“Is it okay to cry in front of my kids?” “Will it scare my kids if I tell them I’m feeling anxious?” “I don’t want to worry my children but I’m having a really hard time and it feels impossible to pretend.”
I hear questions like this every day from parents in coaching sessions - especially over the last nearly nine months. We don’t live in a culture that welcomes feelings. Most of us didn’t grow up in families where we were encouraged to express our fears, worries, and sadness. We aren’t comfortable with our own feelings, don’t know how to identify them, or how to move through them. Feelings can be so big and so overwhelming. It can be hard to manage them. So, of course parents worry about how to express their feelings around their children.
Our children may not always do what we say but they will always do what we do. If we deny ourselves our emotions keeping them bottled up until we explode or become despondent, we are modeling that for them. If we are able to express ourselves and share our feelings openly, we are modeling that for them. Spoiler alert: Your children always know when you are upset. They are the most intuitive little beings you’ve ever met and they feel your feelings too. Parents will often tell me “everything is fine” at the beginning of a coaching session and I have to chuckle to myself because if I can FEEL your tension over Zoom, you can count on the fact that your children have noticed you’re struggling with COVID worry or distance learning frustration. It’s always better to share with them lest they worry you are upset about them or leave them wondering, “What’s going on with Mama?”
Since you likely weren’t raised by parents who would said, “Honey, I want you to know I have a lot of work on my plate today. I feel very stressed and overwhelmed. I’m working to keep breathing but I feel anxious.” Maybe you may worry about what to say, how much to say, and what feelings to express. Please don’t use your child as your emotional support person or as a therapist. If you’re unsure about boundaries, reach out. But, most parents will have a good intuition based on their child’s age, emotional intelligence, and development what and when to share. I often describe myself as “a walking feeling” and feeling words fall out of my mouth every five minutes so my daughter has always known how I felt at pretty much any given time. This last week was a perfect example - we looked at the feelings wheel on the wall and went through the variety of feelings we both had. Weary, hopeful, anxious, worried, afraid, excited, nervous. So many feelings.
In his book, “Permission to Feel,” Dr. Marc Brackett says, “When we deny ourselves permission to feel, a long list of unwanted outcomes ensues. And when we can’t recognize, understand, or put into words what we feel, it’s impossible for us to do anything about it: to master our feelings - not to deny them but to accept them all, even embrace them - and learn how to make our emotions work for us, not against us.”
Give yourself permission to feel. Talk about how you are feeling. If we can begin with ourselves, welcome our own emotions, and share them, they won’t feel so big. We can model for our children how to identify, feel, and express our emotions which will create an environment in your family where you can do this for each other. This is a foundational building block to emotional intelligence and greater connection.
How are you feeling right now? I would love to hear about it.