Don’t Tell My Kid Not To Cry

Parents are supposed to work super hard to keep their kids happy, like, all the time.  If your kid is crying in the grocery store, then something’s wrong.  If your teenager is depressed, then you’ve failed as a parent.  If your child is angry and frustrated, you’d better punish fe because that’s just unacceptable.

Okay, so I exaggerated to make a point, but I think all the above is complete crap.

Popular rhetoric often says “I just want my kid to be happy,” and I think that’s a horrible goal – because you’ll fail.  We all will.  It’s also just not the point of life.

Unfortunately, I hear this (or read it) all the time.  What’s even worse is that I hear the negative side of this message (“Don’t worry!”  “Don’t feel sad!” and “Ooh, don’t you cry!”) to which most of us don’t give a second thought.  I suppose it makes sense to me that we would wish someone happiness, but I hate it that in the process, we too often demonize sadness and the expression of more so-called vulnerable feelings.

Like everyone else, I want the best for my kid.  I want him to have it all (whatever that means).  I want my kid to have a normal, rich life and that means experiencing the full range of emotions on a regular basis.

All this essentially boils down to: Don’t tell my kid not to cry.

You may think this message [being told not to cry] is harmless, but I assure you, it’s not.  By telling my kid not to cry, you’re telling him that his feelings are invalid.  You’re telling him that sadness is bad…or weak…or embarrassing.  If he internalizes the message as he gets older, he may interpret that he is bad or weak for feeling such things.

As for right now, he’s a baby.  Crying is normal.  (It’s also normal for humans of all ages, for that matter.)  Crying is how he communicates that he needs to be cared for.  As a parent, it is not my job to stop my baby from crying; it is my job to develop a tolerance for it.  And I suggest you do, too.

There’s a diaper commercial that I saw recently that promises that if you use their product, your baby will “always be comfortable.”  And I was like, “Are you kidding?!  Babies are hardly ever comfortable!  They sit in their own pee and poop and they get horrible gas and colic and they have huge teeth shoving their way through their hard gums…no one would be comfortable with all that going on!”  But the implication is that, as parents, it is our job to make sure that our kids are always comfortable.

The Princess Bride had it right: “Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.”  Like diapers.

But back to that commercial.  What crazy high standards!  Nye, impossible standards!  And dare I say it – unhealthy.  As humans, we are meant to feel emotions – all of them – so we can bond with each other and learn from our mistakes and protect ourselves and live full lives.  I desperately don’t want my kid to feel self-conscious about living an authentic life just because other people may be squeamish around tears.

The other layer that plays into this issue is gender.  Although my son can’t express his gender yet, chances are he’ll identify as male, and little boys get the “don’t cry” message far more than girls.  This double standard scares me, and I hope to give my son the much more powerful message that he should be able to feel sad for any reason and express his sadness at any time.

I also want my son to know that whenever someone tells him not to cry (or whenever someone invalidates any of his feelings) that it says more about that person’s discomfort around authentic displays of emotion than it does about him.  Because as long as he’s being authentic, and as long as the way he chooses to express himself doesn’t hurt someone else, then he’s one brave little man.

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17 responses

  1. What a fantastic thing you say. As a mother of a 3 1/2 year old I totally agree with what you are saying. Crying is not a weakness, it releases anger, frustration, happiness, sadness, kids and everybody need a way to release.

  2. This is a serious question, not meant for argument. What about in sports? Is it okay for kids to cry in sports? For instance, they strikeout, someone intercepts their pass, they are one second slower than their opponent. What are your thoughts?

    • I’m curious about where your question is coming from, and about what it may imply.

      To answer you, I’ll quote myself: “he should be able to feel sad for any reason and express his sadness at any time.” That includes sports, in the grocery store, at school, at home, and on Mars. Of course, anyone is also free to edit themselves if they so choose. Most of us feel emotions and then wait until it is safe to express them, and that’s okay too. But that should be my son’s choice, and I wish he was growing up in a world where I knew he wouldn’t be made fun of for expressing himself in public, sports included.

      • I am a coach. Not a parent. So it was just a random question that I found myself pondering on while reading your post. I was curious as to what your thoughts were on the issue. I think that crying in sports does indeed exhibit weakness and, let’s be honest, kids are mean and will continue to make fun. I just wanted to know your thoughts. Thank you for the reply!

      • I’d like to respectfully challenge the thought that crying displays weakness.

        Especially since we all know that there’s a good chance we’ll be judged or made fun of for crying in sports, if we do it anyway, I think that takes a huge amount of courage.

      • Without a doubt, sports are challenging. I played a sport in college and had my fair share of ‘weak’ moments where I would break down and lose all sense of who I was. But I tried my absolute best to hold it together so that other people were not affected by my emotions. I felt that if I let it out in front of the team, they would either feel the need to console me in the middle of a game or waste their energy on talking about my break down. I am not disagreeing with you, by any means. I guess I just feel a little differently about the topic if we are talking about sports. Crying is a beautiful thing. Emotion is even better. I just feel holding it together until the right time may be best for everyone involved.

      • You bring up some very interesting points.

        This makes me think about defining the purpose of sports. If the purpose is winning, then perhaps crying might get in the way of that goal. If the purpose is growing as a person, then I don’t see how crying would interfere with that goal.

      • I believe the goal is both…but we can agree to disagree on what is acceptable socially…or just in competitive nature I suppose. I just wanted to get your thoughts. Thanks!

  3. Yes! Raising kids who feel their emotions is like swimming upstream in a storm. Very hard on them and on you, but worth it. I love my ‘sensitive’ (really means full and rich emotional life) kids! But it wasn’t easy when they were young.

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