I remember it well, weeping in her arms over a lost love—a high school breakup. I poured my woes out onto her shoulder. She listened. But when I pulled back to wipe my tears, my pain paused. I saw her eyes. I noticed her tears.
My mother was crying with me. And her tears gave me comfort.
A burden carried. Together.
I struggle to keep my mouth shut when I listen to a mom convey a painful story involving one of her kids and she quickly adds, “But she didn’t see me cry. Yep, I saved that for my pillow.”
|Photo courtesy of David Castillo/freedigitalimages.net|
I want to say, “Cut! Can we rewind here? Let’s chat. Tell me, how did this help your child?” Not that I’m an authority on this. I’m not. I’m a mother who was once a child. That’s my experience. But I like to think about these things. And I have a question.
Is it always good to hide our tears from our kids?
On that fateful day in high school, when I thought my love life was over, I know my mother’s tears helped. She cried, but remained in control. Her tears were for me, not about her. I felt so loved. Heard. Treasured. She centered me.
Then she spoke words of encouragement with a summery, “This too shall pass.” And I moved forward.
Many years later, my husband and I adopted a daughter. (Obviously, my mother was right. My love life wasn’t over.) And I sought wisdom on adoption. Somewhere I read that between the ages of eight and ten, our daughter would begin to understand the intricacies of adoption—that there was loss involved in her adoption story. She would grieve.
And grieve she did. I’d find her in various chairs, at different times, off and on, throughout the next several months, all curled up. Tears rolling.
“What’s wrong?” I’d ask.
“I miss my birthmother and birthfather.” She has apraxia of speech and struggled to converse, but she found the perfect sentence to convey her feelings.
“It’s okay to cry,” I said. “I’m so sorry you hurt. You can cry as long as you need to.”
And time passed and so did her tears.
I don’t remember if I cried with my daughter through that time. But I’m sure I cried for her. She hurt, so I hurt.
But Anna was just beginning to move from concrete thinking to the abstract, from knowing she was adopted, to understanding what adoption means. My tears could have confused her. Children can see our tears and assume they are responsible for them. So they stop their tears in order to make mommy happy. And then they don’t get to be children. They choose to become comforters and bypass their need for comfort.
So should we always hide our tears? I don’t think so. But with each child and in each situation, we need to ask, “Is this a time to cry with them or for them? Will they understand they didn’t cause the tears?” Then we pray for wisdom.
And if a few tears fall freely, before our child can understand them, we can be quick to explain, “Mommy’s crying because . . .”
The Rise and Shine Movement is committed to allowing children to have a childhood, so one day, they are free to be adults. Allowing our children to grieve is one way to achieve this.