I’m a mom to two exceptional kids–one with big emotions and one with a big heart. What that looks like in our house is an older child who is prone to outbursts and a younger child who’s always trying to help him through them. As we witness our younger son become more empathetic in response to his brother’s tantrums, we find ourselves constantly worrying that he is feeling overshadowed, relentlessly reassuring him there’s enough room for his feelings too.
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And what I’ve come to realize is that one of the best ways to demonstrate this is to show him that our family makes room for everyone’s feelings, including mine. So often I push my own emotions out of the way, sometimes in order to focus on my children, sometimes because I simply have too much on my mind to even recognize how I’m feeling. I’m too busy soothing the crying, mediating the arguments, making the lunches, or driving to practices to pause and realize that I might be tired, upset, or hurt.
As parents, we tend to try and hide our feelings from our kids.
Perhaps we want to be seen as strong—capable of handling whatever is thrown our way. Or maybe we just don’t want to burden them with our problems when they are dealing with so many of their own.
But what if not sharing our own emotions is doing our kids a disservice? If we teach them it’s important to recognize and share how they feel when they are little, but we don’t model that as adults, are we sending the message that their feelings will become less important when they grow up?
So, how to turn this epiphany into action? When I’m feeling a certain way, particularly when it is in response to my children, I show it. Whether it’s positive or negative, I remind them that, just like them, I have emotions. If I’m feeling absolutely exhausted from breaking up another fight, or I’m so frustrated I can’t stand to be in the same room as my kids, I share it. (Although I may phrase it in a less hurtful way . . . “I really need some space.”) If I received great news, and I’m so excited I can hardly focus, I let them know what’s going on. If they’ve been disrespectful or rude, and my feelings are hurt, I tell them.
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The decision to no longer keep my feelings to myself helps my children recognize that in addition to being someone who plans, provides, and protects, I also am a person who feels deeply. It allows me to show them how I use strategies to cope with my emotions–whether it’s taking space, self-care, leaning on others for support, or even letting out some tears.
And while it’s so important for them to see me as a person with feelings, I think it’s just as valuable for them to recognize that their choices can affect how someone else feels.
Helping my kids see the impact of their words and actions strengthens their relationship with me and prepares them for more positive relationships with others. I feel confident that when I send my children out into the world, they will not only be able to identify and manage their own emotions, but they can be more considerate of how others feel too.
Sharing my emotions more freely has been helpful for my own mental health and has also been valuable for our whole family. Together we’ve learned that big feelings aren’t only for little ones, and they are just as important when you’re grown up.
So, moms, I encourage you to make room for your feelings. Leave space for your sadness, your frustration, your joy. Your emotions are just as valuable as those of your children.