A few days ago, we had good friends over for a BBQ in the backyard. It was one of those perfect evenings where the setting sun cast beautiful light across the backyard, a light breeze stirred the late spring leaves, the smell of corn on the cob mixed with burgers and baked beans and the sound of young ones erupting in giggles brought smiles to the faces of their parents.
As the adults told stories, poked fun at each other and laughed, my 4-year-old walked out to the backyard and approached me clutching a piece of paper. He came right over to me and in a quiet voice said, “Mom, this is how I feel.” He stuck out his hand to show me the paper. It was a sad face with a few tears trickling down.
Oh, I wrapped him in a mama bear hug. What a moment of vulnerability, hurt and honesty. It was so simple that my whole being sank into the moment a little deeper than usual. This young boy was sad. And he knew this was one way he could express it. We talked about what made him sad, he got it out and that seemed to be enough for the moment. He scampered off to begin again with his friends.
An hour or two later, as parents shuffled kids out the door and we said our fifth round of goodbyes, we herded our kids upstairs to bed. A while later, I walked upstairs to head to bed and I saw a note on my daughter’s door. It said, “Mom, I feel (nervous). Can you come up here because I want to talk to you about why I’m (nervous)?” It had a heart and a sad face on it.
I glanced in her room and she was fast asleep. My heart twisted a bit, wishing I could wake her up and give her a big mama bear hug too. But I know better than to wake her up at night! Two moments that serve as helpful reminders of why emotional intelligence matters as we raise our children. These kids have known from day one that emotions are normal. Feelings can be big or small. They change if you wait long enough. Feelings are here to teach us something about how we’re doing. We can get curious about them, instead of judgmental. They know that when their bottom lip quivers, the next thing their mom will say is, “it’s okay to cry.” They know when they’re screaming in anger, their mom will say, “you’re mad!” They know that when they had an argument on the playground with a friend at school, their mom will ask, “how did that feel when your friend was mad at you?” They have little moments almost every day where they practice noticing their emotions and putting a name to them. It seems like a small thing at the moment. One of those small things that I wonder if it’s actually helping them in the long run. I worry they might become “too” sensitive. I wonder how they’ll handle adults who won’t have time or patience with this processing they do. There will be times in their life where they won’t get to talk about their feelings. Will they adapt? In the midst of those questions, I continue to help them show up and pay attention to their lives. I fully trust they’ll keep figuring out the best ways to do that. While I’m their mom and I’m here, I will continue to ask, “how does that feel?” because I think it matters. We need more kids who are learning to untangle the mess of emotions inside them. Heck, we need more adults who can do this too. Last night, our daughter was anxious about a change in our morning schedule this morning. Through her tears, discomfort and fear, we talked it out. We figured out what she was most worried about, said it was okay to feel that way, talked about previous times it went okay and a couple strategies for dealing with it in the moment. We practiced a minute or two of meditation – of noticing our thoughts and letting them go. Then I left her, still a little teary. She came downstairs fifteen minutes later to get a notebook to write in. But first she walked over to me on the couch and said, “Mom, I wanted to tell you something else.” “Sure, sweetie, what is it?” “Thank you.” “For what?” “For helping me get through this.” Cue *melting heart.* I wrapped her in a mama bear hug and held her for a minute. “Child, thank you for letting me be with you when you’re afraid. There are going to be lots of moments in your life when it feels like this and I can’t take them away for you. But I can sit with you and listen and ask questions and help you see the feelings come and then they go. We can be curious and learn from them. You won’t be alone.” She nodded, gave me one more hug and went upstairs to her room. Friends, this parenting thing is hard, no matter the season. May we continue to show up and pay attention to the people in our family. To what they’re saying and what they’re not saying. To the feelings that shoot through the roof one minute and then crash to the ground the next. May we practice knowing our own emotions so we can help others show up to theirs. And one day, once in a while, we might even get a thank you.
P.S. Shout out to Janet Lansbury and all the work she does around parenting. I so appreciated reading her work when we had infants. It gave me freedom and permission to trust my children in a new way (especially when I was a brand new mom freaking out!).