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When I was a little girl, nothing alarmed me more than the sight of my mother crying. Since she didn't cry in front of us very often, when she did, it usually meant something was terribly wrong. When my grandfather suddenly passed away, when she announced her divorce from my father, when relatives were sick and during arguments with extended family—those were the moments when she couldn't hold it in anymore and the tears flowed.
My mother isn't a cold person by any means; she's very loving and gentle, and at 64, she cries often now. But I wonder if she thought that we, her children, would worry at the sight of her tears. Maybe she tried her hardest to put on a brave face, functioning as a single mother for so many years. Either way, the message I received was clear: if mama is crying, it is serious.
Now that I'm a mama myself, I've decided it's OK to let my children see me cry. I'm an emotional, sentimental person by nature, so tears are natural to me. I cry when I'm inspired, when I'm happy, sad, angry, frustrated, grateful—all of it translates to tears welling up my eyes. Despite this, whenever my children witness me crying, I can't help but notice the alarm in their faces.
"What's wrong, mama?"
I assure them that I'll be just fine and mama just "needs a moment." It's what they do next that makes my heart soar. They extend kindness and empathy toward me by hugging me, patting me on the arm, holding my hand, praying with me or they will simply sit in quiet solitude with me. Their mere presence is comforting and I'm deeply grateful. I'm confident that, as they grow up, they will be able to extend sympathy toward other people in distress as well.
Children will inherently learn crying is a part of life when they see it modeled for them in a healthy way.
Lest you think I'm just a big crybaby who wails in front of her kids all day, I definitely appreciate isolation when an "ugly cry" is needed. A year of dealing with marital issues has basically made me perfect my ugly cry. It's during those moments that I seek out my crying spot, oftentimes far away from the eyes of my children. Besides, everyone needs a good, cleansing cry every now and then.
Since I'm almost always surrounded by my six kids, I've discovered that aside from the shower (every mom's favorite crying spot), the number one place I let myself ugly cry is in the car, while I'm driving.
I can't tell you how many times my children have been in the back seat, jabbering away, poking one another, listening to music with their headphones on, laughing, watching a movie, completely oblivious to the fact that I am bawling my eyes out in the front seat. No one asks me any questions, no one worries, no one feels uncomfortable or responsible for my tears. I just turn up the radio and I'm free to let it out. They are none the wiser.
It's rough being a mama sometimes, being pulled in so many different directions all day long, trying to keep the family afloat. I often find myself contemplating life and my struggles in the midst of everyone's day. They are often clueless, munching on grapes or watching YouTube tutorials. When the burden is heavy on my shoulders, and it goes beyond the simple falling of tears and I don't want to alarm my children, I seek out my crying spot. At the end of our journey, my tears have already dried, my eyes are just a little puffier, and my soul feels cleansed because it got to release some of that pent-up emotion.
So yes, it's OK to cry in front of your children. They need to see a healthy pattern of emotion and resolution. Also, don't be afraid to reserve a place for yourself when an ugly cry is imminent. Our children will inherently learn crying is a part of life when they see it modeled for them in a healthy way.