"Mama, are you okay? Are you happy now?"
This is what my 2.5-year-old son asked me the other day as he saw me wipe tears from my cheeks. I was having an intense discussion with my husband and for someone sensitive like me, tears trickle down my cheeks quite easily.
My response was, "I am not happy right now. I am a little sad, but I will get happy soon." We hugged each other and he said, "Feel better Mama."
When I was first pregnant, I remember thinking a lot about how much of our emotions we should let our children see. Should they see me and my husband argue? Should they see me cry? Or should I always cry behind closed doors and make up a story about what's going on?
Today, I have more clarity on these thoughts.
I know I want my children to see all sides of me—of course in an age and emotionally appropriate way. I want them to know that while mommy is typically smiling, happy and positive, there are times when she is sad, angry, anxious and frustrated.
I want them to know this and to see me cry so that they have permission to feel these difficult emotions, too. So that they know they are allowed to cry if they need to—and not be ashamed of it.
I want them to know that there are no bad feelings yet there is bad behavior. It is okay to feel upset when they are not invited to a birthday party but it's not okay to yell at that friend at school the next day. It's okay to feel disappointed when a sibling doesn't share a new toy but it's not okay to hit or say mean words. (This one is, admittedly, a work in progress!)
I want them to feel comfortable taking (responsible) risks for things that matter. I want them to know that it can be disappointing to get a bad grade in a subject that they care a lot about, but I don't want that fear taking over the desire to learn more about that subject.
I want them to raise their hand and question the status quo when a friend invites them to participate in a dangerous activity even though it means they may be rejected by their peer group. Yes, these are all difficult feelings, but often doing the right thing is largely uncomfortable and that's okay.
And then there are tears that come from the harsh realities of life that they will see and feel, too.
Loved ones will be diagnosed with illnesses, family members may have accidents or pass away—these things are incredibly painful. I want my children to be able to give themselves the permission to be with these difficult emotions and to sit with them for as long as they need to. And to know I am always here, ready to love them and comfort them any time of day or night.
I am not suggesting that they wallow in pain or suffering without getting help or taking steps to heal. I'm not suggesting they stop living their lives, but instead, I'm helping to guide them in developing the emotional capacity to experience what shows up with awareness and compassion.
I value these tears because they come from the fact that we are in touch with our own truth, our own ego and our own mind. I have yet to witness anything deep and fulfilling in my life that doesn't come with discomfort whether it is something simple like a camping trip or something deeper like my marriage.
I also believe that often these tears are our triggers to act, to vote, to say no, to switch careers and so on. So, over the years, not only have I learned to accept these difficult patches—but rather embrace them and recognize that I need them to thrive.
I want my children to focus on resilience. I want them to be able to stand up after the fall, to pick up from where they left off, to make repairs when a relationship needs love and connection.
Being okay with tears means to see them, feel them, pay attention to what they are here to teach us but eventually wipe them, smile again and take action where needed. I want my children to know that yes, Mom and Dad will have numerous arguments over the years, but there is so much love there behind any frustrations. I want my husband and I to be able to model healthy dialogue and healing repair that comes with thoughtful communication and lots of hugs.
Because hugs from our kiddos always help, right?