I am an off-the-charts feeler.
I feel feelings regularly and deeply, and my go-to in any discomfort is tears. I will cry when I’m angry, sad, happy, or tired. I don’t mean to say that I’m always crying [though my husband may laugh here], but when any of those states get extreme, I’m going to cry about it. My daughter, if you’re curious, regularly sobs when someone is eliminated from a game show on TV she is invested in. She is also a feeler, and subsequently, a cryer. Because, karma, I guess.
As an adult, I can talk myself down and turn off the tears if the timing is not appropriate, but when you’re small – you don’t have those skills. You can’t self-soothe. There is no reigning it in if you’re at school or a restaurant or if the timing is bad for your parents. Plus, you don’t yet know how to handle this on your own.
When you are having a feeling, you need an adult, and you need them five minutes ago.
Oddly enough given our similarity, sometimes the timing issue is hard for me to deal with, patiently. For example, if I am stressed and then she gets stressed, it gets tricky. Or if we’re at a wedding, or in Target, or if I’m in the middle of something, it’s hard to feel especially patient. My [not so great] instinct in these trying moments is to quickly and quietly manage the crisis. Quell the storm. Just get her to stop, and fast. Plead with her to save her emotions for a more convenient time, which, you can imagine, goes really perfectly all the time and is working out really well for us.
Recently we were at a wedding reception, and my girl caught my eye across the table. Right away I knew, it was game on. Emotions were bubbling to the surface and ready to rip. I beckoned her to me, and upon contact, we were deep in it. I’m talking giant tears, no control of the volume of our voice style sadness. So I pulled her aside, into the bathroom. The reason for her inconsolable devastation? She did not like the way her entry in the guest book turned out. [Maybe someday we’ll address our perfectionism similarities. Maybe.]
Now, in my defense, it had been a whole big thing of a day. For reasons I won’t get into here and outside of anyone’s control, I was nearing the end of my rope. And this? This was not a real problem! I thought she got her feelings hurt, stubbed her toe, something like that. Instead, I am in a too-small bathroom stall hearing about how she tried to draw hearts and they didn’t turn out and she had to scratch them out and her whole entry was a MESS and she HATED it. And so? I did the wrong thing. I told her to stop. I was not having it. We were at a wedding and she had better get it together or we’d go home [yeah, I pulled an “I will turn this car around!“]. She stopped crying. We returned to our table.
You know what happens next, you’re shaking your heads at me, I can feel it.
Within moments, we made eye contact, and she burst right back into tears. So once again, I pulled her out of the situation [somewhere larger than the bathroom stall this time] and I sat down. I looked at her – but I saw something totally different than I did before. I saw a tender-hearted little feeler who, just like me, had a whole big thing of a day. She was sad about something silly, but she was also tired and hot and needed a hug and a good cry. So I adjusted. In the tropical heat, I held her in my lap, and I said, get it all out, girl. I know. And my sweet, sweaty little girl sobbed in my arms for so many more minutes than that guest book deserved, but she got it all out. And then we made our plans. Let’s take a deep breath, get a glass of water. We can write them a beautiful note when we get home, and you can get your hearts just exactly right. Let’s hold hands and dance a little more. I know you’re tired. I know you need to get it out. I know.
Sometimes getting them to stop is not the right thing.
We need to sit in whatever it is with them. I am a grown up. I know she is hot and tired and this is a silly thing. But she is little. And she doesn’t need me to tell her it’s silly. She needs me to let her cry, and then tell her how we’re going to make it ok. That’s my job. In bathroom stalls and on the stairs of a wedding venue and at school and in the car and everywhere else. It’s my job even when the timing is terrible.
I am learning as I go, as I remind you all often – and I am really trying hard to be better at this. At being patient with her. At teaching her, one meltdown at a time, how to feel her feelings and move forward; rather than just telling her to stop. Our kids are not a crisis to be managed, or a storm to be quelled. They are tiny people, learning to handle big feelings. And hopefully, if I do this right enough times, she will learn how to do it on her own. She still may cry, well into her adulthood – but after she’s done, she will take a deep breath and figure out what comes next.