Our culture has a very low tolerance for crying. I know this because I feel it in my gut every time one of my children begins. I think that our mammalian instinct to run to the aid of our child has been misplaced. Instead of a genuine care for the well being of our child, our instinctual response has been directed toward ‘making it stop.’ I frequently observe people trying to find ways to stop the expression of children’s heavy emotions. It’s like some sort of emergency when a child cries. People leap from chairs into action like something I’ve never seen before. It would be one thing if we were rushing toward our children to comfort them and be present for them during their difficult emotions. Instead, many people say things like, ‘You’re alright’ – which clearly they aren’t, or try to distract the child by whisking them away from the situation toward something else. I only wish this type of urgency could be redirected toward things which warrant our swift attention. If only we were that on fire for something we actually have the right and power to control…ourselves!
There are indeed safety considerations when we are thinking of children crying, because it is fear that moves us to action in a hurry. But most of the time my children’s cries are over emotional hurts rather than physical ones, and the fear is more of being judged as a parent than for the well being of our children. Our children who cry because they want to be heard, understood, and ultimately comforted in their moments of discomfort. I want to raise children who know how to embrace a diverse range of emotions including the not so savory ones, with the knowledge that they will pass. Our emotions can blow over, just like clouds, if we are able to learn how to honour them while they are here. When we fail to acknowledge our emotions, then they find unhealthy ways to stay within us, manifesting and expressing themselves in other and unexpected ways. Should we not be valuing expression of emotions in order to value the person?
I am learning to slow myself down. When someone is crying, I begin by taking a few deep breaths and centering myself. I don’t pretend to be separate from the culture I was raised in and still participate in. I make mistakes, and sometimes feel impatience towards my crying child. What I can do is try to push back against it, recognizing what a wonderful gift I have in knowing that there is a different and in my opinion, better way – to choose support. I make a lot of mistakes, but don’t we all. Honouring my self as a learner in need of my own support who is also capable of my own emotional storms is only human. And in effect, good modelling for my children. So long as compassion remains at the heart of my interactions, the way I ‘make things right’ when I’ve messed up may be the most valuable lesson of all.
Earlier this summer during a visit to a local splash pad (an interesting invention that is ace at wasting water) we met another family with two young children. The young boy had recently had eye surgery, taking him from legally blind to nearly perfect vision. The day we met them was the first day he had been able to play outside since regaining his sight. He and his sister were running around so quickly that at one point that they hit each other head on. There was an audible crack when their heads made contact. I watched the little girl fly backward onto the concrete, hearing another thump. My eyes welled. I felt helpless, but my discomfort swelled as I heard their mother’s first reaction…”You’re alright.”
Perhaps it was her own discomfort in feeling there was nothing she could do to make it better. She couldn’t undo their pain. She couldn’t do anything to remove the hurt. But what is available to us as parents is the opportunity to meet our children emotionally. We have the ability to comfort them. We have the capacity to be present for them in their struggles. This is what I wish for myself in difficult times; compassion. Why is it that we cannot treat our children with the same compassionate respect that we hope to receive ourselves?