Have you ever wondered if it was healthy to let your children see you cry?
A few months ago, my 7th grader tried out for the school basketball team. For months, he had brushed up on his ball handling, dribbling, and shooting skills.
As a parent, you know when your child really wants to crush a goal. He really wanted this. He worked for it.
To make a long story short, he didn’t make the team. When he exited the school that day, he held his head high. Quietly, he climbed into my car.
I stared at him, as he shook his head “no.”
He broke down. His body heaved with noiseless sobs.
It shattered me. I climbed into the back seat with him, held him, and sobbed with him. When he was all cried out, he pulled away from me and studied my face.
He said, “I’ve never seen you cry before.”
What is Emotional Authenticity?
Emotional Authenticity is a genuine display of one’s emotions.
It’s important for our emotional well-being to acknowledge a feeling and express it appropriately. Otherwise, we hide, blame, or deny our experiences.
Not to mention, suppressing emotions can cause your long-term health to suffer.
Revisit What You Teach Your Children About Crying & Do More of That
We all want our children to have emotional intelligence.
Emotion coaching parents value negative emotions, are not impatient with a child’s expression of them, and use emotional experience as an opportunity for bonding by offering guidance through labeling emotions and problem-solving the issues at hand.”Dr. John Gottman
Kids of emotional coaching parents fare better all the way around.
I encourage my children to feel comfortable expressing their emotions in healthy ways. Example: my son’s tears in the car following his basketball tryout. Tears serve as another communication tool.
My default setting is to hide and cry. Of course, I don’t set out to hide, but rather I prefer privacy and don’t want or need an audience or a hug. In fact, when I’m stressed or sad, I don’t want to be touched at all.
When my son said, “I’ve never seen you cry before,” I had to think long and hard about that statement.
He had seen me cry. Many times! At least, when he was younger he had.
And if he hadn’t, what message did that send to him?
Let Your Children See You Cry–What It Shows Them
When you let your children see you cry, it shows them:
- You’re a human being with your own feelings.
- You have ups and downs just like children do.
- You experience bad days too.
When you let your children see you cry, it teaches them:
Going back to the example with my son, I sobbed with him because I love him, and I care about the things he cares about.
By sharing in his disappointment, I validated his feelings and created a space of intimacy between us.
My default would have had me holding him and wiping away his tears while I bottled up my own sadness over his loss.
Instead, I let out all of my frustration over his situation with him through my tears. (I hold strong opinions on the toxicity of youth sports culture, but that’s a post for another day.)
Honestly, I have no idea what allowed me to hit my emotional reset button. In that moment, I went with my feelings for my son, and a tiny crack appeared in my strong mom facade.
I truly believe this moment allowed me to connect with my son in a new way.
It changed me.
Don’t Apologize for Your Tears
Initially, I felt embarrassed for breaking down like that in front of my son. I assumed he needed me to be strong for him.
Later that evening, I even apologized to him for my “extra” display of emotions.
My apology baffled him.
He wrapped his arms around me and told me he felt loved. And isn’t that what we all want for our children–for them to feel loved?
This exchange with my son was therapeutic for me.
Crying in front of your children isn’t bad. Bad is a weak, useless word anyway.
Crying in front of your children is healthy!
In order to help your children feel comfortable facing their emotions, you need to model authenticity when it comes to your own. That means showing the good, the bad, and the ugly.
It means not being afraid of feeling all the feels.
A Note About Emotional Literacy & Boys
For the first time ever, the American Psychological Association issued guidelines to help psychologists work with boys and men.
Thirteen years in the making, they draw on more than 40 years of research showing that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful and that socializing boys to suppress their emotions causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly.APA’s Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men
In my house, we actively work to dismantle stereotypes of masculinity. Destructive phrases like “boys don’t cry” and “suck it up” aren’t part of my parenting vernacular.
Our society has come a long way in acknowledging toxic masculinity. There is still work to be done.
It starts in your home.
There are no activities on the man-card approved list. The idea that it’s not manly to cry is rubbish. Humans cry. Self-care is for men, too.
Let your children see you cry. Allow them to witness your laughter. Give them all of you.
It’s healthy to model emotional authenticity.
When your children see you cry, you’re telling them you have ups and downs just like they do.