I had a good cry the other morning. It isn’t something I do often. I don’t handle vulnerability well. But I couldn’t hold it in, couldn’t hold it together. I walked out of Reilly’s school and it all came pouring out of me.
Life with two kids is more challenging than joyful on some days. I am not one to put on airs about parenting. I love raising two wildly different girls, but there are days I wish I could hide in a closet for a little bit in an effort to preserve my sanity.
All families have their own set of challenges, and we sure are not short on those around here. Everyday it seems we are learning something new as we navigate these waters. Each child has their own strong willed personality, their own special needs, and both require nearly constant attention during waking hours.
I constantly feel pulled in every direction but forward. I constantly feel as though I am falling behind in my own life in an effort to always be present in theirs. And I constantly feel like I am falling short in providing for them what they need emotionally.
To me, there is no sacrifice too great for those girls. Things I may want to do for myself pale in comparison to the mutual joy of spending time doing what they want to do. I may not get to go out for dinner, go to the gym, or even pee alone, but as long as they are happy in that moment it’s worth it.
As independent as these girls are they still yearn to be noticed at all times. They need constant security that we are going to be there for them, and obviously I see it more in Reilly as she is getting older. She wants so badly to grow up and make her own decisions, and we are working on negotiating the latter, yet she needs to feel the security of having one of us nearby.
At times it’s difficult for me, as an introvert, to constantly provide what they need emotionally. I cherish my alone time. I recharge by settling into the comfort silence brings and, needless to say, that is hard to come by these days. It can feel daunting and draining to fill up their cups without adequately refilling my own.
I constantly fear being authentic in my own emotionality will cause negative repercussions in their behaviors and their sense of security. I worry that by sometimes showing my own negative, human emotions I will cause this negative ripple effect that will somehow shatter them from the inside out.
How do I find balance in that? How can I express myself, and teach these kids to always express their wide range of emotions, without making them feel less loved, less cared for or less secure?
In recent months we have taken action in helping Reilly learn to better express herself, to manage her emotions in a healthy manner, and doing so without compromising who she is innately. It’s tricky territory and all very new. And it forces me to face more of my own emotions and how they cause me to react in relation to hers.
I have my own struggles with vulnerability and verbally expressing myself. For so long I would shut down, shut out the world, and go about my business stone cold. I can’t do that now that I have children to take into account. The old ways have no place here, and so I have my own growing and expanding and expressing to do.
How does one do that though? Well, I’ve started by being a lot more honest, with myself and with others. Stuffing down how I feel about someone else or a certain situation does not serve anyone well. It creates unnecessary strain on the relationship and adds to my already accruing amount of stress.
I’ve learned to buck up and say the things that are hard to say. In the past I have had a tendency to ignore or keep quiet in an effort to not hurt other people but I knew deep down I was only adding to the problem. So I started opening my mouth. Respectfully, of course.
I have started to weed out who and what isn’t serving my life in a positive way as well as what I am no longer serving. I say ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ a lot more, and I mean it each and every time. I am no longer interested in giving into what other people want from me. And this is most definitely a lesson I am trying to teach Reilly at a young age. I don’t want her to ever feel pressured to conform to other people’s expectations. I did it for far too long, and it hasn’t ever gotten me anywhere.
My writing has also expanded over the last nearly 600 consecutive days during which I have written at least 750 words each and everyday (see: 750words.com). It went from just wanting to write more and more consistently to venting, to digging, to expanding, and creating. I have used it as a tool for growth. I have used it as a means to express myself. I have used it as a means to hold myself accountable for my actions and feelings.
So much good has come out of my writing. I have dug deep into my subconscious and I’ve dragged out to the surface so much that has been repressed over my lifetime. It has been and continues to be a transformative experience for me each and every time I sit down to write.
Which leads me to expression. I encourage Reilly to use her words, to use her emotion cards we made together, to let it all out but in a way that is healing and productive. It’s a tall order for a seven year old. She has already had to deal with so much in her short life. I can completely understand her frustrations and outbursts. They are justified.
But they are not healthy. They are not the best way in which to ‘let it all out.’ I want her to learn that, yeah it’s ok sometimes to scream and cry and throw a fit. That should not be her go-to method of expression though. It isn’t constructive. It won’t help her to work through her feelings. She then becomes a slave to her emotions instead of being in control of them.
So how do I work with her to make sure she feels more in control and understood?
Well, I like to think of myself as fairly progressive when it comes to self care and self expression. I may not have mastered it but I have sure done my fair share of research with plenty of life experience to back me up.
I know what it’s like to feel erratic and misunderstood. I know what it’s like to feel as though there is an overwhelming amount of emotions swirling through my head. But I also know it’s possible to regain control of how I react to the world around me. I don’t, however, know how to teach that to a child.
I read plenty. I ask the right people. But that only goes so far because children are by no means cookie cutter. What works for some doesn’t work for others. What professionals suggest doesn’t always work. It’s a cat and mouse game. You win some, you lose some.
I won’t ever give up trying. I know I will never be a perfect parent. I will never be the parent I envision myself to be when I close my eyes and breathe in deeply. That is something I work daily to make peace with. It is another bullet point on my never ending to-do list.
This is all part of my human experience though. And while at times in writing this it doesn’t feel as cohesive as I want it to, I want to convey to other parents and caregivers that not a single one of us has this figured out.
We are all doing it right and doing it wrong at times. It’s ok to be a little messy and scatterbrained and not know what day of the week it is. It’s ok to be a jumble of emotions. Because we are all human. And we are doing the best we can.
So let’s cut ourselves a little more slack. Let’s offer up a tired yet genuine smile to one another. Let’s have each other’s backs. And let’s vow to always forgive ourselves and wake up the next day with a little more love in our hearts, for ourselves and our kids.