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Should We Share Our Grief with Our Children? I Think So

“Hey, mom, you wanna know something?” Anders asked, peering over the top of an animal book.

I live for these moments when Anders bestows his vast knowledge upon me. I think I’ve learned more about life from my 5-year-old’s innocent observations than I did in the four years I spent at college.

“Absolutely. What do you know?”

“Grown ups can’t cry,” he said. He was very serious.

“Where did you hear that? Of course grown ups can cry.”

“Nope. They can’t. I’ve never seen one cry.” He buried his face back in his book, signaling that the conversation was over.

I sat there silently, taking stock of all the moments I had been reduced to tears over the last few years, and there were many. Stoic is not a word with which anyone would associate me. I live my life in caps lock. I have devoted years to perfecting the art of the emotional outburst.

Even so, when I finished mentally revisiting all of my major meltdowns since Anders was born, I couldn’t come up with even one I had allowed to occur in his presence — an impressive feat for someone who spent the better part of the year 2011 battling depression.

My first instinct was to give myself a giant pat on the back, a congratulations for so effectively censoring what an emotional mess I can be from my child. But then I thought twice. Was it really healthy for Anders to believe adults were incapable of tears?

Perhaps I’m overanalyzing this a bit. (It’s what I do.) Certainly he won’t grow into adulthood believing that his tear ducts have withered away with age, but will he adopt the belief that it’s best to always suffer in silence? When you come from a family rife with mental illness, learning to bottle up emotions is a dangerous practice.

From the very beginning, I have worried about his physical well-being. It began with “Support his neck when you pick him up!” and has evolved to “No bike riding without your helmet!” Oh, the ways my pulse has raced as a mother. I’ve spent a lifetime in the moment between a heart-dropping thump and the cry that signals he is okay — bruised or scraped, but okay.

Though mothering a little boy beholden to superheroes, who is constantly scanning his surroundings for something to scale and then leap off of, is not easy, I can measure my success in protecting his physical well-being in minor bumps and bruises with my greatest failure being a head injury at two that required a staple. But his emotional well-being? I am learning that it is much more delicate and seemingly impossible to quantify.

I do know this. I am going to let Anders see me cry more often. We are a family and it is just as important to share our sadness as it is our joys.

Read more from Amber on her blog The Daily Doty.

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