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Is It Okay For Me To Cry In Front Of My Child?

How do we straddle the line of expressing emotion in front of our children while letting them know that they are not responsible for our feelings?

By Catherine Liggett

I'm a highly-sensitive, introverted mama to a very active, extroverted little girl, and it was one of those days where it was all just way too much.

Late that afternoon, I was in the kitchen putting dinner together, and she thought it was hilarious to run circles around my legs as I went back and forth from the cutting board to the pan.

Was it cute? Yes. Did I have any capacity in my nervous system right then to see it as anything but annoying? Absolutely not. 

A great pressure began burning in the middle of my chest. The annoyance became rage. Then, the rage was swallowed by an all-too-familiar visitor … intense guilt.

The voice of this guilt said, “She’s not doing anything wrong. She’s playing. What’s wrong with you that you can’t just see it as cute, smile, and laugh with her? You’re weak to feel this rage. You really need to pull it together and show up for her right now, Catherine.”

Standing in that kitchen, I collapsed under the weight of my own judgment. Bracing myself against the counter, tears began pouring down my face.

The tears said, “I just can’t handle this anymore.” 

Then, the guilt returned, this time in fuller force. It said, “She really needs you to keep it together. Control yourself. You’re teaching her that it’s her job to comfort you, and that’s going to mess her up.” 

“Is that true?” I wondered. “Will crying in front of her really mess her up?” 

I felt torn between two possibilities - my head, telling me it was wrong, and my heart, softly intuiting that it was not only okay but important.

In that moment, I made a split-second decision to do something radical. Something that would break the cycle of emotional repression I’d learned from my own family of origin.

Here’s what I did:

Still crying, I sat down on the kitchen floor in front of my daughter as her eyes held me with curiosity and empathy deeper than I can put into words.

I sat up, looked her right in those ocean-deep eyes, and said, “Sadness is visiting mama right now.” 

“... Why?” She asked.

“Feelings are like visitors,” I said as I caught my breath between sobs. “They come, and then after some time, they go away. Like the rain, or the sunshine. And while they’re here, there are things we can do to help ourselves feel better.” 

My daughter has been using her Calming Corner for some time now, and so I trusted her to know the answer to my next question:

“What are some things mama could do to help her feel better while sadness is visiting?”

“Drink some water … or draw … or hug a stuffed animal.”

Without me even asking, my small daughter walked over to the kitchen table where my water bottle was. She picked it up and brought it over to me. 

“Here, mama.” 

Her unfathomable sweetness, paired with a swirl of uncertainty and guilt for being supported by my own daughter, caused more tears to well up in my eyes.

How could I both receive her kindness with grace while also showing her that mama is responsible for her own feelings?

Here’s how I decided to straddle both:

“Thank you so much, sweetie. That really shows me that you care about me. And also, mama is going to the Calming Corner now to help herself feel better. Do you want to come with me?”

She joined me there. Nestled on our soft pillows, I used the feelings chart to identify the visitor of sadness, and then picked out something to do from the calming strategies poster.

“Mama’s going to draw for a little while to help herself feel better. Do you want to draw with me?”

We got out the paper and markers, and after a few minutes, I felt the visitor of sadness leaving my body, making space for calm connection with my daughter. 

What happened in our home that day took no longer than 15 minutes, but it felt like a dimensional shift. 

When I cry in front of my daughter, I still feel vulnerable and conflicted about it. Because it’s so different from the way I was raised, my head sometimes has doubts about it being “right.” But I’ve come to understand that this is often how it feels when we commit to breaking cycles of generational wounding

There’s one thing I’m absolutely certain of, however. As she grows older and perhaps has a family of her own, I want her to know in her bones that she is lovable exactly as she is, tears and all. That she doesn’t have to feel her inconvenient feelings in solitude.

My heart glows with the knowing that not only am I shifting my family’s story, I’m also healing the child who lives within me. She’s learning, day by day, that she is absolutely lovable, tears and all.

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