emotions and feelings. His way to ensure I can show and feel empathy.
The other night my eight-year-old was melting because I yelled at him. He was tired, and it was radiating into his emotions- causing him to lash out at his sibling. I broke him down, and it sucked. Parenting sucks when you’re not perfect. When I went into his room to apologize and talk to him, I sat on the floor and held him while he cried it out. My initial reaction to this was to shush him, and say, “get it together.” But it’s not how I felt that was important. It’s what he was feeling. He needed me to hold him. To let him cry and to see that I was there for him. I had to put my feelings (or lack of) aside and focus on what he needed.
I’m continually learning new strategies for handling the emotions of my children. They’re tiny people filled with adult-sized feelings. They overflow and overwhelm their small hearts and minds. If you feel like you’re failing as a parent because you’re constantly messing up just know I’m right there beside you. I’m waving a white flag while downing dark chocolate. It’s hard, and even harder when deep emotion isn’t second nature.
There are a few things I do to quench the needs of my children when I don’t always understand their emotions:
Let them sit on my lap- Simple right? Sometimes not so much. I don’t always put their needs before mine because sometimes I do need a break, but making it less about what I feel and more about what they need is helping me grow more empathetic and in tune with what they need. The phrase “when you become a parent you can choose what and how you do things” is wrong. It teaches kids that parenting is a selfish thing. It’s when you get to make all of the decisions and dictate how things happen. It’s just the opposite. It’s not about you and your feelings. It’s about what you can do to help children grow into loving, empathetic adults. Sometimes they need to sit on my lap to feel loved. Why deny them that just because I don’t feel the same?
Let them cry. Sometimes we just need to cry, right? They do too! It’s taken me a long time to see this. Sometimes life overtakes them, and they need a good cry. “This is not a reason to cry” and “what are you crying for now?” makes them feel like their feelings are not justified. As adults we wouldn’t allow someone to tell us how to feel, so why do we tell our children what is okay to cry about? My natural inclination is to be sarcastic and unsympathetic, so the struggle is real.
Apologize without justification. As I mention in the post Why We Always Say “I’m Sorry” genuine apologies go a long way. If you grew up assuming the parent is always right or justified this is a hard one. It’s hard to apologize to your kids when you feel justified in your actions, but the truth is an apology doesn’t take away your rights as a parent. It’s even harder when you’re emotionally “lacking,” like me. It doesn’t diminish consequences or lessons. It simply shows your children you care. That you’re sorry about the situation, or your actions- whatever they may be. It shows them you know and understands that sometimes it sucks to be a kid.
Move on. Sometimes as parents we feel the need to revisit a situation. To remind them who is in charge, or what they did wrong when the dust settles. Don’t. Listen to Elsa, and Let. It. Go. This too can be particularly challenging if the one strong emotion you do have starts with an “ang” and ends with an “er.” Sometimes their brief moment of inability to control the emotions they’re feeling turns to clarity in the same way we sometimes take a step back and realize our emotions have gotten out of hand. Who knows what goes on in their heads, but they can forget all about a fit two seconds into Dinosaur Train. We need grace sometimes (all the time), and so do they.
Acknowledge their feelings. Since I’ve started doing this I’ve noticed they’re able to identify the way they’re feeling and what they need to help them. They’re also able to turn it around on me. (In a good way.) When I’m upset, they’ll say things like, “you’re really mad right now, mommy.” This simple observation opens up discussion and usually fixes whatever problem we’re having. I can say, “Yes, I am. I need you to ______” or causes me to pause and decide whether my actions and words are necessary.
I’m no parenting expert. I didn’t go to school for child psychology, and I’m not a veteran. These are just things that work for our family, and I’m hoping our experience will help you, too. I’m constantly evolving as a parent, and what works today may not work tomorrow, but these things have proven useful time and again.
What are some of your go-to parenting tips?