“I'm just trying to stay strong for the kids.”
I've heard this so many times. And honestly, this is what I used to believe and live by. But over the past year, I've realized that I am actually doing my children a disservice by hiding my pain from them. Today I want to share with you why I let my kiddos see my pain, and how I communicate my pain to them in a healthy way so that they don't feel the need to take care of me. This one parenting technique has actually helped me connect with my girls on a deeper level than ever.
To get started let's begin with the “why.”
As parents, guardians, caretakers or investors of children, we long for them to be happy. We want to preserve their innocence and help the avoid pain. As a mom, my heart breaks when my kiddos are in pain.
When they don't get invited to the party, my heart breaks.
When “friends” have treated them poorly, my heart breaks.
When they get “picked last,” my heart breaks.
The truth is, pain is inevitable. Children will face pain for the rest of their lives. So how do they learn to process their pain?
Your children learn to process their pain from watching you.
Usually, with the best of intentions we say, “I have to be strong for my kids.” But what does this mentality actually teach them?
Does it teach them how to work through the pain?
Does it model how to find healthy ways to cope with pain?
Or does it teach them to hide their pain, as well?
Now, please listen. I am by no means trying to shame anyone here. As parents you and I are doing our best to help our munchkins grow up and be healthy adults. I do not doubt that at all. And for many years, I thought that meant “being strong for my kiddos.”
But I never considered what they might be learning from never watching me deal with the pain in my life. My biggest fear in sharing my pain with my kids is that they would feel like they had to solve my pain or take care of me…something I never wanted for them. So I hid my pain from them. But now that I see that I have the amazing opportunity to teach them how to find healthy ways to deal with their pain and work through their emotions, I wanted to find a way to model this. So I explored healthy ways to share my pain, and I'm so glad I did.
My kids, like me, have good days and bad days. So I want to teach them how to express their feelings in a healthy way. And the best way I found was for me to model it for them. Here is what modeling my feelings looks like for me.
1. I share with them my feelings and why in appropriate terms.
When I am feeling happy, I share this with them. When I am feeling sad, I share this with them too. If my feelings have to do with the divorce, I make sure to not share details with them that are inappropriate. I do not share details that would cause them to feel like they have to take sides.
When I share my feelings, it opens the door for them to share their feelings too. When I am honest about where I am at, they can respond in their own way. If they are sad, they are free to express that. If they aren't sad, I can reinforce that we can all have different feelings, and that's okay. There is no right or wrong way to feel.
2. After I share my feelings with them, I share with them how I am going to take care of myself.
This part is crucial so that they don't feel pressure to heal my pain or take care of me. This step also helps them learn how to work through their own pain
If I am having a rough day and feeling overwhelmed with all that is on my plate, I might say, “Hey girls, Mommy is stressed out by everything I need to get done. I don't want to be cranky with you, so I'm going to ____________________ and then I'll feel better.” I share with them exactly what I'm going to do. For example, I might need to take a walk, get a chore crossed off my to do list, take a bath, or take a time out.
Whatever it is, I let them know, that I am taking care of myself so that they don't feel pressured to do so.
Three really cool things have happened since I began practicing this.
- My girls have learned to express empathy.
- My girls have learned to express their feelings which lets me into their world.
- My girls have learned to find healthy ways to work through their own pain.
A few weeks ago my seven year old was angry about something. I was helping the little one with homework, and the older one came into the kitchen and said, “I'm am really mad and I feel like I need to break something.”
I was so proud of her for voicing her feelings. So we talked about what she could do to work through her anger. We decided together that she could get a box out of the recycling and tear it to shreds. And that is exactly what she did.
Then she felt better, and her night wasn't ruined. It was great that she could identify her feeling and find a healthy way to work through the feeling.
Now, please hear me, things aren't always this great in our house. There are plenty of times, I mess up and don't figure out what's going on for me and then snap at my kids. And there are times that I don't help them figure out what's going on for them and help them work through it. We are a work in progress. But as we continue to work, we are getting better.
One thing we do to be proactive about sharing our feelings is taking time to identify them on a regular basis. Here's what it looks like for us.
At night when I tuck them in, we each share 2-3 feelings we felt that day and what happened that caused those feelings. I love this part of our bedtime routine because it gives each of us an opportunity to check in and share our feelings when we aren't in the heat of the moment. It also opens the door for me to find out what has happened at school without saying, “So how was school today?” And getting the standard, “Good,” answer in reply.
One night one of my girls told me her one of her feelings was “confused” because friends who were nice to her yesterday were not being nice to her that particular day. This was an awesome opportunity for me to get to know her heart, and she was open to having a conversation about healthy and unhealthy friendships. It also gave her an opportunity to process what had happened and reflect on what she wants in her friendships.
There are so many teachable moments when you begin to share your feelings, but even more than that, it is the opportunity to know your kiddos on an intimate level. As you get to know them and connect with them in this way, it lays a foundation of trust that can be built upon for a lifetime.
There is one key to this though that we haven't yet talked about.
If and when you are ready to hear your kiddos feelings you need to be prepared to validate their feelings rather than change their feelings.
What does this mean?
It means, when they say, “I'm sad because I got picked last.” You don't say, “Well, the good thing is _______________.” You don't try to “correct” their feelings. Instead, demonstrate empathy by saying, “I think, I would feel sad too if that happened to me.” Or better yet, if you actually were picked last once, share that experience. Share how you felt when you didn't get a promotion or were rejected by a friend. Relating to your child's pain rather than “fixing” it helps them work through the pain and helps them be open to sharing more with you. When you tell them, “Don't feel sad,” they begin to judge, stuff or ignore their feelings, which can be extremely detrimental to them as adults because it teaching them to numb their pain rather than process it.
My prayer for my girls is that they will always trust me with their hearts and their feelings. Establishing routines and opportunities at this young age for them to learn about and share their feelings will hopefully keep the door of communication open down the road.
As you begin to share your feelings with your loved ones, I encourage you to begin sharing small, and with practice share more and more. You don't have to overshare, and for me, the most important lesson is for my kids to learn how to process their feelings and to learn how to find healthy ways to deal with unpleasant emotions.
In the comments I'd love to hear what tips or tricks you have found to be helpful in your parenting journey.
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