I can’t recall how the conversation started, but as we stood in the dark of the morning waiting for the bus, my 5-year-old said, “I’ve never seen an adult cry.” I was a little surprised. Surely, he has seen me crying at some point in his young life, right? I followed up with a question to clarify. “You’ve never seen Mommy cry?” He said no. I started to question myself. “Really? I’ve never cried in front of my son?” My mind quickly raced through memories of the past five years, trying to come up with a moment in time where I shed tears in front of him. I came up short. The bus arrived. The conversation was over.
Although our exchange on the topic ended there, my son’s words have replayed over and over in my head for weeks. That brief bus stop chat shook me. Why? Because I recently started the difficult process of unpacking my own emotional responses (or should I say lack thereof) in therapy. Call it coincidence, perfect timing, divine intervention…my son’s words confirmed that I have some hard work to do. What I’ve known to be true about myself is that I often minimize my feelings, stuffing them into a reservoir deep within. Obviously, that’s not a healthy way of dealing with emotions. What is suppressed will eventually come out. Yet, that is the truth about how I have lived my life thus far.
Knowing this about myself, I wanted my children to have a different experience. Before becoming a parent, I made a conscious decision that I would do whatever I could to cultivate an environment where my kids would be free to express what they are feeling in healthy ways. What I failed to consider was the root of my own behavior and the internal work that would be required of me. I forgot that to create an environment that supports healthy emotional expression. I also have to model what that looks like. My son saying he’s never seen an adult cry made me realize I have room to grow when expressing all types of emotions, not just shedding tears.
So the work begins. My first step is learning to identify and name my emotions so that I can truly process what I’m feeling. One practical tool that I have found to help with this is a Feelings Wheel. A Feelings Wheel is a circle that includes the core or basic emotions in the center and secondary, or more specific emotions, in the outer rings. I am hopeful that using this wheel will help me develop better language to describe what I’m really feeling and give me the confidence to teach my children to do the same.
I know that undoing years of learned behavior will not be easy. I know that I won’t always get things right, but I’m trying, and that is what matters. That’s the beauty of giving yourself grace.
I recognize the work that I am doing now is worth it. As I grow, my children will grow. As I learn to express my emotions, they will learn to express theirs. Together we will move forward.