When I cry, I REALLY cry. I’m not a woman who can sniffle into a handkerchief and balance tears on my cheek. No, when I let it all out I am a wreck. Red faced, sobbing, shaking, surrounded by balled up tissues and curled up in a ball. Because i often hold in my emotions, by the time they reach the surfaced they are so concentrated that any subtlety is long gone. This doesn’t really bother me and I can cry in front of my husband and my family, even my close friends have seen me in a blubbering mess. But when I found out I was expecting my daughter I thought to myself, “I shouldn’t cry in front of her.”
I should say, that my mother cried in front of me when I was a child, but very rarely. She would hold her emotions in as I do, because she didn’t want my sister and I to see her cry and get upset. I felt like I had to do the same for my daughter, I had to be strong so she wouldn’t see my sad. I would hide away or hold back my tears until she went to sleep, no matter how much I was hurting. It made me feel sick, exhausted from keeping my brave face on and eventually that took its toll on how I could interact with everyone.
I became withdrawn, because I knew that even the slightest thing would set me off and I was terrified that if I started crying i would become such a state that it would scare my daughter. All day it felt as though I was walking on eggshells trying to make sure I was being the perfect, fairy tale mother, happy, smiling and bright. I stopped being able to cry in front of anyone, it felt unnatural to let the tears flow. I would hide away in the shower to cry and lie to my husband if he asked if I had been crying. I suddenly felt very alone.
When my father was take ill I dealt with it alone, I hardly cried and when I did it was a few tears in secret. But when he died, I couldn’t hide the pain. I could no longer bottle things up until my daughter was in bed. I tried to keep it together but there was no way to be strong. In front of my toddler I broke down and she watched mummy cry. My husband held me, relieved that I was once again letting him comfort me and my little girl, her eyes calm but knowing, simply said “Mummy sad” She wasn’t afraid, she cuddled me and stroked my hair as I do for her whenever she has cried in my arms. She understood what tears were and wiped them from my face as I wondered how this little girl accepted her mother being an emotional wreck.
That’s when it hit me. CRYING IS NORMAL. It’s ok to cry in front of your children, just as it’s ok to laugh with them. It didn’t damage her to see her mother cry, yes she wanted to make me feel better, and in that moment she showed a huge amount of understanding and empathy, both traits I am hugely proud of her for having. Somehow, she knew what to do to show me love and support. She knew because I have showed her every time she has fallen over, felt poorly or needed to cry. Children are often very sensitive to emotions and all along she had been taking in the way her father and I would comfort her. She totally accepted my tears without judgement or worry because she knows what sad is. She may not have understood why mummy was sad, but she instinctively met sadness with love.
I’m not suggesting that you can sit on the sofa on a Friday night and sob about your week over a bottle of wine with your toddler, but crying in front of your children is not something to be ashamed of or worried about. If you cry in front of your children, you are allowing them to expand their understanding of emotions and breaking down boundaries that may prevent them from expressing their own emotions. I know the amount of pressure there is on parents to be strong for their children, but being strong doesn’t mean being silent. I feel so silly now for not allowing myself to be sad in front of my daughter, because now I see that it is ok to be human. I feel like my relationship with my little girl has been strengthened, and since that day I have cried in front of her more than once. Each time she has met my tears with compassion and hug that makes me feel so loved I can not put it into words.
I feel stronger as a mother since I stopped trying to be strong and I hope one day, if my daughter becomes a mother, she will remember that her parents cried with her and not feel the same pressure I did to put on that brave face. I want her to know that all emotions are acceptable and I want to help her learn how to express them in a healthy way, so I have to show her, even if that means her seeing me doing my ugly cry.