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.