I’ve been thinking recently about how many things we see and hear that are utterly and completely meaningless. Pretty picture quotes or memes or platitudes.
Now, I say this will full awareness that I have a wall full of picture quotes in both my home and office. I love quotes. Quotes that encourage. Quotes that make you think. Quotes that light (or kindle) a fire in you. Quotes that give you a different lens or make you consider something in a whole new way.
But . . . can we just address how BAD some of these are? Now, quite frankly I am going to save some of these for another time. I think we’ll start with this little gem.
This quote comes from Angelina Jolie regarding her divorce, and I’ve seen it in about 157 articles, etc, so I can’t give you an attribution for its first publication. But everyone seems to agree it was her, so that seems accurate. It goes like this, “I was very worried about my mother growing up – a lot. I do not want my children to be worried about me. I think its very important to cry in the shower, and not in front of them. They need to know everything is going to be all right, even when they aren’t sure it is.”
Ok – first of all, let me just say that crying in the shower is fine. Cry wherever it strikes you to cry. Maybe the shower feels safer and more comfortable. Yes, cry there.
The issue here is hiding emotions to pretend everything is fine in front of your children. I don’t agree with this. At all. I do believe in parental boundaries. I don’t think you share everything with your kids- they are kids! Parental boundaries. Do those things.
Its the hiding. Its the assumption that by crying in the shower your kids somehow don’t know you are hurting. I assure you they do. They know because kids are open and they are often paying far closer attention than we think. So what do we teach them? We teach them that big, hard emotions are to be hidden. They are shameful and secret.
Why not, instead, teach them that adults have big, hard emotions too sometimes. And we struggle with them. But (and this is a really important but) then we take steps to address the situation, manage those big, hard emotions, and care for ourselves.
Let me give you an example. The last couple of years have been tough ones. I’ve had some health issues, major job transitions, crazy schedules, and that’s on top of the regular chaos of raising a family.
I was/am exhausted. Sometimes so much so that I would cry. In front of my children. Because its important that they know that big, hard feelings are part of life – but they don’t have to take over.
Like Angelina Jolie, I did not want my children worrying about me, but frankly if they hadn’t noticed anything was wrong up until this point I wasn’t parenting correctly. We talk a lot about the importance of ‘seeing’ other people – especially those who are hurting.
So we would have some variation of this talk. ‘You know how mom hasn’t been feeling that good? Well, I get really tired, and it makes things hard. And today (this thing) happened and mom is just sad and struggling with that. But I will be ok.’ Maybe I go take a walk. Maybe I go take a bath. Maybe I go meditate. Maybe I ask them to stop firing questions at me for a while (you all know you can do this, right? Totally an option). My kids see me cry. They also see me dry my tears, take a deep breath, engage in self-care, and move on. They usually ask if I want a hug. I tell them ‘yes, I would love a hug. I also want to be sure you know its not your job to make this better. Mom knows what to do, it just takes time.’
Hiding big, hard feelings from your kids doesn’t help them. Its confusing because they SEE YOU, yet you say you are fine. Perhaps they are also supposed to say they are fine when big, hard things are happening in their life. Perhaps they are supposed to cry in the shower where no one can see.
Maybe instead of hiding our pain, we thank our children for noticing. We embrace their compassion and teach them the boundaries of being present for someone without being responsible for taking on their hard things. We show them that big, hard things are not insurmountable things and that tears are not weakness. Maybe we take a moment to remember that WE don’t have to assume adults have it all together either.