"Why don't you ever cry, Mommy?" my son asked as he gulped down his tears after a hard day.
"Oh, I do cry, honey," I said. "It's okay to cry."As we sat smooshed in his bed, he looked at me and his 6-year-old eyes said I'm not buying it, Mom.
"But I never see you cry," he persisted.
"Well, that's because you make me so happy," I said.
That night, before he nodded off to sleep, we finished chatting about expressing our feelings before moving on to more important things like how he learned to make fart noises with his armpit. But after the giggle stopped and he fell asleep beside me, I held his hand and watched him.
His long eyelashes started to flutter and his body did those first shakes as one often does as they drift off to sleep. As I shut my eyes, too, I admitted to myself…he was right.
My son has rarely seen me cry. Even through his grandmother enduring advanced cancer that ravaged her body or his aging grandfather, or even when motherhood has felt too heavy for me to bare—my son has seldom seen me cry. I used to tell people that I'm just "not a crier." But, through all of life's battles, I have cried—a lot. I just rarely did it in front of my son.
Yes, I've always found a way to cry alone. I often cried while driving in the car with the music blaring so I don't have to hear my own sobs. I've bawled in the shower so the water streaming down can wash away my tears. And I've cried while running on a desolate trail so that I'm sure no one will see me. But no, I have very seldom let tears fall in front of my son.
I guess I was trying to protect him from my pain.
But all of that hiding of my tears has only taught him that you shouldn't cry. That letting tears fall show that you are weak. Only, we all know that it does the opposite. When you allow yourself to cry and let someone console you through the heartache, it means that you're strong enough to let someone see the real you. That's when the love seeps in.
Luckily, my kids have had my husband teach them that crying is just a part of life—something all human beings do when they are feeling any kind of intense emotion. And most importantly, it's okay to do so. When my husband lost his job and then finally found a new one after three long months, he sat on our coffee table with our kids and cried.
Our children stood at their father's knees and watched tears flood the hands cupping his face. Those tears of relief and gratitude were seen and felt by my children and I'm thankful that he was able to show that vulnerability to them.
Today, I'm working on my own vulnerability. If my father falls while getting out of the car and has a difficult time getting back up, I allow myself to cry with my husband—and my son. If I'm feeling extra grateful that my mother is alive, I let those joyful tears gush down my face in front of my kids. I explain to them that sometimes people cry even when they're happy. Yes, it still feels like second-nature to choke down my tears, but I am working on letting them go. And when I do, I always feel better afterward.
I don't want my son or my daughter, to grow up swallowing their tears. Yes, learning to control your emotions is important for kids to practice, but pretending they don't exist is not. Masking your feelings is something I should have never have been proud of in the first place.
So, the next time I cry, I'll be sure to do it in front of my son so that he knows that strong men, and strong women, can let tears fall.