If you’re old enough you might remember this commercial from years ago. (If you don’t remember you most likely are not in the silver hair club yet! Ha!) A little boy and his father are walking down a street. The father kicks an empty can on the street. The little boy walks over and does the same. They continue walking, dad picks up some trash and throws it away. His son follows suit. This continues through several things in the commercial. Washing the car and so on. Finally, the two of them sit down side by side and the father picks up a pack of cigarettes. He lights one up and just sits back. His son looks up at that and picks up the pack… commercial fades. Point made! Our children learn more about how we behave, then how we tell them to behave! Again, I cannot emphasize this enough… how we treat ourselves, others, animals, things, and the world in general is a foremost way children perceive what is the correct way of behaving. How we teach them to grieve is no exception. If we do not allow our children to see us feeling our emotions. we are teaching them that being strong for others is what they “should” do when they are experiencing grief. (We all know how we feel when we are being “should” on!! lol)
How does being strong show up for us as a parent? We are a loving parent that wants nothing but the best for our children. However, we have been socialized to believe that the world tells us that we need to be strong when we are feeling sad. When we are around the children and they see us experiencing an emotion, we immediately have a dialogue in our head. “Get a hold of yourself! You need to be strong for the kids.” What we are inherently teaching them is that you can’t have emotions; even when warranted. You must be strong for others. Which means we bury our feelings and they never get dealt with. Sound like a good idea? In the words of Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?” Hold on to the belief as long as you want. It still won’t teach them to deal with their grief. However, what a good cry might tell them is that we are human. We are sad. We want to acknowledge our feelings. We want them to be the same. We will be alright. And sometimes, just sometimes…. we don’t have all the answers.
Next vital question, How does this show up for the child? A mom and wife has lost her husband. A man she loved and still lived with. Her response to the event is to not “break down” in front of the children. As the mom reaches out to her son to see how he’s doing he says, “I’m fine” (Feelings Inside Never Expressed!) Then he clams up. When she pushes him to talk about his feelings, he runs to his bedroom and slams the door. Ask her what she does when she feels tears welling up. “I go to my room, close the door and cry!” Ummm back to the commercial in the first paragraph. He is copying your behavior. He knows you are stressed and hurting as well. He wants to grieve the “right way”! So, he copies you. Same family, different child. The oldest daughter has now watched mom and her brother. She decides she is going to save everyone. She attempts to transform herself from child to adult overnight. She’s being strong and following examples of movies, books and tv. “You’re the oldest. You need to be strong now.” Said or unsaid she takes on the role. There is a lost of childhood that happens for these children. We don’t need our children to become little therapists. They still need to be kids. Here’s the million dollar question, “Do you want to be human or strong?” Seriously, Pick one….!
It might help if we redefine the word strong. Here’s what human “real strength” looks like:
- The natural demonstration of emotions.
- Saying and doing what is emotionally accurate.
Here’s results that “real strength” creates:
- Teaches children to communicate feelings, not to bury them.
- Sustains energy for other tasks.
It is possible to be human and accomplish what seems like an overwhelming amount of tasks. Being able to express our emotions actually frees up energy to deal with life. As you recognize yourself in any of these beliefs, please, be compassionate with yourself. It is an opportunity to change your beliefs and share healthier ways of dealing with grief for yourselves and others. It is always possible to make a change.
You don’t have to love people the way you learned to love.
You can love people how you want to be loved!