Hello families! I hope all of you are well. Today I want to share a very simple sentiment that my friends reminded me of.
We were out on a walk in the strollers, pointing out anything and everything that caught our eye. Suddenly, Luca began to cry. “Luca, I hear you crying. Are you okay?” I inquired. The shade on the stroller was pulled down to protect the children from the mid morning sprinkle we were experiencing, so I couldn’t see the root cause of Luca’s distress. “Stop! Stop!” he wailed. I stopped the stroller and walked around to the front of it. “What’s happening?” I asked. “My hat. My hat is stuck in the wheel. I want my hat BEEEE!!!!!”, responded a very upset Luca. “I see it. It looks like you took your hat off and now it is caught in the wheel. You seem so frustrated. Let me help you get it out and then you can put it back on, okay? Leaving your hat on your head might protect it from getting stuck in the wheel.” We put the hat back on, and we set off once again.
Luca continued to cry.
I stopped the stroller. “Luca, what’s happening buddy? I hear you crying but I’m not sure why.” Luca declined to respond. “Luca, do you need a hug? We got your hat back honey. I want to help you but I don’t know why you are crying. Is something else bothering you? Is the stroller buckle pinching you? Can you tell me?” Luca sucked in a huge chestful of air before yelling, “IM CRYING BECAUSE I WANT TO!!!”
And with that statement Luca reminded me of my place. I think it is SO hard to remember as parents and caregivers that it is NOT our job to keep the children we love happy. It is not.
It is our job to support our children while they are experiencing big feelings. To hold space for them. To say, “My love for you is big enough, and strong enough, that anything you’re feeling right now is perfectly okay.” It is our job to describe feelings so that the children have the language to express themselves effectively. It is our job to provide suggestions on how to safely express overwhelming feelings (You’re so mad that you want to throw your body on the ground. I get really mad too sometimes. Lets move over here so that you will land on these pillows instead of the floor. I don’t want your body to get hurt accidentally.)
When we are in the thick of it with our children, sometimes we just want everything to feel “okay”. We are willing to slap all sorts of quick fixes on because we want everyone to feel happy and content. I would say it’s almost instinctual, this desire we have to keep our loved ones happy.
We need to remind ourselves that no one is happy all of the time. And we shouldn’t expect our children to be. Nor should we set them up to expect us to “fix it” when they aren’t. It is okay to feel angry and sad and frustrated and bored and tired and cranky, and hungry, and crazy, and belligerent. It is okay for our children to feel these things. They need to feel these things. And they need to know we will be there to support them. Not that we will fix it or take away the hurt or magically make it better. But simply that we love them enough to sit in their feelings with them, no matter how uncomfortable that is.
As anecdotal evidence I offer you these two images, taken almost a year apart. Three little buddies. I have experienced moments with all three of these children in which they were deeply upset. Let’s even call it catastrophically upset, because sometimes it can feel that way to us (and them!) My response was to hold space. To sit quietly, but engaged. To gently remind, “I hear you. You seem so upset.” Did I fix it? No. Oftentimes it was out of my ability to “fix it” for them. “I want my daddy!” “I dont want to take a nap!” I simply sat with them in their feelings. And guess what? WE ALL SURVIVED!!!! (See! look at the picture!) I don’t say this to be snarky or facetious. Sometimes when your child is upset, especially when they are going through a period where they are upset multiple days in a row, it feels like one of you isn’t going to make it out alive unless you can fix it! Unless you can distract, or put a band aid on, or remove the offending experience. If you find yourself in that head space, and it feels like things are starting to spin, take a deep breath, and try to ground yourself. Know that we all feel this way sometimes.
Give yourself permission to experience your child’s feelings with them, without feeling responsible for them. I understand that this can be really uncomfortable. No one wants to be the parent who is standing there doing what seems like nothing, while their child is having a Chernobyl grade meltdown. People start looking at your child. Then you. You imagine that everyone is whispering, “Aren’t they going to do something? I would never let my child yell and cry like that! Why doesn’t she just buy them the lollipop and be done with it!” And you know what? Maybe some of those people are whispering those things. And it sucks and it’s hurtful, that’s the truth of it. None of us likes to feel judged.To be honest, I still get uncomfortable when one of you, a remember of our own cherished community, comes in and sees me doing exactly this – holding space for a very upset little person without making attempts to fix it. And yet still I urge you, stand firm in your truth that you know what is best for your child.
As we move into a time that is even more cold, dark, and grey, remember. Remember that your children’s feelings are their own. Remember that they have a RIGHT to experience their feelings to the fullest extent of their needs. Remember that no one else can stand up for your baby like you can. You are their champion. So if your little one loses it in the Target checkout aisle on December 23rd with 800 other people in line, let all those shoppers look if they feel so inclined. Hold space for this perfect little person as they sort out all the messiness that comes with being human. If you start to feel panicky, if you start trying to make yourself responsible for how your child feels (and everyone else’s misplaced judgements)- channel your inner princess, make like Elsa, and let it go. <3