January 30, 2012

On parenting the emotions

Parenting is nothing short of interesting these days.

Tommy is learning that sometimes, it takes a little bit more time to receive something he has asked for than what he would like - and that having to wait makes him feel angry. And when he experiences any displeasure about something we've asked of him or he has to do something he doesn't want to, he freely tells us how he feels about it.

Basically, I am the proud parent of a little boy who knows what it feels like to be angry and knows how to vocalize that particular emotion quite well.The other day I asked him to pick up some toys at Oma's house, as we were fixing to leave, and he didn't want to. When he did start picking up the toys, he declared to us, "Tommy not happy anymore!"

Children have a way of expressing unedited emotions. And in some ways, it feels like this beautiful thing because they haven't learned yet it's not "nice" or "appropriate" to be nasty. And they haven't been shamed into believing that they have to cover up what they are feeling because their emotions are just too much for others around them. Kids react and how they truly feel shows - in sometimes very loud, screechy ways.

And please don't get me wrong - I'm not condoning bad behavior or saying it's right either. We need to respect others and speak to others with kindness. And that is most definitely how Todd and I want to raise our son. But maybe there's a balance to strive for in teaching our kids about emotions and how we respond to things too. That our disappointments, frustrations and hurts can still be expressed - but maybe in healthier ways? And that feeling - no matter what that feeling is - won't be met with condemnation either.

Even to this day, when my emotions feel messy and they start to leak out around me, I am often met with responses like "Keep smiling!" or "God is in control of this, so you should really give this to him and focus on Jesus." (Not said by everyone in my life - but a few).

Which how it hits me is, "You feel big and out of control and I can't handle how huge your emotions are, so maybe if I say something cheery or spiritual it will shut you up and I can feel comfortable around you again - I hate when you make me feel uncomfortable."

It feels true that most of the time, how another person expresses their feelings and emotions about life, ends up triggering our own feelings. Feelings that we usually try to keep locked away in neat and tidy packages - because well, it's just not appropriate to act or respond any other way. When someone else's anger, sorrow, or hurt rubs off on us, it's like it activates our own places of anger, sorrow or hurt that we have kept under wraps. And that is what feels unsettling for us.

There are many times as I observe Tommy's very large and ugly reactions to things, where I can see how and why it triggers me. It's a common conversation in our house for Todd and I to have. What are we feeling and what is going on for us in response to how our son is behaving at the moment?

Like I said, parenting is interesting these days. I am finding myself in this in-between place of wanting my son to act like a calm, normal, civilized little person - and then wanting him to be alive, feeling and having the freedom to express his heart too.


  1. Alive is good :). This weekend I had another couple comment on how Dylan was a 'monster' and how they were happy their child wasn't. I didn't get angry though...I smiled..my monster is independent and self assured and having FUN :). Go team Jenn!

  2. I think it was in the book The Nanny Diaries where the little boy's dad comes home and doesn't pay any attention to him before leaving again and the boy is all upset. The nanny says, "Do you want to just sit here and be sad for a little bit?" So they do. I think of that every once in a while when I need to give myself permission to sit and be sad (or frustrated, or lonely, or hurt, or...) for a little bit. I have to get my lessons from fictional little boys, since I don't regularly hang out with real ones :)

  3. That actually makes a whole lot of sense. Although there's a lot to be said for trying to have a positive attitude and looking at the bright side of situations, stifling genuine emotions, especially sadly and anger, isn't good.