September 23, 2013 at 6:40 am (Attachment Parenting)
My 4-year-old son saw the tears in my eyes and dashed out of the room. A few seconds later JJ returned with a Kleenex and crouched on the floor next to me, wanting to be helpful and caring, waiting for me to put the tissue to use. As I blew my nose he looked taken aback and stammered, “Oh, um…that…that was actually for you to dry your eyes.”
“Oh!” I responded, “I’m sorry babe. I needed it most for my nose right then.”
“Yeah. That–that was for dabbing your tears. Oh but that’s OK! You can still use it to blow your nose. I’ll go get you another one.”
This little exchange cheered me immensely, as I recovered from a moment of mommy overwhelm. I can’t remember what brought on my tears that day. It seems it was something insignificant, like I needed paper towels to clean up a spill, only to discover I was completely out–everywhere, in every cabinet all over the house. That, combined with the day’s-week’s-month’s collection of other moments just like it had pushed me over the edge and I was overcome with the futility of motherhood’s tasks. Never ending; never going the way they “should.”
But then JJ was there, seeing me cry, draping his arm lightly over my back as I (mis)used his Kleenex, indicating that my being upset bothered him; reminding me that I mattered to him. I remember one other time I roasted a chicken for dinner. And while that itself should be something to be proud of, I hadn’t prepared one morsel of anything else. No vegetable, no potato, no bread, not even a sauce for the chicken. Not even a pre made removed-from-the-fridge-and-set-on-the-table kind of sauce or side. As I looked around the table at each person’s big white plate with a solitary piece of chicken on it and all the empty space around it where other foods should be, I began to break down. I said, “I’m sorry I couldn’t give you more for dinner tonight.”
My husband and kids, who hadn’t been complaining one bit about the dinner, all jumped up and ran around the table to put their arms around me in a much-needed hug. I cried for all the feelings of “not good enough” that had been building in me for several days-weeks-months. But here, smothering me with love and thanks, were three examples of how I am exactly good enough for them.
My family has comforted me many times in my moments of vulnerability. In those moments I get to see–no, I get to feel–the softness of their hearts.
Every time my son expresses concern that a small animal might be lost from his mother, or when my daughter rescues a snail from a crushing death on the sidewalk, I am reminded that the reason for such softness is exactly because of our shared moments of vulnerability. The paper towel and chicken dinner moments. The loss-of-a-pet and regret-for-my-actions moments. The didn’t-make-the-team and hurt-by-a-friend and not-good-enough moments. All those times when we’ve been there for each other–when we’ve listened to our children’s tears, accepted their feelings, comforted them in times of distress, and connected with them when it might have been easy to push them away–have ensured that their hearts are not defended with layers of armor. They remain soft and open and capable of connecting to others.
I don’t want to shield my kids from my own vulnerabilities. I want them to see me cry. I want them to know feelings are not something to defend against. I want them to know that connection always trumps emotional guardedness and that it’s not possible to have meaningful connection without vulnerability.
When our children see our own tears, hear the depth of our feelings, and watch as we accept comfort from others and forgive our own imperfections, we model that vulnerability is not weakness. It’s not a burden too much to bear. In fact, it’s a starting point for connection, and when we are deeply connected to others, life will never be too much to bear.