Last week was one of the hardest weeks I’ve had in my parenting life. I felt emotionally raw and physically exhausted, and my mind was in a negative space. Murphy’s Law was in full effect, too; if something could go wrong at all, it went wrong gloriously. It was just plain miserable. And even though I tried to shield my kids as much as possible, at a couple of points I found myself saying, “Please take it easy on Mama today. I’m having a tough time.” As if small children can respond logically to that, right? They didn’t, of course. I didn’t think they noticed at all, actually. And, despite the fact that I was so worn down and in desperate need of a break (the kind of break small children are truly not capable of giving), I was grateful it didn’t impact them.
Fast forward to this week, and things were so much better. At the beginning of the week, my little boy and I joined his preschool class for a trip to the pumpkin patch. We had the best time. We ran, we played, we picked pumpkins, we took pictures, we smiled, we got excited. On the bus ride home, all was finally quiet for a few seconds. Out of nowhere, my sweet four-year-old pulled my head down to his shoulder and said, “Everything’s gonna be okay, Mama.”
It was so unexpected — so wise, even — that my natural reaction was to laugh. It was a full, genuine, hearty laugh, in the first moment that I’d felt fully myself in a week. I pulled my head up, gave my boy the proud mama look and a confident nod, and we smiled at each other. Then he went right back to being carefree and four.
And what an incredible reminder it was! Of course he knew that I had struggled in the last week. Obviously, he would feel that. My children are a part of me. We’re a team. We’re connected; we’re bonded. We feel for each other.
And this is why I like to be – dare I say it? – a little vulnerable with my little ones.
The lesson here, I think, is not that we have to shield our kids from every challenge we experience. As parents, certainly, it’s part of our make-up to protect them from harm, and our problems should never become their problems. The weight should never be placed on their shoulders, and they should never feel responsible for fixing parents’ issues. The full, complete truth is often more than kids should know, and I’m not arguing for total transparency in every situation. (This kind of shift in the dynamic can eventually give children the role of the parent in the relationship, which is inappropriate and damaging.)
Yet, I think it’s important to recognize that children are intuitive creatures. They seem to feel it when others are hurting; they almost sense if a grown-up is disingenuous. They instinctively know when something is off, even when we do our best to protect them, and they also brilliantly demonstrate how to bounce back. Their resilience is astounding.
Sometimes, from my humble perspective, just sitting openly with our feelings can be a powerful way to connect with our kids, while keeping the sanctity and integrity of the parent-child relationship intact. Frankly, I think it’s good for children to see that parents are imperfect people, living imperfect lives. We all struggle now and then; sometimes life is hard. Merely being human involves a beautiful spectrum of experiences and emotions, and it’s okay to feel all of the latter. And, truly, the beauty of this is that we can use these opportunities to teach healthy coping skills.
So, let’s admit our mistakes more freely. Offer quick, sincere apologies. Let these moments build a child’s capacity to feel empathy and to show compassion. Show them that life is better when we lean on and trust each other, when we love one another, when we take care of each other. In being (just a little bit!) vulnerable with our kids, we’re teaching them that it’s safe to be vulnerable with us in return. This is part of what makes the parent-child bond so unique, so unbreakable, and so meaningful on both sides.