“I can tell you feel frustrated right now,” I’m learning to say when my 3-year-old crosses her arms and crouches on the floor after I tell her I need her to stop playing and get her shoes on so we can leave.
I’m learning to ask, “Why are you mad at Dada?” when she says, “I don’t like my Daddy.”
Although my first instinct is to say, “Stop,” and “Don’t say that!” and “I don’t care if you don’t want to!” I’m practicing a new way of interacting. I’m practicing naming her feelings and mostly letting her ride them out (unless she’s hurting herself or someone else!)
I’m practicing this because I didn’t learn how to speak up clearly when I was angry until I was in my 30s. I’m practicing it because I see her natural instinct, like mine, is to shut down when she feels a strong emotion. I’m practicing because I want her to have different options for dealing with those emotions than I learned as a child and had to relearn as an adult.
And yet, when she says, “Mama, are you mad or sad?” when my voice grows sharp after repeating my request to her for the fourth time, I still say, “No, I’m just a little frustrated.”
It is hard to undo years of misdirecting and mis-labeling my own feelings. Obviously, I’m still working on it.
Because it isn’t soft and sweet and feminine to get pissed off and say I’m pissed off.
Because it is easier to eat a bar of chocolate than admit I’m sad and I don’t really know why.
Because it is easier to clench my jaw and walk away than have that hard conversation with my partner about how he hurt my feelings.
Because when I’m clear about what I need I might get called “bossy.”
Because it is easier to say, “I’m fine!” and smile than it is to admit when I am not fine, not at all.
Because it is easier to hold it all together and stuff it down than it is to risk it all falling apart when I loosen my grip. Because we all have responsibilities and a schedule to keep and groceries to buy and who has time to be not fine?
Mamas are allowed to have feelings. And we should show them, if we want our children to learn how to navigate their own complicated range of emotions. What we do, they will learn to do, also. When we negate how we feel, they will learn to do that, too. But when they see us practicing how to manage a strong emotion, and how to take care of ourselves when we need a boundary, they will also learn to do those things.
These skills are a gift I want my daughter to have. But to give it, I have to learn to do it for me first.
Let me ask you this: Right now, how do you feel? First thing that comes to mind?
Now close your eyes, take a deep breath and let it go. How do you feel now? Is it different than the surface answer?
Now, how do you want to feel? How wide is the gap between one and the other? If you asked the person you last interacted with how they think you are feeling, what would they say? How far is the gap between that answer and how you are really feeling?
These can be scary questions to ponder, but they are important ones. Especially if you are in that place of holding so tight because if you let go you might fall apart. I know that – I’ve been there.
If you really feel on the edge of losing control, find someone safe to help you with that burden. If just you need someone to hold space for you to describe how you feel, send me a note. I’ll hold it for you.
Start today. Say you are mad when you are mad. Say you are happy when you are happy. And let yourself feel each feeling fully until it is done.